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Mar 4, 2001 04:09 AM

La Paulée de San Francisco

  • m

My Saturday afternoon was devoted to volunteering for the Grand Tasting to benefit the San Francisco Foodbank. Organized by Daniel Johnnes of the Myriad Restaurant Group (Nobu, Tribeca and others), the tasting featured wines from13 of Burgundy’s leading domains poured by the growers themselves and delicacies prepared by SF’s finest chefs. Keeping with its origins in Meursault, the Cadets de Bourgogne were on hand to entertain us with Burgundian drinking songs.

What was my job among this stellar group? The most important of all, to stand guard over nearly 70 cases of premium Burgundies once the workroom was unlocked. Provided with snacks of honey -roasted peanuts, Cheez-its and a couple bottles of Evian to fortify me for the task, I was pretty much bored out of my mind for about two hours before the show began. But, this was a much better job than polishing Riedel crystal next door. At least I could be close to the wines and study the crus and vintages in anticipation of tasting them. Later I would assist Bruce Yang, sommelier at Montrachet, to stage the bottles for service, which means I schlepped cases, unpacked bottles and matched labels to the wine list.

My reward for this was an hour’s break to wander through the event, enough time to taste 22 wines and sample most of the menu. The tasting menu by chef included

Jeffrey Amber & Salina Rubio, XYZ
Patisserie assortment of Chocolates and Petit Fours. My favorite was the Danish butter mint sandwich cookie.

Jody Denton, Azie
Red curry braised Hudson Valley duck with coconut milk risotto. The risotto was incredibly rich – I’ll have to try this twist. The curry seasonings hit the right counterpoint, however, completely overwhelmed any duck character.

Traci Des Jardins & Douglas Keane, Jardinière
Wild Mushroom Tart. Missed this one.

Elizabeth Faulkner, Citizen Cake
Assorted Citizen Cake Cookies and Petit Fours. Didn’t try.

Mark Franz & Emily Luchetti, Farallon
Lobster Sausage and Duck Gizzard Confit with Beluga Lentils and Black Truffle Coulis
The lobster sausage was great, although firmer and not as moist as I’ve had at the restaurant. The duck gizzard was excessively tough and served in a half-inch chunk, would have been much better sliced thinly. Couldn’t taste or see any black truffle.

David Gingrass & Bridget Batson, Hawthorne Lane
Peekytoe Crab, Sweet Pea and Wild Mushroom Salad in Porcini Tuiles
Delicate sweet flavors, but structurally unsound. Served ice cream cone style and wrapped in paper, the lacy tuiles shattered on first bite, making them hard to eat.

Loretta Keller, Bizou
Spring Onion Ravioli with Sweet Pea and Mint
Truly the taste of spring, so fresh and green. The beauty of simplicity.

Dennis Leary, Rubicon
Smoked Pheasant Terrine with Pistachios and Black Trumpet Mushrooms
More eye candy than deliciousness, the presentation was beautiful with a side garnish of a perfect asparagus tip and other miniature vegetables. However, it was served icy cold and the pastry casing was sopping wet detracting from the taste appeal. The delicately smoked pheasant part was fine.

Michael Mina, Aqua
Potato Crusted Scallop, Domestic Caviar, Smoked Salmon Cream. Missed it.

George Morrone, Fifth Floor
Roasted Sonoma Quail with White Truffle Emulsion
Now this was a dish that both white and red Burgundies can wrap themselves around. It was my favorite. Nearly half a boned birdwith the drumstick at center for a finger food handle, the quail was the most succulent and flavorful I’ve ever had. The nearly ultra-violet Peruvian purple potato mince used as bull’s eye garnish really drew the eye. And, who couldn’t help but love the generous hand with the white truffle oil. Well-designed for a walk-around tasting and the ethereal and earthy aromas and flavors which echoed the featured wines made this a winning combination.

Nancy Oakes & Pamela Mazzola, Boulevard
Braised Veal Cheek, Celery Root Puree and Morel Mushroom Sauce.
A close runner-up. Broad and comforting flavors of richly unctuous veal cheek melded with the taste of the soil in root vegetables and morels were wonderful with the Pinot Noir-based wines. Each plate was adorned with a whole morel, and no, I didn’t get sick this time.

Mitchell & Steven Rosenthal , Postrio
Warm Epoisse with Onion Vermouth Sauce
The weakest of the bunch. The Epoisse was grainy and NOT warm, served on a mushy baguette slice in a pool of excessively sweet oniony purée. Even the chaser of Brocard Premier Cru “Montée de Tonnerre” Chablis which should be its perfect partner could not save this one.


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  1. Rough day at the office, Melanie. My heart goes out to you.

