Tony’s Diary | Burgundians know how to organise a p-p-p-p-party …

… better than anyone in the world. Last week there were three days of non-stop Rabelaisian feasts with the rarest and most expensive wines on the planet, that nevertheless managed to raise nearly €7 million for Beaune hospital. They do this every year, so Beaune has a very fine hospital. ‘Les Trois Glorieuses’ is what it is known as. Three major events. Though I’m sure I counted Five. But that might be the wine.

The 8.30 Eurostar and TGV to Dijon lands you just in time for dinner…. at the Château de Beaune home of Bouchard Pere et Fils which the Champenois owner Joseph Henriot calls his ‘toy’. Some toy. Beaune’s old fortress houses an amazing collection of bottles. Outstanding bottle that night was a 1962!

Stagger back to very friendly Hotel de la Paix, fitful sleep then in for the 9 o’clock tasting of all the wines on offer in tomorrow afternoon’s sale. I have done some hard professional tasting in my life but forty cold and extremely young (some were still fermenting and none had yet been smoothed by malolactic fermentation) wines is fairly bracing … a tasting for the brave and strong of stomach. What gets you through is eating masses of Bugundian ‘gougeres’ (cheese/choux pastry balls).

Wise people take their Hugh Johnson Atlas on trips here; without those maps (now available as an App for only £9.99) you are lost in the multitude of little Beaune and Nuits vineyards which they call ‘climats’. But I am more lucky in that today I have the live, walking/talking/tasting Hugh Johnson with me. He sets his usual pace and I try to follow. The Young Master (of Wine) Justin Howard-Sneyd also leaps off the train and whizzes through the field like a true Professional.

With the Grand Dinner of the Confrerie de Tastevin this evening we’d be wise to eat lightly at midday. But we are not wise and need food to recover from the tasting. Any food in any brasserie will do. And some beer.

Later, all Black Tie and dolled-up, our party, led by our host Anthony Hanson,  are bussed, along with about 500 others, to the magnificent ‘Château of Clos Vougeot’. Actually the place was built not as a castle but as a rather impressive cellar to house the Clos wines. Today it’s all kitted out to produce a big annual programme of dinners for the Confrèrie des Chevaliers de Tastevin.

Anyone prepared to swear undying fidelity to the great wines of Burgundy and to turn away from all others can apply to become a Confrere. I managed it, and I’m a Bordeaux wine producer. OK, so I might have had my fingers crossed when I swore that oath.

These events last many hours, many courses, many songs and many speeches. But they have a lot of fun with it. Such things in Bordeaux tend to the serious. Not here.

“La La, La La,
LaLaLaLa, La La,
LaLaLa, LaLaLa,
La La LA!”

You must learn to sing this. With its hand gestures and clapping. It is very important.

On a bleary Sunday morning I was really nervous about the Auction. In a split second you can get things seriously wrong at an auction. Top bid last year was €275,000 for one barrel. You don’t want to get that wrong.

The sale is held in Beaune Market Hall which holds about 600 with the less fortunate relegated to the remote ‘Salle de Povres’! Or Pauvres. The Poor People have a video link. And no heating according to Barbara who was one. Christies also organise on line bidding from around the world. USA and China mostly. Justin and I had seats in the Great Hall. Hugh was of course up on the stage with the Dignitaries, squashed between the lovely Princess of Savoie and a Corsican bandit … well, a character actor who specialises in bandit roles.

When the first lot went way over the guide price we feared the worst. And were right to. All the prices were huge. We failed to get anything. But the Hospices did very well.

Hugh and Judy had to go out with the Mayor and for a celebration dinner that finished after 2am. They were quiet at breakfast.

But we all made it to the third ‘Glorieuse’; the Paulée de Meursault a celebratory end-of-harvest lunch that we in Bordeaux would call a ‘Gerbaud’. A party for 700 in the cellars of the Château de Meursault. With innumerable courses this lunch goes on for about seven hours. It’s the greatest bring-a-bottle – or magnum – or jeroboam – party in the world. It’s just lots of everything and make sure it your finest stuff.

People wander about with their prize bottles giving as many as possible a taste. I felt a bit mean bringing just one bottle; the 2011 Maranges 1er Cru La Fussiere from Bachelet-Monnot which our Gus – our Fine Wine Guru – is so keen on.

But it was a bit swamped by all the magnificent Montrachets and such. We were overwhelmed by the generosity, bonhomie and enthusiasm of a huge roomful of Burgundy’s finest and most passionate wine growers, makers and traders. As well as dedicated wine nuts from New York, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Scandinavia, Australia and and and …

Old BurgundyThe Morey family next to us kept on pouring lovely Meursaults, Tessons, Charmes, a RED Meursault Les Durots ’07, Dom Lafon, Genevriéres. There was Chablis Montée de Tonnerre 2002 from Raveneau, nice Puligny-Montrachet Folatiéres 2010 and Meursault-Charmes ’07 from new winemaker David Butterfield, sitting two seats along the table. He’s American. I lost count and also my pen at this point, but Hugh says we tried Corton-Bressandes Tollot-Beaut 1993, Clos de Vougeot Gros Frere et Soeur 1990, Clos de la Roche 1993 Denis Bachelet (I knew him when he was just a boy)! Meursault Charmes 1995 Francois Jobard, Meursault Genevrieres 1976, Morey, Richebourg 1988 Anne Gros …

1970 JadotThen Hugh lost his pen, but the wines just kept coming for hours more.

What’s amazing is you never see a single person the worse for wear at these dos, despite a fortune in wine being poured. There are silver buckets spaced along every table and into them people chuck stuff worth a fortune. Why? Because maybe the next wine will be even better and you want your tastebuds and brain to remain working. Well that’s my theory as to how come everyone leaves well upright. The taxis though, make a fortune.

Because of my job, I have often been called a lucky b…

I expect I will be again now.

About Tony Laithwaite

Tony Laithwaite, founder of Laithwaite's, whose passion for wine is still going strong!