A lively crowd of about 200 high profile Darienites, foodies and beneficiaries gathered at Nielsen’s Florist for the Chamber of Commerce fifth annual Wine Tasting & Auction to benefit A Better Chance of Darien and the YWCA of Darien/Norwalk. I was there to show my support, and to sample the best-of Darien's sips and nibbles from local merchants and caterers.
I grab my wine glass (“only one per person” as I kept getting reminded) and auction book and make my way through the elbow-to-elbow crowd of wine enthusiasts and social networkers. The room is a sea of scrumptious table displays of food and numerous wine stations where distributors and retailers showcase dozens of revered grape varieties.
The first table to greet guests as they enter the florist is a cupcake wonderland created by Palmer’s Bakery. This multi-tiered display of colorful mini cakes, topped with everything from butter cream to coconut, to chocolate and silky sweet cream cheese, had everyone stopping dead in their tracks.
Atria Darien was there with a rather generous offering of smoked salmon on endive leaves, fabulous cheeses and fresh berries, as well as melt-in-your-mouth baby lamb chops that were flavorful and juicy, carved off the racks as needed. It didn’t stop there. Atria also prepared deep fried chicken lollipops and garlicky skewered shrimp. Soon just about everybody had one in hand; a glass of wine in the other. I enjoyed it all, and would be back for another lamb chop or two later ...
Happy to see Patricia Blake Catering, I made my way to their fabulous spread of vibrant vegetable crudités, hummus, exotic cheeses, various salami, fruit compote, chutney, and other delectable accoutrements to go with the herb foccacia bread, flat bread and breadsticks. With so much to nibble, there was always quite a crowd gathered in front of their table. I managed to try a few of the salami and particularly enjoyed the peppered one that went so well with the Slingshot Napa Valley Cabernet from Michael Squirnik Wines.
Another peppery morsel that hit a high note was the freshly sliced, sushi-grade, tuna tartar from Jordan Caterers Design & Event Planning. The fresh tuna was presented on smoking ice blocks, sliced to order, and topped with wasabi and caviar. It was a fun presentation and offering the single item allowed the caterers more time to schmooze with the guests. It was a very smart item to serve. Nicely done.
Also nicely done was the wine presentation by Worldwide Wines. The wines, all moderately priced, between $9 and $34, were mostly from France. I liked the Lucien Albrecht Brut Rose, as it made me long for the summer we never had with its crisp high notes and pale rosy color. A more forward red wine, Ferme De Suzon Cote Du Rhone, seemed much better suited for this cool autumn evening with its richer, more velvety finish. Cote Du Rhone in hand, I ventured back to those lamb chops to pair with this exquisite wine.
With so much more to see and taste, I worked my way towards the far side of the florist where there was yet another jam-packed room of auction items, revelers, and restaurants. Rory’s had their award winning New England Clam Chowder displayed in cups on a bare-bones table. While the display only consisted of a pot of chowder and a Rory’s T-Shirt, the chowder, most fortunately, was brimming with great smoky flavor, lots of clams, potato, onion and celery.
Bravo to Ten Twenty Post Oyster Bar & Bistro for knowing how to make an impact, while keeping things simple and appropriate for an off-premise event such as this. Deep fried potato chips were tossed with glorious truffle oil, freshly grated parmesan cheese and green herbs. The flavorful chips presented in cardboard cups, made them easy to grab and munch, while mingling; plus, the richness of the chips paired well with the wines. Ten Twenty also offered goat cheese and sundried tomato phyllo tarts that were also an ideal wine snack. To top it off, I think this guy was having the most fun, always smiling, enjoying the crowd.
Across from the truffle chips, a handsome young man in a tuxedo sang Rat Pack classics. All of 15 years old, E.J. Couloucoundis is quite the crooner, belting out "Fly Me to the Moon," among other standards. Talented, stylish, and poised: E.J. is on course to become the next Michael Buble.
Just as the auction announcements began and the crowd shifted, wines from Eder Brothers Distributors caught my attention. They were presenting a vertical tasting from Girard Winery in Napa Valley. I sip through the lighter sauvignon blanc, the more oakey Russian River Chardonnay, to the heartier Old Vine Zinfandel, the jammy Petite Sirah, and lastly, my favorite, the Artistry, a more fruit-forward wine. It was nice to finally have a bit of a breather from the crowd and be able to sample these wines in order without the chaos. It was divine.
Michael Joseph’s Catering, connected to Nielsen’s Florist, had their entire space open for the event. Guests could feast their eyes on the prepared foods in the large refrigerator case, and sample a variety of canapés that were scooped up by the time I made it back there. They must have been good!
I drowned my disappointment in a glass of Chateau Greysac, Medoc from France presented by Brescom Barton, a popular distributor with an impressive portfolio. Many of the women were returning to the table for the Fruity Albarino from Spain, while the gentlemen seemed to be taken by the Kunde Estate Cabernet.
With the live auction starting to take off, and the silent auction committee urging folks to write in their bids, I snapped a few more photos, kissed a couple more cheeks, and bid farewell to the Darien Chamber of Commerce staff (and grabbed a double chocolate cupcake). The night was young.
They ate, they drank, and more importantly they came together for a great cause.