    5 Replies
    1. re: gordon wing
      Melanie Wong

      Your concern is deeply appreciated, Gordon. (g)

      I had a chance to talk with Bruce Yang about US Chinese involvement in the wine world. He is one of two Chinese sommeliers at Montrachet. I didn't catch the name of the other one who also came to SF. These two guys couldn't have been nicer. They let me have the first break before the crowd was too oppressive, as they were already familiar with nearly all the wines.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        The other Chinese sommelier's name is Bernard Sun. He came from Le Cirque 2000, and before that was working (I think) at Lespinasse. And he is such a nice guy.

        1. re: Gary Cheong

          Thanks for filling that in for me, Gary. It was so helpful to me to be able to have more time to sample the wines offered. As they said to me, at Montrachet their offered just about every Burgundy that hits these shores.

          Monday coming back through Customs at SFO I struck up a conversation with someone who works for the Rothschilds, Mark Chong (sp?). I noticed that he had an empty wine bottle in his shopping bags, although I couldn't see the label. Turned out to be the 1993 Mouton with the label that was banned from the US, a souvenir of one of his nights out in Paris.

          1. re: Melanie Wong
            Caitlin McGrath

            Why was the label banned from the US?

            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

              Actually, the label wasn't banned. Mouton features a different artist's work on its label each year. The 1993 Mouton Rothschild featured a nude by Balthus. It was actually approved for use by the US BATF (big surprise!). However, after objections by US consumer groups who said it was child pornography, the Baronessa voluntarily withdrew the label from distribution in the US. Product shipped to the US via appointed distributors had a blank white label. You can see for yourself via the link below.


    2. Did you take detailed tasting notes on the wines? I would be VERY interested in that. Was about to go to Paulee, but was called out of town and missed it. With the price of Burgundies these days (and wine in general), any pre-buying advice is well-heeded. Just got Tanzer's Burgundy report, but any information is gladly accepted. Thanks.

      10 Replies
      1. re: srf1

        I wasn't at this event, but maybe I can shed a little light on '99 Burgundy reds. I went up to the Russian River barrel tasting on Friday with 2 friends who have a wholesale wine importing firm in the Bay Area. They specialize in Burgundy and Germany. I asked them about Robert Groffier's wines in '99 (they import that domaine). In general, they said '99 is a near-term vintage for cellaring. This is not a vin de garde vintage. Even in barrel, the wines were ripe, juicy and succulent. Wines the critics love. The Groffier wine that would most benefit from cellaring is the Chambolle-Musigny "Amoureuses". They are also quite fond of the Chambolle-Musigny "Haut Doit". The one comment that I found most interesting is that the good producers with holdings in lesser communes (Fixin, Santenay, Savigny-Les-Beaunes, Bourgogne Rouge, etc.) made excellent wine in '99. The grapes in those areas achieved full ripeness. They even feel this is a better vintage for those wines than '90.

        These folks are friends so I get the straight poop (no sales BS) from them. Hell, their phone has been ringing off the hook wondering when they'll get their Groffier's in.

        We drank a '98 Pernand Vergelesses (rouge), Michel Voarick for lunch. We shared that with Mick Unti (Unti Vineyards, makes excellent Syrah). Turns out we know a lot of the same people when I was in retail (and that ended 13 years ago!). This wine will probably retail for ~20 when it arrives. Although not listed as an old vines cuvee, the youngest vines were planted before WW II. This wine had very good balance and structure. Personally, those are the kinds of wines I'm looking for in that price range.

        Yeah, you're probably thinking "Drinking French wine in Dry Creek Valley!?!". Gotta admit, my friends and I have Eurocentric palates. But I did come back with a couple of bottle of '98 Unti Syrah. The '00 Syrah was pretty terrific out of barrel, too.

        1. re: Larry Stein
          Melanie Wong

          I've had to do few vinous about-faces this week. Tuesday was WA State; Wednesday, spicy food and wine matching; Thursday, international Syrahs; Friday, Chateau Montelena and Pride Vineyards; Saturday, Burgundy; and today, offering Zinfandel barrel samples at Joseph Swan in Russian River Valley. I can hardly keep them straight at this point.

          Did you have a chance to try Voarick's three 95 Cortons last week?

          I like Mick Unti's wines too. In fact I brought the 97 Syrah to our chowhound gathering. Did you get a chance to try the Sangiovese? The 99 in barrel last year was incredible - hope they got all the potential into the bottle successfully.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Yes, I did try the 3 Voarick Corton's. I think the Bressandes might be too tannic. The Clos du Roi was just lovely, very delicate and well balanced. The Renardes was the great one: power, texture, length, and balance. My friends are getting more of that in and I told them to put a few bottles of that aside for me.

