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A Night to Remember

David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Tom Berenger, July/Aug 2007

Springtime in New York City, and the Grill Room of the Four Seasons Restaurant was shoulder-to-shoulder with men in tuxedos smoking cigars. They had gathered together in an effort to bring an end to prostate cancer at Cigar Aficionado's 15th annual Night to Remember dinner, which has raised more than $15 million over the years for the Prostate Cancer Foundation. This year's auction raised $1.2 million, including $600,000 in matching funds from Michael Milken, the charity's founder and chairman.

Marvin R. Shanken, the editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado magazine and the creator of the event, walked through the room greeting the guests, including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republican presidential hopeful and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, radio personality Rush Limbaugh and Milken, the evening's co-host.

Frank Arcella, Lee Einsidler, William Terlato and Tom Steffanci.
The room was filled with captains of industry and celebrities: Gen. Tommy Franks, a former Cigar Aficionado cover subject; Joel Surnow, creator of the hit TV show "24"; Richard Torykian Sr., director of Lazard Freres & Co.; Leonard Riggio, chairman of Barnes & Noble; Jaime Coulter, former CEO of Lonestar Steakhouse & Saloon Inc.; Chuck Wagner, owner and winemaker of Caymus Vineyards; Jeff Greenfield, formerly of CNN and now with CBS; Ed Rabin, former president of Hyatt Hotels Corp.; restaurateur Drew Nieporent; Larry Schwartz, president of U.S. spirits, for Diageo; Martin Sosnoff, chairman of the board of Atalanta Sosnoff Capital Corp.; Ken Aretsky, proprietor of Patroon restaurant; Joe Gannascoli, who played the late Vito Spatafore on "The Sopranos"; and Michael Goldstein, owner of Park Avenue Liquors.

Hazel Shanken, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Milken in the Four Seasons Pool Room.
"Cigars and tobacco are under constant assault," Limbaugh would say later during dinner. "I love cigars, and I thank the producers for helping me enjoy them." Limbaugh, who started smoking cigars in the 1990s, said his enjoyment of cigars has brought him close to people he would otherwise never meet.

The elite of the cigar industry were in attendance, including Cooper Gardiner, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, Sherwin Seltzer, Mike Giannini, Bill Chilian, Victoria McKee, Jermaine Gurvin and Keith Sparacio of General Cigar Co.; Carlos Fuente Jr. and Wayne Suarez of Tabacalera A. Fuente; José Orlando and Jorge Padrón, makers of Padrón cigars; Robert Levin, owner of the Ashton brand, who was there with his wife, Suzanne, and son Sathya; Litto Gomez, maker of La Flor Dominicana;

Litto Gomez, José Orlando Padrón, Sathya Levin and Jorge Padrón at the cocktail hour.
Tim Ozgener, Gary Hyams and Frank de Kok of C.A.O. Cigars and ST Cigar Group; Eric and Bobby Newman of J.C. Newman Cigar Co.; Christian Eiroa and Sal Fontana of Camacho; Rocky Patel, owner of Rocky Patel Premium Cigars; Carlos Diez of Puros Indios and Cuba Aliados Cigars; Peter Banninger, president of Davidoff of Geneva (CT) Inc.; Jose Oliva of Oliva Cigar Co.; Mike Chiusano of Cusano Cigars; Ernesto Padilla of Padilla Cigars; Ruben Ysidron of Savinelli Cigars; Les Mann of luxury cigar accessory company S.T. Dupont; Stan Shuster, the owner of the Grand Havana Room; and Frank and Matt Arcella, owners of five cigar stores in Las Vegas.

General Cigar executives, from left to right: Sherwin Seltzer, Jermaine Gurvin, Bill Chilian, Victoria McKee and Keith Sparacio.
After an hour of smoking cigars and sipping Dom Pérignon 1999, the guests moved into the restaurant's glorious pool room moving past tables displaying the items that would be auctioned during dinner.

Shanken took to the dais and welcomed the sold-out crowd of some 230 guests, many of whom had attended the dinner for more than 10 years. "The first thing we do," said Shanken with a smile, "is we auction off some modest bottles of wine." His joke became clear as he lifted a massive bottle of wine, cloaked in a brown paper bag. It was the first mystery wine, and by Night to Remember tradition, the bottle's contents would remain anonymous until bidding had ceased, and the winner would share it immediately with his lucky tablemates. Bottle No. 1 went for $18,000, won by Limbaugh, who typically buys the first bottle. It was revealed as a 2000 Mouton-Rothschild -- and it had been donated by Limbaugh.

Sal Fontana, Carlos Fuente Jr. and Christian Eiroa share a smoke before dinner.
The other mystery wines were equally impressive, including 1949 Château Talbot, 1961 Château Latour, 1970 Mouton and 2000 Harlan Estates. Each went for $14,000 to $20,000.

The tables were set with towers of hors d'oeuvres, and the waiters soon filled glasses with M. Chapoutier Hermitage White Chante-Alouette 2003 to pair with the appetizer course of stone crab claws with mandarin yuzu, followed by a pasta course of gnocchi with chanterelles, morels and tiny spring peas. That was followed by sirloin steak in a black truffle sauce, paired with zucchini blossoms stuffed with bleu cheese, which went with the red wine of the evening, Caymus Special Selection 2004. Dessert was paired with a 37-year-old Vintage Port, Taylor Fladgate 1970.


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