I have been slow to stay current with the wealth of incredible wines that I have tasted during the first two months of 2008”¦my sincerest apologies. The notes are there, but time is not always my friend. Of all the great wines that I have tasted, and of all the great wine events that I have attended and conducted, there are very few that have equaled what I just experienced at La Paulee in San Francisco this past week. Over the course of four nights, I took notes for 138 wines, all incredibly rare vintage Burgundies (except for some Champagnes), and there were quite a few I missed since I seemed to turn into a pumpkin every night around 2AM. What’s a working guy to do?
This is the fourth consecutive year that I have attended and written up La Paulee, and for those of you that do not know what the event is, it is a celebration of Burgundy orchestrated by Burgundy lover extraordinaire Daniel Johnnes, who by day is the wine director for all of Daniel Boulud’s culinary empire, in addition to a quality importer of select wines.
La Paulee culminates every year with a BYO extravaganza where over 400 people come with their good stuff, and plenty of it. There is also always a VIP winemaker dinner Thursday night, this year’s featuring Eric Rousseau and Dominique Lafon, and also a Saturday walkabout afternoon tasting where some of Burgundy’s greatest producers pour some of their newest releases. This year’s vintage happened to be 2005”¦talk about a bonus! This year also saw an incredible Friday night BYO party hosted by Wilf and Eddie, but the week quietly kicked off Wednesday night with a small get-together at Michael Mina’s, my home away from home in San Francisco. Eric Rousseau was the guest of honor, and Wilf, Don and a close friend of mine were some of the guests, so I just had that feeling that there would be some serious ‘honoring’ done before the night was over.
We started with a mag of 1990 Dom Perignon Rose, a bubbly that has shown exquisitely but also perplexingly. This magnum was more on the perplexing side with its hay and barn aromas, still very fresh and sound, but slow to uncoil its rose and strawberry sides. It was definitively earthy and gamy, also big, long and tangy in the mouth with a dusty finish. In the end, it stayed on the horsy side of the fence, and I have had better magnums within the past couple months. Bottle variation rears its head (93+M).
Wilf uncorked a pair of 2002 whites, beginning with a 2002 Sauzet Montrachet. It has a gorgeous nose, although Daniel found it ‘a little oaky’ at first. There was a lot of tropical fruit and banana aromas, but still that nice white Burgundy cut of minerals, along with a pinch of signature Sauzet anise. At first, the wine was very shut down on the palate, but in time, it blossomed into a great wine. Sometimes these things need time! Traces of butter, citrus and minerality uncoiled into a graceful and elegant experience, full of ‘good acidity’ as Thierry observed. The ’02 kept getting better and better and better (95).
The 2002 Chateau de Puligny Montrachet Chevalier Montrachet rubbed Thierry the wrong way initially, as he found it ‘a little oaky and sweet.’ Wilf interjected that he ‘liked the style of the Sauzet, but there is more stuffing here,’ and there was. Wilf went on to say how Sauzet buys all his grapes from Baron Thenard, while Etienne de Montille controls the grapes for CPM, and how that can make a huge difference some years. There was more noticeable oak in the CPM, but I didn’t find it over the top, and there was still pinch and edge to its nose. Aromas of slate, game and exotic wood were all present. The wine was thick and big in the mouth, with more spice and pop to the finish, seemingly longer than the Sauzet at first, but not at last. Wilf found it ‘close to 5 stars,’ and Madame Rousseau preferred the nose of the Sauzet but the palate of the CPM. As the Sauzet started to unfold, Wilf made a point that ‘temperature has a huge impact on style’ (93+).
The 1999 Domaine Leflaive Batard Montrachet popped out of the glass with its super smoky and kernel-filled nose. ‘A touch reduced,’ Thierry observed, and it had noticeable sulfur in its nose, which was ‘a little stinky, but I still like it,’ Thierry reassured me. Corn, citrus, more kernel and lots of minerality kept coming out of the glass. The palate was big, rich and thick with excellent, brooding acidity but a touch brawny and square in its personality. The finish was toasty and minerally, and the acidity lingered beautifully. Thierry was loving the wine despite that touch of sulfur awkwardness, and I also found it excellent overall (94).
