If you would have walked passed the Four Seasons restaurant in New York City on Tuesday evening, you might not have thought twice about the fleet of limousines lining Park Avenue or the men in tuxedos filing into the restaurant's discrete Grill Room entrance two and three at a time. Another dry, obligatory fundraiser? Another soporific awards ceremony? No. That particular evening saw the confluence of three major industries coming together for a common cause—the complete eradication of prostate cancer. This was the Night To Remember, hosted by Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado and Wine Spectator magazines.
For almost two decades Shanken has been corralling the luminaries of the cigar, wine and spirits industries for this once-a-year event that's raised millions of dollars for the Prostate Cancer Foundation. Despite the antismoking laws and increasing city ordinances against the consumption of tobacco, the Night To Remember has always been underscored by fine food, exemplary wines and, yes, cigars.
"When I first became mayor of New York City, we worried about things like murder. Assault. Riots. Poverty," said New York's former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, himself a prostate cancer survivor. "If they have time now to concentrate on the size of your soda and cigars, I must have done one heck of a job when I was in office."
Giuliani was among the evening's distinguished guests and speakers, which included Michael Milken, founder and chairman of the Prostate Cancer Foundation, political commentator Rush Limbaugh and former pro basketball player John Salley.
"Michael Milken has done some great work," continued Giuliani. "If you can cure one cancer, it's helpful in the quest for the cure of ALL cancers. When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, my doctor assured me that smoking cigars had nothing to do with it. I've been cancer-free for 12 years now. And when I make the choice to smoke cigars or how I want to live my life, I don't want that decision made for me. When government starts making those decisions, then we lose exactly what makes this country great."
The evening began in the Grill Room of the iconic Four Seasons restaurant. Its classic interior has remained largely unchanged since it was first built in 1959. Usually, that equates to a dated, stuffy and dank dining room—not in this case. The signature walnut-paneled walls and shimmering Picasso curtain never really went out of style and provided an elegant backdrop to this affair as well as a feeling of time travel—the entire party smoked in that two-story-high space as if it were indeed 1959. Of course, this was an authorized event officially approved and licensed by the City of New York.
Though the reception cocktail hour featured Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial Champagne and an open bar manned by career bartenders, the real attraction was the selection of cigars-a veritable buffet of high-end smokes, which included Ashton VSG and Ashton Cabinet, Aging Room Quattro F-55, Alec Bradley Prensado, Arturo Fuente Rosado Sungrown, Cohiba Edición Diamante, Davidoff Year of the Snake, Diamond Crown Julius Caeser, E.P. Carrillo Cardinal, Estilo Cubano, Fuente Fuente OpusX, H. Upmann Legacy, Headley Grange, Illusione Epernay, Kristoff, La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor Reserva, La Flor Dominicana Cameroon Cabinet, La Palina Maduro, La Vérité by Tatuaje, Macanudo 1968, Montecristo (both the Epic and New York Connoisseur Edition No. 2), My Father, Nat Sherman Timeless Collection, Oliva Connecticut Reserve and Oliva Serie V Melanio, Pura Sangre, Rocky Patel and Undercrown by Drew Estate.
Through a long, travertine-tiled corridor, the guests transitioned from the Grill Room to the Pool Room, which is the formal dining area of the restaurant. There, they were treated to a first course of wild mushroom risotto with breast of squab and foie gras along with an M. Chapoutier Châteauneuf-du-Pape White La Bernardine 2010.
"I'm thinking of changing the name of this event from the Night to Remember to the Hardcore Cigar Smokers' Club because this is where the hardcore smokers are," said Shanken before auctioning off his "mystery wines."
