A spectacular evening of wine, food and art at the Whitney Museum draws New York’s chic and elite.

It was a celebration of food, wine and art; it was a feast for all five senses. It was Wine Enthusiast magazine’s first Toast of the Town event, which took place on May 13 at the Whitney Museum of American Art on Manhattan’s Madison Avenue.

Dark skies and a furious downpour did not deter Big Apple wine and spirits enthusiasts—a sold-out crowd of over 1,200 people attended the event. There were 125 wineries and spirits producers pouring samples of their finest, and 12 of New York’s best restaurants offered plates of their gourmet fare to eager attendees.

Three floors of the museum were devoted to the event. On the ground and first floors, stations were set up for the wineries and restaurants. The museum’s fourth floor was also open to the guests, so they could enjoy a select portion of the Whitney Biennial, the museum’s signature exhibition of contemporary American artists.

Among the 125 wineries pouring their reserve and estate wines were Jacob’s Creek, EOS Estate Winery, Castello Banfi, Rancho Zabaco, Kendall-Jackson, Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves, Beringer and St. Supéry. Showcased spirits included Grey Goose vodka and Bacardi 8.

Restaurants offering samples of their menus included Blue Fin, Alfama, Aquavit, Palm West and D’Artagnan. Among the standout dishes that had attendees lined up three-deep were Asparagus Panna Cotta with Truffle Vinaigrette, presented by Chef David Cox of Picholine; Tian of Crab by Executive Chef David Colman of Atlas; and Vegetable Dolmades with a Spring Vegetable Salad and Yogurt Garlic Sauce by Executive Chef Jim Botsacos of Molyvos.

"The turnout was great, and they were a sophisticated crowd," said Chef Botsacos. "These were die-hard wine people. They were into the food for sure, but this is the first event I’ve been to where the wine was more important than the food, and it was great."

"We wanted to offer an experience for all the senses," remarked Adam Strum, chairman and CEO of Wine Enthusiast Companies. "Food, wine, music and artwork—when you combine that with the enthusiasm of young people, some of whom are being introduced to fine wines in this type of setting for the first time, you’re going to have an electric event."

Electric, sensational—Toast of the Town was all that and more. Guests made their way from station to station, tasting glasses in hand. Over the laughter and earnest conversations could be heard the music of the Greg Byer Jazz Quartet.

When guests wanted to take a break from wine tasting and food sampling, they boarded spacious elevators up to the fourth floor to view exhibits of the Whitney Biennial, the premier showcase of American art. It was an interesting blend that included musical instruments distorted à la Dali, a dark room full of beeping creatures out of the Star Wars cantina sequence and many mixed-media installations alongside more conventional (if that is the word) paintings and sculptures.

Wine Enthusiast Toast of the Town events are being planned in San Francisco, Chicago and other cities, and a second annual New York event is in the planning stages as well.

"It’s about education and having a good time," said Strum, swirling a glass amid the swirl of guests, chefs, winery owners and winemakers. "Guests are gaining access to wines they don’t necessarily see every day, and the wineries are reaching the sophisticated young people of the New York area. To bring them together in this setting…it’s great for the museum, the wine producers, the restaurateurs and the guests. A good time is being had by all."

Published on July 1, 2002

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