Traditional Burgundy Bacchanal Returns to New York City


© Photographer Thomas Schauer

On February 10, the Paulée of New York will take place once again. The festivities will begin with a wine auction; the next day there is another auction and vertical tastings, and seminars conducted by some of Burgundy's more important winemakers, who are coming to show the current vintage and some of the best wines from past vintages. But the main event, the part of the three-day celebration of all that is good in Burgundy is the gala dinner on Saturday, February 12. It is the authentic recreation of the Paulée de Meursault.

This feeling is perhaps what inspired the Greeks to accept wine and the god Dionysus and what also terrified them about his power. As with any cult, you have to be an acolyte.

The Paulée de Meursault was originally a simple, informal meal prepared by Cistercian monks for Burgundy's vineyard workers at the end of harvest. It was cooked in a large sauté pan, called a poile, which supposedly lent the name to the meal. In the 1920s, the visionary mayor of the town of Meursault, Jules Lafon, decided that along with an auction to raise money for local hospices and to generate more enthusiasm for his village's wines, he would hold a Paulée of his own at his family's winery, Domaine des Comtes Lafon. The entire village participated, with producers bringing ancient vintages out of their cellars to share with neighbors, guests, and loyal customers who made the voyage to join in the bacchanal. The Paulée was so well liked that it became an annual part of the three main events that are held in Burgundy in November, called the Trois Glorieuses. (The others are an additional gala dinner and a wine auction.) The website for La Paulée de New York calls the Paulée "the world's largest BYOB party."

La Paulée is more about the wine that guests bring to the party than the few official wines, which are served more as starters than as main events. And there are wines in grand format—large bottles like Magnums, Jeroboams, and on and on. There are great wines such as Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée "Brûlée" 1985, Domaine Leflaive Montrachet 1991, Coche Dury Corton-Charlemagne 1996, DRC La Tache 1971 and DRC Romanée-Conti 1990, Domaine Dujac Clos de la Roche 1969, Comte de Vogue Musigny 1945. Just a taste, then furious writing of notes, then on to the next wine. This is hard work. It is an intoxicating, gripping, inspirational evening. This feeling is perhaps what inspired the Greeks to accept wine and the god Dionysus and what also terrified them about his power. As with any cult, you have to be an acolyte.


© Photographer Thomas Schauer

In addition, the Paulée de New York has always been supported by chefs and sommeliers. The fact that a Paulée is allowed to be sanctioned outside of Burgundy is because of Daniel Johnnes, a sommelier who worked with New York restaurateur Drew Nieporent to create the first Paulées abroad, in New York and then in San Francisco. Daniel became famous while working at a restaurant called Montrachet, and as you can imagine, there was a passion for Burgundy there. His passion, contacts with growers and wineries in Burgundy, and the support of Drew for wine events helped win over the organizers of the Paulée in France so that they would give the official blessing and lend New York the official Paulée choir every year, Les Cadets de Bourgogne.

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Montrachet became the training ground for many of the sommeliers who still help organize the event in New York and San Francisco, even though most are no longer attached to Drew Nieporent or Daniel Johnnes directly. One of them is the talented Bernie Sun who now oversees the wine program for all of Jean-Georges Vongerichten's restaurants. David Gordon (of Nobu), Rajat Parr (originally from Rubicon restaurant, now with Michael Mina), Robert Bohr (formerly of Cru, now working with Tom Colicchio), and Daniel Boulud are all involved as well. Chef Boulud has been involved in every Paulée since the beginning, even the first one that was held in Aspen a few years ago. His eyes were sparkling with excitement, as were all of ours, when one of the best collectors in the United States opened a bottle of Domaine de la Romanée Conti Vosne-Romanée "Les Gaudichots" 1929 from Doris Duke's cellars, which were sold by Christie's in 2004.

This year, as usual, there will be a few other chefs joining Daniel Boulud at the Metropolitan Pavilion on 18th Steet West. These are chefs like Michel Troisgros, Daniel Humm, and Tom Colicchio. In Aspen, Michael Mina will join the illustrious group. You will never have a better group of chefs to figure out food to complement the finest wines in the world.

It is not too late to catch La Paulée de New York this year. It is an ingenious idea, a crazy idea, and an event worth seeking out.