At midnight, the Les Cadets de Bourgogne singing troupe is belting out “New York, New York,” as 370 Burgundy fans sip the region’s greatest wines, twirling white napkins above their heads in time with the music. A disco ball spins above, the light bouncing off the 1,000 or so rare bottles littering tables.
This $1,400 dinner, cooked by four superstar chefs, is the official finale of La Paulee de New York, a bi-annual three-day extravaganza organized and hosted by Daniel Johnnes, wine director at Restaurant Daniel. The event never fails to remind us just how stunning Burgundy’s best pinots and chardonnays can be.
If great Bordeaux is wine for investing, Burgundy is for seduction and singing and, above all, drinking. Especially at this BYOB party at New York’s Metropolitan Pavilion, where winemakers (there are 35 top producers here) and scores of aficionados bring big bottles and old vintages to share.
Among them are violinist Itzhak Perlman and collector Donald Stott, who sold his company Wagner Stott Mercator LLC to Bear, Stearns a decade ago. Now in his 70s, Stott recalls falling in love with Burgundy in 1963. “What grabbed me was the people there,” he says, leaning back in his chair, glass in hand, ready to tell a few stories.
Unlike Bordeaux’s grand chateaux, the region’s tiny domaines tend to be owned by unpretentious, passionate farmers who work the land themselves.
Real estate entrepreneur and Champagne collector Rob “Big Boy” Rosania, in striped jacket and scarf slung jauntily around his neck, brought 15 bottles. His wine of the night, he says, is a magnum of 1949 Domaine de la Conti Richebourg worth more than $7,000.
The dozens of wines sloshed into my glass over the course of the evening include an intense 2005 De Montille Chevalier-Montrachet, 1964 Domaine de la Romanee Conti La Tache (poured from 3-liter jeroboams selling for $13,000 at auction) and 1964 DRC Romanee Conti (latest auction price: $26,000). They’re perfect matches with Daniel Boulud’s succulent poularde, Michel Troisgros’ cream-laced lobster and Daniel Humm’s meltingly tender braised veal cheeks with black truffle.
Oh, and there was a 1995 Musigny from J.F. Mugnier, one of four jeroboams brought by private wine consultant Brian Orcutt.
“Wine lovers think about Burgundy differently than Bordeaux,” he said by way of explaining his largesse.
Johnnes’s U.S. version of Burgundy’s La Paulee de Meursault celebration alternates between New York and San Francisco, with an occasional stop in Aspen. It’s morphed into a series of very pricy events, from collector dinner ($3,750) and lunch ($750) to more affordable tastings ($125 to $300), so as to be “more inclusive.”
Excess? Well, yes, but a charity auction during dinner does raise $155,000 for Citymeals on Wheels.
The week before, New York City was already awash in Burgundy. Many of the attendees packed into Zachys two-day La Paulee sale and bid big, setting records. Some of the 100 lots of rare white Domaine Coche-Dury from Day 2’s single owner sale brought nearly double the high estimates, like a case of 1996 Corton-Charlemagne for $46,000.
Around town, importers poured wines from 2008 and 2009 at trade events such as the annual pre-release tasting for the region’s superstar, Domaine de la Romanee Conti. Votive candles lit the staircase down to restaurant Del Posto’s cellar, which seemed appropriate to the worshipful attitude adopted by most of the three dozen attendees.
What gives the DRC a magical aura is its seven vineyards in the region’s best spots, or climats; its history and its intense, long-lived wines. Co-owner Aubert de Villaine showed off the about-to-go-on sale 2008 vintage, describing another miracle year snatched from disaster, this time by wind that dried soggy grapes in mid-September. To keep quality up, he discarded about half the crop, so prices will be astronomical, as usual. (Though ethereal Romanee-Conti is the vintage star, I loved the exotic, spicy Richebourg.)
But I was even more curious to taste wines from the much-buzzed-about 2009 vintage, now being sold as futures. The dozens I sampled -- especially the reds -- mostly lived up to the hype. The best have the alluring sensuality of luscious ripe fruit, heady scents, and velvety fleshy textures that drive Burgundy lovers to buy and buy and buy, whatever the price. I fell hard for the layered Faiveley Clos des Cortons ($140), ditto the succulent Domaine Armand Rousseau Chambertin (not yet priced). Luckily, even examples of lowly $20 Bourgogne Rouge will offer plenty of pinot pleasure.
Burgundy’s appeal has grown even stronger in the past decade. Wine advisor Marc Lazar says that’s partly because the region is producing better wine and more consistent wine than ever.
So far, buyers in Hong Kong and China are focused almost exclusively on Bordeaux and snap up only a few top Burgundy brand names, like DRC, Maison Leroy, and Henri Jayer. There are still bargains to be had.
Yet that may not last much longer. Johnnes and his team plan to take La Paulee to Hong Kong.
(Elin McCoy writes on wine and spirits for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)