Each year, Shanken reaches into his cellar and pulls out four stellar bottles, but keeps the identities secret. In essence, nobody knows what wine they're bidding on until they've won the lot, the first of which ended up being a 1990 bottle of Château Latour. The top bid of $70,000 was made by Limbaugh. The next was revealed to be a bottle of Château Mouton Rothschild from 1975. It went to vintner and international businessman Pierluigi Tolaini for $50,000. A 2000 vintage of Château Margaux was had for $30,000 by Michael Gelband of Millennium Management. Jamie Coulter, former head of the Lone Star Restaurants group, won the final bid for a 1978 bottle of Château Latour, also at $30,000. As is the Night To Remember tradition, all winners of the mystery wine auction must open the bottles up immediately and share them with the rest of their respective tables.
"For the rest of you losers who DON'T have a bottle, you'll be drinking Caymus," said Shanken, sarcastically. The evening's auspicious list included Stephen Rust, president of Catalyst, Diageo North America and Diageo president Larry Schwartz; CEO of Campari Gerry Ruvo; Tom Celani of Celani Family Vineyards; David Pecker, chairman and CEO of American Media; Edward Rabin, former president of Hyatt Hotels Corp.; Lee Einsidler of the Sydney Frank Importing Co.; Proximo president and CEO Mark Teasdale; Jim Clerkin of Moët-Hennessy USA; Ray Herrmann of the Charmer Sunbelt Group: Condé Nast International chairman and CEO Jonathan Newhouse; Dan Carr, president of General Cigar Co.; and Javier Estades, Altadis U.S.A. Inc.'s general manager for premium cigars.
The waitstaff poured a luscious 2003 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Special Selection to accompany a main course of tender beef sirloin in truffle sauce, a densely layered Dauphinoise and roasted Asparagus.
Milken then took the microphone and explained the myriad advances in prostate cancer treatment, which spanned from immune system enhancing drugs that require no chemotherapy or radiation, to a method whereby doctors can grow a cancerous organ outside of the body and determine treatment through trial and error without any direct trauma to the actual patient.
"In 1993, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and only given 12 to 20 months to live," said Milken. "I'm very excited to be here 20 years later. It all started here, at the Night To Remember. And with the advancements of precision medicine, it will end here. In 2020, I'm projecting an end to prostate cancer."
With optimistic applause, Shanken segued into the evening's main attraction: the 10-lot charity auction. But he turned the gavel over to Cigar Aficionado executive editor Gordon Mott, along with senior editor David Savona.
As the auction began, each guest was handed a packet of three cigars: The Flor de las Antillas Toro (Cigar Aficionado's 2012 Cigar of the Year), a Romeo by Romeo y Julieta Piramide (No. 3 Cigar of 2012) and a Padrón Family Reserve 85 Years (No. 4 Cigar of 2012). Shanken gave permission to light up the cigars, and the auction commenced.
Donated by Sherry-Lehmann president Chris Adams, Lot One was billed as containing some of the world's most collectible wines. The 12-bottle lot included a Château Margaux from 2005 (100 points, Wine Spectator), a 1986 Château Mouton Rothschild (99 points, WS), a Gaja Langhe Costa Russi from 2007 (97 points, WS) and a Fonseca Vintage Port from 1963 (98 points, WS). Estimated at $12,000, the lot sold for $30,000 to Jamie Coulter.
Next on the auction block was a golf outing at the renowned Teeth of the Dog golf course at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic as well as 250 cigars and a tour of Altadis's Tabacalera de Garcia factory. The lot went to Chuck Wagner, owner of Caymus wines, for $30,000.
Coulter will also be playing golf with Rocky Patel. For a closing bid of $15,000, he won the next lot of more than 300 Rocky Patel cigars and a round of golf at the Old Corkscrew course in Naples Florida.
Clark Mandigo of Mandigo Investments will watch the Yankees and Red Sox battle it out in Yankee Stadium this June, but he will do it in style. He and 22 guests are now set to inhabit Suite No. 32 in Yankee stadium when the Yanks play Boston this June. Donated by Sidney Frank Importing Co., the lot went for $20,000.
Davidoff of Geneva offered 200 of some of its finest, limited-edition cigars, including 50-count boxes of Royal Robustos and Royal Salomones, along with an Urushi Falcon Humidor—one of only five in the world. Coulter walked away with this lot for a final bid of $28,000.