A 1997 Coche-Dury Meursault Perrieres had a sparkling nose with a sweet kink of white flowers, flowers just starting to wilt. Its floral components became more wild with time, and a hint of back alley crept in, but the wine was still very clean and had a waterfall-like freshness. The palate was clean, fresh and pure, just gorgeous and in a great spot, clearly the best drinking of any wine so far. The palate had nice spice and was clean, classic and minerally. It was another good show for a 1997 white Burgundy, a great vintage to be drinking now (93).
The 1992 Coche-Dury Meursault Perrieres Don served out of magnum, and Wilf dismissed it right away, calling out its ‘botrytis,’ and adding ‘not for me.’ Joe agreed, finding it ‘cracked.’ Its nose was funky and gamy, stinky and mature with pinches of white pepper and anise to go with its baked white bread aromas. Flavors of candy corn and butter flashed in the pan, and its finish was bitter, as if a shot of vodka was in there, another sign that the wine was starting to crack up and unintegrate (90M).
The 1985 Domaine Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet that I brought was served a little cold, and the nose was mild at first accordingly. There was no doubt about its purity, though, and complex aromas started to emerge. There was a touch of Ramonet-like mint, granulated sugar, white and yellow fruits, smoke and a hint of ceramic complexity eventually in its nose. The palate was rich and creamy with nice yeast and corn flavors and spectacular acidity. It felt like it had another twenty years left in it, and its acidity was clearly the best of the night so far. A hint of bitters on its finish didn’t hold it back, although a close friend of mine found the finish ‘a touch clumsy,’ but he doesn’t know white wines anyway lol (96).
Geez, more whites? It was ok, since it was Montrachet-time, and even better since it was Ramonet Montrachet-time! The 1983 Ramonet Montrachet had a coy nose, mild and clean with a hint of mint, granulated sugar, petrol and garden complexities aromatically. The palate was clean, fresh, long and stylish, stunning with its grace and beauty and in a perfect spot right now. Its sunset of acidity still lit up the sky, and there was great balance, purity and length to this masterful wine. Despite a touch of cat box, the wine was still clean and fresh, more ‘mint’ was observed, and Thierry and a close friend of mine were loving the wine so much that a make-out session practically ensued. We were in San Francisco, after all ha ha, but Kansas City was in the house thanks to this generous bottle brought by Mark (96).
The 1979 Ramonet Montrachet magnum, yes magnum, was a fitting end to the procession of wonderful whites on this evening, and we had Sandy and his incredible Ramonet collection to thank for this. Buttered bread and sweet buttered corn oozed out of its gamy nose. The nose morphed into caramel and shredded wheat morning cereal with sliced bananas. The palate was much yeastier than the ’83, possibly a touch advanced, a close friend of mine wondered. I still found it outstandingly good, rich, buttery and tasty, full of character and an open personality that said right here, right now (96M).
It was time for some red, and there was plenty of Rousseau going around, beginning with a 1982 Rousseau Gevrey Chambertin Clos St. Jacques, again courtesy of the humble Acker cellar. Actually, this bottle was already sold but grabbed by me before the out report oops. Sorry Roger J. Incredible aromas of big-time truffles leapt from its nose. Additional aromas of dried cherries, tobacco and oatmeal also joined the party in this approachable and delicious nose. The palate was round and rich with excellent dust and still sturdy acidity. Long, stylish and surprisingly good, this ’82 was a real eye-opener and a testament to the greatness of both Rousseau and Clos St. Jacques. I should note that the wine did start to fade after thirty minutes or so, but for that half-hour, it was definitely excellent stuff (93).
Next up was the 1983 Rousseau Chambertin, the last bottle on offer from the Acker cellar this evening, but not the last bottle on my bill as you will see. It had lots of spearmint in the nose and a touch of Nyquil, that noticeable rot that many ‘83s are prone to show. A bit of oak crept in, flirting with gingerbread. The oak stayed on the palate in a kiss kiss way, along with nice citricity and good thickness on the finish, and that hint of medicine carried over to the palate. I should note that we had a much better bottle of this the following night, although this bottle was still very good, just different. Remember, this is fine wine, and there will be variation. You can’t make it on an assembly line (91).