            At Unti, they were tasting '00 Syrah, '00 Sangiovese and '99 Zin out of barrel. To be honest, the Sangiovese is a well-made wine, but I haven't yet found a CA Sangio that really tastes varietal. I really liked the Syrah and Zin. I bought some '98 Syrah. I did notice that virtually all the '99 Zins I tasted did not have the blowtorch effect. I wonder if that will change after bottling. The Swans were excellent, especially Ziegler and Stellwagen. At Martinelli, I loved the Martinelli Road Chards '98 and '00, but not the price. These had real cut and definition, unlike 95% of the CA Chards out there. The only '00s I liked at Sebastopol/Dutton Ranch were the Syrahs. Wasn't impressed by the Chards and Pinots. Then headed to Sausal ('99 PR Zin was alright, but I've always liked their regular Zin bottling the best) and White Oak (nothing to write home about) on the way to Alexander Valley Vineyards. AVV was serving oysters and chicken/oyster gumbo from 5-8PM. A nice restorative after a full day of tasting!

            1. re: Larry Stein

              We're in agreement on the Voarick Cortons. Not a favorite spot of ground for me, but these were awfully nice.

              The Untis are growing some great fruit. We had the 97 Syrah at our recent Chowhound get-together. I hope you can come to the next one.

              My assessment of the 99 Zins after tasting around at the ZAP barrel tasting is the same as yours. This is a much better balanced vintage. After the gnarly and hot 98s, I thought we might be on a trajectory for 20% alcohol zins the next vintage! The vines were much healthier in 99 and gave better balanced fruit with good acid levels and more even ripening with mature flavors at lower sugars.

              Swan had a fantastic zin vintage in 99. I have a hard time choosing between the Zeigler or the Stellwagen bottling, the personalities of the two wines are so different and each gorgeous in its own way. One of the highlights of my day as a volunteer at the winery that weekend was coaxing a woman (visiting from georgia) who only drinks white zin and didn't even know that zinfandel could be a red wine into tasting the Stellwagen. I said - please trust me here; this wine is perfectly balanced with silky tannins and oodles of fruit, you'll love it. It was amazing to watch her face as she tentatively smelled it and then took the first sip. She was so pleased, she burst out laughing! She kept exclaiming that she didn't know red wine could taste like that. Praise the Lord!

              While I didn't taste Martinelli's offerings, the best Russian River Valley Chardonnays are really special. They can go through a full malo and still offer such dazzling definition. I spent some time in France with an Irish MW who'd made his first trip to the Calif. wine regions 2 years ago. He said the most memorable wines he tasted from Santa Barbara to Oregon were the Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from Russian River Valley.

        2. re: srf1
          Melanie Wong

          Did I take detailed notes? Hardly. Steven, I tried 22 wines and zipped through nine courses in less than 65 minutes! And, I managed that only by piling a dessert plate and taking it back to my station.

          I haven’t seen Tanzer’s report, my subscription must have lapsed. Tanzer is a better guide to Burgundy than Parker/Rovani or the Spectator. Let me know if there are particular producers or appellations you are especially interested in. I tasted about 400 wines during my five days in Burgundy nearly a year ago, mostly 97s and 98s with a fair sprinkling of infant 99s and a few older vintages thrown in. Also, last month I tried 50+ current release Burgundies from various producers. I’ll be in Beaune next weekend but only as a rest stop before heading to the Rhone. I don’t expect to do any tasting.

          A few general comments on the three vintages – I’m at polar opposite with Rovani’s take on the 97s and 98s. Many 97s suffer from overripeness, low acidity, soft tannins, and high alcohol. The hot baked flavors are reminiscent of Carneros Pinot Noir in years that suffer a heat spike during harvest, not unlike the conditions that year in Burgundy. They are slurping well now, albeit with chunky mid-palates and lacking the persistence and length of fine Burgundy, and few will get any better. These are a perfect introduction to Burgundy for fans of California Pinot Noir. Best to drink up, even the Grand Crus. The main exception to this generalization is Volnay in 1997. The extra ripeness gave an attractive added bit of flesh to the Volnay wines without ruining their natural grace or delicate balance.