When he's not on the radio airwaves, Rush Limbaugh will be teeing off at the TPC Sawgrass golf course and then jet off via private plane to play another round with U.S. Open winner Tony Jacklin at the Concession course in Bradenton, Florida. Perhaps on the plane, Limbaugh will open that bottle of Glenmorangie Pride 1981 that also came with the package. Courtesy of Glenmorangie, Limbaugh took the lot for $50,000.
Alec Bradley Cigar Co. owner Alan Rubin is now part of the club. For $20,000 he won a year membership at the exclusive Grand Havana Room private cigar club, courtesy of the club's president Stan Shuster. A personal cigar locker and a box of Fuente Fuente OpusX cigars will be waiting for him.
The lion's share of OpusX cigars, however, went to Dr. Jude Barbera and Thomas Parissidi. A winning bid of $30,000 got them a treasure trove of over 500 Fuente cigars, including rare shapes and sizes of the coveted Fuente Fuente OpusX cigars, Casa Fuentes (which are only available at the Casa Fuente shop in Las Vegas) and a bold, branded Arturo Fuente golf bag.
George Dickel Tennessee Whisky will be unlocking the barrel room and letting Marvin Shanken select his own personal barrel. He bid $50,000 for this lot, courtesy of the Diageo Group. After Shanken selects the barrel and has an unforgettable night in Nashville, his whiskey will be apportioned into 240 personalized bottles.
The auction concluded with a final lot that pairs a former Wine Spectator Wine of the Year with a former Cigar Aficionado Cigar of the Year. Donated jointly by Padrón Cigars and Caymus Vineyards, this package includes a dinner for 10 with both winemaker Chuck Wagner and cigarmaker Jorge Padrón. The dinner is set to take place in New York City's Grand Havana Room and when attorney Doug Wood sits down with the both of them, he'll be smoking Padróns that range from the Serie 1926 40th Anniversary (the 2004 Cigar of the Year) to the Family Reserve No. 45 Maduro (the 2009 Cigar of the Year). Wood won the auction with a $40,000 bid. And with the fine smoking will come the fine sipping-specifically a Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Special Selection from 1990 (Spectator's 1994 Wine of the Year). Two other Caymus Cabs that rated 95 points or higher will round out the dinner, as well as other fine Caymus wines. Each guest will leave dinner with 50 cigars custom-made for the event and a magnum of Caymus Special Selection Cabernet.
In addition to the celebrities and industry heavyweights, the cigar world’s A-listers also came to lend their support, including Carlos Fuente Jr. of Arturo Fuente Cigars; Jorge Padrón of Padrón Cigars; Javier Estades, Janelle Rosenfeld and Gene Tipton of Altadis; Dan Carr, Benji Menendez, Michael Giannini, Rick Rodriguez and Victoria McKee of General Cigar; Robert, Sathya and Meera Levin of Ashton; Rocky and Nish Patel of Rocky Patel Premium Cigars Inc.; Jim Young of Davidoff; José “Pepin” Garcia of My Father Cigars along with daughter and son Janny and Jaime Garcia; Litto Gomez and Ines-Lorenzo Gomez of La Flor Dominicana; Eric Newman of J.C. Newman; Ernesto Perez-Carrillo Sr. and Jr. from EPC Cigar Co.; Alan Rubin of Alec Bradley Cigar Co.; Pete Johnson of Tatuaje; Rafael Nodal of Habana Cuba Cigar Co.; Les Mann of Colibri; Bill Paley of La Palina; Bill and Larry Sherman and Michael Herklots of Nat Sherman Cigars; Dion Giolito of Illusione Cigars; Jon Huber and Mike Conder of Crowned Heads LLC.; Wayne Suarez, formerly of Fuente; Michael Cellucci and Nicholas Melillo of Drew Estate; Stan Shuster of Grand Havana Room and Glen Case from Kristoff Cigars.