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A Star-Studded Night to Remember

David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Camilo Villegas, July/August 2006

(continued from page 1)

Chianese also spoke, lauding his colleague Gandolfini. "I've never seen a man work so hard, with such passion and talent," he said. Sirico, speaking like his alter ego, hammed it up and encouraged the guests to be generous for the auction. "I'm speaking of all the Sopranos: It's great to be here, and to be part of what's going on in this room. Go into your pockets, fellas," he said, "it could be you next."

The attendees did just that, offering munificent sums for the fine items donated for the auction. The bidding began with seven mystery wines, bottles cloaked in bags, their identities kept secret until after the winning bid. Limbaugh bought the first for $15,000—a 1961 Chàteau Pètrus, which (as tradition dictates) he shared with his guests at the head table.

The second bottle, a younger Petrús (it was from the 1996 vintage), went for $12,000 to Richard Cuneo of Sebastiani Vineyards. Tim Ozgener, hosting his "Sopranos" table, won the third wine, but as he went to the podium to accept it he was persuaded to take the fourth as well by Shanken, who told him that he had a large, thirsty table and shouldn't be caught short. Shanken offered Ozgener two bottles for $20,000. "Do you like wine?" Shanken asked Gandolfini from the dais. "Not that much," he answered. The wines turned out to be superstars, a 1983 Mouton Rothschild and a 1986 Chàteau Margaux. Charlotte and Chuck Wagner, the coproprietors of Caymus, won their own wine, a Caymus Special Selection, for $14,000. "It's a great wine!" said Shanken. Lee Einsidler of Sidney Frank Importing took a 1961 Haut Brion for $12,000, and Royce Pulliam of Global Fitness Holdings and Pete Moore of Sagent Advisors won the final mystery wine, a 1995 Haut-Brion, for $14,000. It was time for the main auction to begin. Lot No. 1, a vacation at Anguilla's luxurious Cap Juluca resort, plus a remarkable collection of 500 Ashton cigars, including the Ashton ESG, went for $25,000 to Frank Arcella of Arcella Premium Brands. The lot was donated by Ashton's Robert Levin and Cap Juluca's Eustace Guishard. Charles Palombini, the president of Kobrand Corp., purchased a dinner for 70 of his closest friends at Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House for $44,000. It was donated by Jamie B. Coulter, the chief executive officer of the parent company of Del Frisco's, Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon Inc. The third lot was a Daniel Marshall humidor with a solid bronze seal of the governor of California that had been signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Doug Wood, a partner with the New York City law firm of Reed Smith, won the unique lot with a bid of $14,000.

A collection of 488 Fuente Fuente OpusX cigars, including a special presentation of 95 Double Coronas, Cigar Aficionado's 2006 Cigar of the Year, sold for $33,000 to Coulter. The lot, which included limited-edition cigar accessories from S.T. Dupont, was donated by Tabacalera A. Fuente., makers of the cigar. A vacation in paradise at the Four Seasons Resort in Maui, donated by the resort, sold for $24,000 to Michael Milken. A generous collection of Joseph Phelps Insignia wines—Wine Spectator's 2005 Wine of the Year—plus two cases of 100-point Vintage Ports were donated by Palombini of Kobrand. Dan Baldwin of Stanfield Capital Partners bought it for $18,000. "A Flight to Remember," five hours on a NetJets Gulfstream IV-SP, donated by NetJets' chairman Richard Santulli, went for $50,000 to Brett T. Setzer of Lexington, Kentucky's Brett Construction Co. Gandolfini bought a collection of rare Partagas 150 Signature Series and Partagas Limited Reserve Decadas cigars for $10,000. It was donated by the makers of the cigar, General Cigar Co. During the auction, the waiters brought out dinner and poured wine. The first course, a black bass wrapped in phyllo with a lemon thyme sauce, was paired with a Louis Jadot Puligny-Montrachet Clos de la Garenne Duc de Magenta 2003. The main course, a filet mignon served with morels, polenta, asparagus and springtime ramps, was matched by a superb first-growth Bordeaux, a Chàteau Mouton-Rothschild Pauillac 1995.

The auction resumed with a collection of 500 La Aurora cigars, donated by Fernando León of La Aurora, consisting of Preferidos and 100 Años, which sold for $10,000 to Martin Sosnoff, chairman of the board of Atalanta Sosnoff Capital Corp. An active buyer, Sosnoff also purchased a vacation at Las Ventanas in Los Cabos, Mexico, for $36,000, which was been donated by Andres Araya, managing director of the resort.

A new Cadillac Escalade, donated by Jim Taylor, general manager of the brand, proved too alluring to Lagasse, who won the SUV with a bid of $64,000. Coulter, who typically buys several lots, won a selection of La Gloria Cubana cigars in special chests for $12,000. They had been donated by General Cigar. A five-day Caribbean cruise on the 141-foot luxury yacht Relentless, donated by Coulter, went for $80,000 to Kenneth Ambrecht of KCA Associates LLC.

A rare Imperial bottling of Chàteau Pètrus 1961, which was donated by Limbaugh, went for $80,000. A beautiful selection of 400 Padrón cigars, including Padrón Millenniums, 40th Anniversary smokes and cigars made just for the auction, sold for $28,000 to Coulter.

The final lot, which always draws great interest, was Marvin's Mystery Box, which began as always with a rare Elie Bleu humidor made especially for Shanken with authentic Cuban cigar bands. Like all Mystery Boxes, this one contained other gems, from a guaranteed winning Super Bowl wager (bets are placed on every NFL team) to many other prizes, including a walk-on role on the hit TV show "24." This year, the lot went for $175,000 to Coulter, who was buying his second humidor of the evening.

The walk-on role on "24" proved too popular to auction only one—ultimately four more were put on the block, each going for $50,000 to $100,000. Milken purchased two, intending to give one to Giuliani. Limbaugh bought another.

As the meal and auction drew to a close, diners were handed a Humidipak with three special cigars inside—Cigar Aficionado's No. 1, 2 and 3 cigars of the year. No. 1 was a Fuente Fuente OpusX Double Corona; No. 3 was a Padrón 1964 Anniversary Series Exclusivo; and the No. 2 smoke was described by Shanken as coming from "an island south of Key West." The waiters poured glasses of the final beverage of the evening, Hennessy Paradis Extra Cognac. Soon the smell of rich cigars wafted through the air, mixing with the heady aromas of fine Cognac.

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