          On the 1998s, I find the wines I’ve tasted far better than the reputation of the vintage. If I remember correctly, Rovani’s tastings were about two weeks ahead of my own chance to sample the vintage. They’d just been bottled, and as would be expected, were suffering from bottle shock which tends to emphasize the structural elements and suppresses the fruit. Rovani didn’t seem to have the ability to taste through this awkward phase to recognize the true potential in the glass. While I was much more attracted to the 98s than he was, the recent performance of these wines has impressed me even more. The 98s had good ripeness, and now the fruit has come forward, broader and deeper to wrap around the firm tannic backbone. Yes, this is a “hard” vintage, similar to 93 and 95 in that respect. But those vintages have come around beautifully, and many like myself who believed in the 93s in spite of Parker’s pan (rain, or rather sprinkles, at harvest is not an automatic disaster in Burgundy) made out like bandits buying the wines at deep discount for very pleasurable drinking today and far into the future for those long-lived wines. Further, as happened with the very good 95s that were overshadowed by the near-perfect 96s, we may see 98s languishing on the retail shelves and eventually discounted as word about the 99s spreads. I think there will be bargains to be had here if consumers buy on ratings without tasting for themselves.

          The 99s were mere babies when tasted in March 2000. But what pretty babies! Most of the ones I tried were from Morey-St.-Denis, from village level through Grand Cru, and these showed sweet red fruits with weighty extract and good definition from ripe fruity acidity and silky tannins. At that early stage, I would only say they had wonderful material and show terrific potential. There is a tenderness, clarity and vivid fruitiness that reminds me of the 91s, a very under-rated vintage that is drinking so beautifully today even though the critics said it would be early maturing. A 91 Volnay 1er cru opened last month dazzled my tablemates who are all in the wine pros.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Thanks for the detailed reply. I agree with you (in disagreeing with Rovani) - the 98 vintage was tough overall, but many producers (Chevillon, Dugat, Groffier, Mugnier, Mortet) produced some great wines. So in my minds, you cant dismiss a vintage that easily. I, myself, am a huge fan of the big boys (DRC, Leroy, etc), but dont always want to pay the exorbitant prices. Always looking for that type of quality in a mid-priced Burg. My favorites year over year tend to be Groffier, Roumier, Perrot-Minot, Mugnier and Dugat (not in any order). It seems like 99 will be a good year for the Volnays, and according to Tanzer both Laurent and Perrot-Minot had great offerings (as well as Jadot and Drouhin which was surprising). One new negociant that piqued my interest is Lucien Le Moine - I had never heard of them, but Tanzer seemed to really enjoy their 99 offerings. I always like it when the negociants make great wine - they usually make a good amount and with wide distribution, the prices dont go haywire (and sometimes you can even find it discounted - yes, I know discount and Burgundy never seem to go hand in hand). Anyways, thanks for the reply and now I'm even more unhappy about missing the event. LOL.

            1. re: srf1

              I shall try to immerse myself in Burgundy again, after giving into the dark side that is the noble Syrah the last week or so. Did have some fine drinking in a couple of Burgs though this trip too.

            2. re: Melanie Wong


              I was surfing for Burgundy vintage assessments and found your information extremely useful -- and your descriptions well written. I haven't been drinking burgundies for awhile, mostly buying the local California wines. These can be enjoyable and the prices for French wines here in California I find appalling after having lived in New York City for a decade. Now that wines can be purchased from my favorite NYC shops on-line, I'm looking at returning to the "real thing"...and so much more enjoyable they are.

              I was ready to follow the Parker line and purchase 97's while blowing off the 98's....perhaps a grave error.

              My question to you is, given my more modest lifestyle (based on income, mind you) burgundy targets are more the Mercurey, Givry, Santanay sort of thing versus Volnays, Chambolles, Vosne, etc. I imagine the former being more dependent on vintage than the latter. Do you have any opinion on which vintages I should look for with these "lesser" appellations? (Taking into account only 1996 and beyond).


              1. re: stephen

                Stephen, first off, you must tell me where you're finding these web wine deals in NY. Most of the necessities of life are more expensive in San Francisco than the rest of the country, but not wine. All types of wine, not just Californian, are available at retail for 10-30% less than offered in other states. Perhaps if you're buying big ticket items, the savings on sales tax would offset shipping cost ($50 per case, typically) from NY.

                And, I'll offer you a tip. For a good range of moderately priced European wines, get to know Morgan at Oddlots in Albany, CA. You can find more info by doing a search from the Chowhound main page.

                I'm hesitant to give you specific recommendations on vintages for each appellation, as my tasting experience is getting a bit old. I didn't spend much time in Burgundy this March, but if you want Rhone advice...

                Instead I'll offer some things to keep in mind when picking vintages and villages if you don't have tasting notes for specific wines to guide you. As I mentioned for Volnay, the fatness achieved in the 97 vintage worked very well with these usually lighter-bodied wines. The character of the 97 vintage could be an asset for the lesser appellations which often suffer from a green-streak. In contrast the firm structure and tightness of the 98 vintage would amplify the hardness which Gevrey-Chambertin wines often display. So it is important to match the typical character of the village with how the unique conditions of the vintage year will express its personality. This is intended as a rule of thumb, there will always be individual exceptions.