It started to get serious with a 1962 Rousseau Chambertin. The Doctor was in the house. Tobasco jumped out of its thick, rich and sweet nose. Sandy called it ‘youthful but old’ and was wondering about any chapitalization, as it did have a sweet, almost tropicalnature. Musky and gamy, Wilf called it ‘brilliant,’ and its palate was thick, rusty and spicy with long, excellent vigor. The wine was sturdy and got a little dirty in the glass, but it never lost the centerpoint and focus of ’62, and despite its hearty nature, the wine was still elegant, although I did wonder whether or not the bottle was a hair affected due to its wild, sweeter nature (95).
Unfortunately, the 1953 Rousseau Chambertin was affected and (DQ). Shit happens. No one cared, especially once the next two wines were on the table.
The 1945 Rousseau Chambertin was extraordinary, one of those special wines that you never forget, and a wine that made me forget anything and everything else around me. It had the superb t ‘n a of 1945, reminding me of Tony Atlas and Rocky Johnson in their prime for some strange reason. It was even more than that, ‘absolute Cloverfield insanity,’ I wrote. It was a powerful wine, is what I am trying to say! Aromas of brussel sprouts graced its stony, spiny and limy core, and a whiff of spectacular cedar/interior wood balanced out its intense nose. The palate was extremely focused, a whiplash of spicy and tangy flavors, clean and mean with a no prisoners attitude yet still with the ability to kiss the palate with tobasco. ‘Finally a 6 star wine,’ a close friend of mine exhaled. ‘Its sweetness and density are insane’ (98).
The 1952 Rousseau Chambertin was no slouch either, revealing a long and deep nose and a rusty intensity a la the ’45. There was super spine and spice here, a brick city of a nose with faint, sweet red fruits and roses and a galaxy of green lime. Thierry and a close friend of mine were at it again, cooing over the ’52 like the two schoolgirls that they are J. Dusty, rusty and spiny, this was another magnificent Chambertin from Rousseau, and another killer ’52 Burg. Much thanks to the Doctor for an opportunity to taste these four legends together, andone could see Rousseau overwhelmed with joy and emotion (96).
Well, Don had something to say, and he said it with a 1934 Rousseau Chambertin Cuvee A, courtesy of the Doris Duke cellar. Rousseau joked that Cuvee A was the best, so I said, ‘no Cuvee F?’ The nose gave a great first impression with its sensual rose, earth and limestone. ‘Tres serieux,’ I smiled at Rousseau. He did not disagree! The ’34 had an incredible centerpoint and an intense, rusty, lemony personality with a touch of confectioners’ sweetness. Rich and long, it gained that tobasco craziness both in the nose and in the mouth that the other Chambertins displayed as well (97).
We were out of wines, so a close friend of mine and I attacked the list. a close friend of mine popped open a rare 1962 Roumier Chambolle Musigny, which had a decadent nose of dirty earth, dark chocolate and sweet rose oil syrup. Rich and still hearty, and despite its two-dimensional nature relative to the great Chambertins we just had, it was still excellent stuff and a revelation for a village wine. The hallmark Roumier acidity still shone brightly (93).
I needed some Champagne to revive, so I ordered a 1961 Krug magnum. The nose had that perfect vanilla cream sex appeal of great, old Krug. Thierry noted, ‘apple cider.’ The palate was creamy, rich and spicy with a vin de paille edge, still sturdy and full of character. Gingerbread emerged in this long and ample bubbly, which had a great center of attention and even commanded Joe to give a standing ‘O’ (96M).
a close friend of mine countered with a 1952 Veuve Clicquot magnum, which showed spectacularly as well. It was even fresher, bigger and bolder than the Krug, similar in style and seemingly younger even though it was older! It was lip-smackingly good and intense with more of a rusty personality, and about as perfect a 56 year-old bubbly could be (97M).
Check please”¦after all, La Paulee was about to start tomorrow. Damn, that Krug set me back, but it was fairly priced, and kudos to the great Raj Parr and the incredible wine list at Michael Mina for having Champagne like that available for our drinking pleasure.
In Vino Veritas,