Last month, I had the honor of being invited to cover one of the most glamorous events of the season: the 2023 Wine Auction at Lyric Opera of Chicago. When I tell you it was a dreamlike Cinderella moment, that’s even still quite understated. For those who haven’t been to the historical opera house, the venue itself is already grandiose; but having dined atop the stage where the magic happens, I’m convinced that this auction is one wine lovers should never miss going forward.
Three Days of Vino Heaven
While Lyric Opera of Chicago typically holds its Wine Auction every three years, this past one occurred after a five-year hiatus due to the pandemic. But this three-day excursion was well worth the wait. Thirty-one vintners from across the globe were featured throughout the weekend, including the Honored Guest Maison Joseph Drouhin.
The rest of the vintners included the following:
Private Dinners with Local Celebs
The first of the three days were the exclusive Featured Vintner Dinners at private homes of local celebrities, which were only for sponsors (sadly, that wasn’t me, but one day). These dinners are so exclusive that the names of all the hosts are kept private even afterwards. But during my interview with the planning committee, I learned that each home was provided its own chef to create a special menu for guests that paired with wines from the vintners.
An Evening Purely for wine tasting
The second evening was the Featured Vintner Reception, held in the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Grand Foyer of the opera house. This was the opportunity for guests to sample wines from all 31 vintners, which was a divine experience for both myself and my boyfriend.
One of my favorite vintners was Arietta, simply because their wine is inspired by music! The name “Arietta” means “short aria” or “art song.” As someone who has played violin and piano for almost twenty years and loves the three-hour film Amadeus more than life itself, I was a total sucker for this brand. And aside from music, they had a lovely robust Merlot!
Also at the reception was fine jewelry maker Ann Ziff, founder and designer of New York jewelry Tamsen Z. Ann Ziff was an exceptionally stylish woman, and her jewelry was no exception. So chic and regal. Plus, she was super sweet and warm.
Towards the end, our gracious hosts — Co-Chairs Nancy Searle and Erica Sandner — gave a fabulous toast, looking exquisite as usual!
Dining on Stage at Lyric Opera of Chicago
On the third night was the auction itself back inside Lyric Opera of Chicago. Guests entered the opera house on a stunning red carpet display outside under the tall pillars. But definitely the highlight of the evening was seeing the doors to the theater open and taking in the dinner setup on top of the stage! Huge trees lined the entrance to the raised platform and were covered in gorgeous, sparkling white lights.
We felt totally transported to another world with the floor to ceiling projections that created the environment of a vineyard under a magical sunset. And as the auction started, the images changed to display each of the 55 lots being auctioned off.
Rare wines, experiences, & Trips of a LIfetime
The catalogue of lots available for auction was truly extraordinary. During my interview with the planning committee, Co-Chair Erica Sandner told us about one of the most challenging trips to coordinate: Lot #40, A South African Trip of a Lifetime. This one includes a week exploring Cape Town and its wineries, and then goes to Kenya for a safari! Apparently, putting together something this elaborate was extremely difficult, but was highly sought after.
One of the most expensive lots was Lot #4: Bids & Bubbles in London, which was actually auctioned off prior to the auction. The five night adventure included tickets to Royal Ascot and the Royal Enclosure, a distillery tour, lunch at Gusbourne Estate, and dinner with a chief winemaker for Gusbourne Estate. An elaborate trip like this one had an estimated value of $40,000.
An Exquisite Dinner Menu
Aside from drooling over all the auction items I would love to bid on someday, the dinner by J&L Catering was truly spectacular. The first course was a Composed Chilled Lobster Vichyssoise soup with braised leeks and caviar pearls. Served with the first course were two glasses of white wine from Honored Guest Maison Joseph Drouhin: Meursault-Perrieres Premier Cru 2019 and a Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2018.
For the main entree, we had a mouthwatering Deconstructed Wellington of Beef Tenderloin with caramelized shallot, spring onion puff pastry, blue oyster mushroom, and spring vegetables. Served with the entree were two glasses of red wine from Maison Joseph Drouhin: Volnay Clos des Chenes Premier Cru 2018 and a Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru 2018.
While I only had a bite due to the richness, dessert consisted of a Chocolate-Raspberry Bomb with cocoa nibs, raspberries, and gold leaf. As the last course, we enjoyed a delicious cheese course consisting of cow, sheep, and goat’s milk cheeses with fig jam, sweet butter, candied walnuts, mini baguette, and artisan crackers.
C’est Magnifique, Lyric Opera!
All in all, Lyric Opera of Chicago and the extraordinary ladies on the planning committee did a fabulous job putting together this three day spectacle. At the very end, every guest went home with a set of Sipsmith London special edition gins donated by Beam Suntory, who also donated several lots for the auction.
Back in 2018 in the last Wine Auction, Lyric Opera of Chicago raised $2.1 million that went towards supporting the arts. This year’s amount has not yet been released, but I’m very excited to hear what the overall outcome was at an event of this caliber! Watch the auction Sizzle Reel here.
Headed to a performance at Lyric Opera of Chicago? Read my blog “Bazaar Meat Chicago by José Andrés is Inventive & Daring” for a perfect pre-opera dinner or drink option.