                I'm hearing mixed messages on the 99s. These are very flattering wines for such young pups and just coming onto the market now. Very good ripeness, not overripe as many 97s were, and better natural balance. Yields were up, so there may be a tad of concentration lacking. One wine-importing friend swears that these are better than the 90s house-by-house, not being overextracted or raisined. The ripe supple nature of the vintage will flatter the lesser appellations.

                Since you are not buying wines to cellar for the long-term, the accessibility of 97s and 99s would seem best suited for your drinking pattern. I'd also add Savigny les Beaune and Marsannay to your list. There can be some gems from these two lesser appellations in good years, and especially because there are some good producers who lavish as much attention on the little wines as the more famous appellations. And, don't overlook even Bourgogne rouge from the best growers/negociants in good years. Gone from the market now, the 96 Leroy Bourgogne at $16 was a steal for the deliciousness in the bottle.

                Still I think 1996 offers superior price-quality ratio. I'm buying the few that appear on the retail shelf to hold. Most 1996s have started to go to sleep and won't wake up again for another 2-3 years.

                1. re: stephen

                  Thanks so much for the reply, Melanie. You cleared up some of the issues I'm dealing with on purchasing wines from the "lesser" appellations. I have enjoyed some wonderful Savigny in the past, but have yet to taste a Marsannay. Roty supposedly does well with it.

                  You and Parker aren't really all that far apart on how to shop for a wine from, say, Mercurey or Santanay. Many of these wines, according to him, suffer from what you called "greenstreak" in less than optimal warmth and sunshine years due to the vineyards' aspects. Hence, it does seem 97 and 99 represent good years for these. On the other hand, he does write that reds from Chassagne, for instance, require a number of years to come together, so perhaps if any 96's are around, those might make good selections.

                  Hey, the only reason I'm shopping on-line from NY stores is that I'm in southern California and the selection/price ratio near me is horrid and I just don't feel like driving 60 miles to the LA westside, fighting gridlock both directions, to see what they have. I have bought from Garnet, where I bought quite a bit of wine at good prices when I lived in New York, and from the Burgundy Wine Company. The shipping comes to $18 for a six-pack. No sales tax is charged and the average price I paid for the wines was probably $25-30, not big ticket stuff. For instance, a $200 purchase of six wines cost $18 for shipping, just about what tax would be here 8.5%.

                  Some of the other NY firms selling wine on-line have the usual bad prices they've always had -- i.e. Zachy's, Pop's (so-so), Wally's, etc. Certainly you Bay Area people are better wine consumers with more choices than these characters down here in LA.

                  Thanks again, Melanie.

            3. b
              Brandon Nelson


              I caught some of the nuts and bolts of this event on "Dining Around" on KGO. You have many jealous compatriots reading this post. Oddly, I never pictured you as the security guard type. Tee hee.

              I have to echo Steven's request, any wine tasting notes you post would be adored. I'm glad to know Chowhounds NoCal rep was present for this event.


              2 Replies
              1. re: Brandon Nelson
                Melanie Wong

                I wish I'd been able to hear the broadcast from my work station. I was too far away from the set-up to hear the interviews. Were the growers (a couple spoke quite good English) interviewed?

                I'm sure that the chowhounds who gathered in SF last week are sharing a giggle with you too at the idea of my being "security". I doubt anyone would be afraid of me, yet who knows what I'd do if someone tried to make off with Dujac's Grand Cru Clos de la Roche? (g)

                I had the opportunity to work the dinner last night too that featured Daniel Boulud, Charlie Trotter, Hubert Keller and Gary Danko, but I was too exhausted from two weeks of running on adrenaline and bailed. Besides I was hankering for spicy food and the comforts of home.

                No time tonight, but maybe I'll be able to sketch out a few wines notes soon.

                1. re: Melanie Wong
                  Brandon Nelson

                  Hi Mel

                  You needed a walkman! The interviews were all good (I was at work, so I heard only bits and pieces). Every time Gene Burns does a remote like this one I come away from the radio with a smile. A guest will always pique my curiosity and send me on some new quest for the divine.

                  I love the attitude of many European winemakers. Often times they come forward with the humble notion that God makes the wine, they just bottle it.

                  There seemed to be a shared excitement between the chefs too. I never got the impression that anyone was going to let their ego get in the way of something bigger. Very refreshing.

                  I eagerly look forward too any wine tasting notes you would care to share.