A wine auction which is not just about wines, Lyric Opera of Chicago's triennial Wine Auction garnered a remarkable amount of money, all done with class and elegance
By: Soumya Jain
Posted on: March 4, 2015
A wine auction which is not just about wines, Lyric Opera of Chicago’s triennial Wine Auction garnered a remarkable amount of money, all done with class and elegance
Every step that I took showed me a new, opulent side of the Wine Auction 2015 at Lyric Opera of Chicago. A tradition that has been going on for more than 25 years, this rare event occurs just once in three years. And justified too, because I am certain this magnum opus of an event takes three years to organize.
Hosted at one of the most historical venues in Chicago, the auction gets its first allure factor simply from the fact that it’s held at Lyric Opera of Chicago. A magnificent building with high, gold gilded, art deco ceilings, vintage chandeliers that still illuminate the halls brilliantly, and sweeping staircases as grand as those at English palaces, Lyric Opera of Chicago certainly makes a grand impression.
Entering the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Grand Foyer for the reception and silent auction, we saw rows upon rows of wines being displayed, all ready to reach their new owners. Most looked new, while some were old enough to have frayed, torn labels, and therefore even more desirable! Not only wines, the tables showcased exclusive experiences on auction, including travel expeditions and dinners with celebrities.
Wines and more
Weaving our way among Dom Perignon Brut Champagne 2002 from the Andy Warhol collection, half bottles of Chateau d’Yquem 1983, and a diamond on diamond pendant by Graff (valued at $31,000), we noticed the guests observing, judging and tapping away on their iPads and smartphones, as they bid through the Wine Auction application.
My personal favourite was the lot, valued at $9,500, which entitled the winning couple and their eight more guests to a wonderful four course dinner in the Buccellati Chicago boutique. This store will be transformed after hours for a luxurious evening affair where dinner would be served in Buccellati silver. Guests will have unlimited flow of wine and access to the brand’s jewels to wear for the evening! The entire episode will be documented by a professional photographer and each couple will leave with a hand crafted Buccellati sterling silver Oak Leaf dish! And this doesn’t end here. The bid winning couple will also get four bottles of exquisite wines to take home: Marchesi de Frescobaldi Luce Della Vite 2010; Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2010; Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve Vino da Tavola 2010; and Marchesi Antinori Tignanello 2009.
Moving around, our eyes fell on Song, the Lyric Opera’s special commemorative wine, created by Hall Wines of Napa Valley exclusively for Lyric. The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon was released in a limited number of hand-painted, etched magnums. Over 30 magnums were purchased during the evening, including one special 6-liter selection presented in the live auction. Song was underwritten by Abbott, one of the biggest pharmaceutical and healthcare companies in America (whose CEO, Miles D White, by the way, was one of the guests present). Sipping through a tasting of this ruby red wine, it had a sweet smell of berries, while it was quite dry on the palate with a lot of tannins. Sante!
Always being fashion inquisitive, I noticed the ladies in their big jewels, mermaid cut gowns made in exquisite colours, and the simple elegance they exuded. I am sure the lace and the taffeta would have given oodles of material to talk about for fashion writers. The hors d’oeuvres were no less interesting, what with the fish eggs, Wagyu beef, king crabs, lobster rolls and foie gras delicacies.
Partnering with food
Soon after the live auction, guests were ushered into the Ardis Krainik Theatre. A fairytale like setting engulfed everyone as a mammoth white crystal chandelier dazzled the entire stage. A crystal curtain separated the stage from the normal seating area. The table arrangement on the stage accommodated more than 400 guests. And the tables were flourished with beautiful centerpieces, blooms, and cutlery with all the proper etiquettes expected from the organizers!
And then the fine dine menu was devised and created by Chef Thomas Lents of the two-Michelin starred Sixteen. There was no doubt that it was going to supply the diners with many ‘sigh’ moments! And soon enough, the tables were furnished with Cold Smoked Pave of Sea Trout; Fennel Puree, Citron with Roe and Oyster Leaf; Fallow Venison with Truffle; Chestnut, Mustard Greens and Black Trumpets; Coconut Chantilly and Cashe; and more such creatively executed dishes, paired with wine selections from Château Gruaud Larose. David Launay from Château Gruaud Larose was also the guest of honor for the event.
Following dinner, the live auction was conducted by Michael Davis and Ben Ferdinand of Hart Davis Hart Wine Company, who wielded the gavel with gusto. They presented nearly 80 lots of premier travel, dining and luxury experiences, and over 500 bottles of rare wines. Not just those present, but the auction saw bidders participating by phone and electronically from all over the nation! The highest grossers were an in-home dinner with opera singer Renée Fleming ($64,000), African safari with wildlife photographer Sue Flood ($78,000), trip for two to Tuscany at private estates of Italian Royalty ($40,000), and one case of Château Mouton Rothschild 1985 Bordeaux ($35,000). All in all, the event raised $1.8 million, which will directly benefit Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Each small detail was taken care of by the Women’s Board of Lyric Opera, whether it was the carefully placed name cards on the dining tables or the beautifully designed catalogue (sponsored by Guggenheim). An event that represented luxury in every sense, the Wine Auction at Lyric Opera of Chicago remains a much-awaited event in the social circles of Chicago. I can see why. After all, where else can you see such an amalgamation of superb wines, enchanting jewels, palatial décor and rich foods?