by Jenny Benzie Advanced Sommelier + Certified Wine Educator, Proprietress of Épernay Wine & Spirits
Tired of the same uneventful and even less inspiring so-called wine dinner party? Are you longing to meet other wine connoisseurs and collectors who will generously share their most coveted wine with you at a Nantucket Wine Festival event?
Enter La Fête.
While the signature events of Nantucket Wine Festival Weekend, including the exhilarating Gala and sold-out (and somewhat intoxicating) Grand Tasting sessions, have always been part of the main focus, La Fête is a newer addition to the Nantucket Wine Festival activities and may be the most prestigious of them all.
What is La Fête? This event is a convivial feast that brings guests together with visiting vignerons, world-renowned chefs, experienced sommeliers, and other avid wine collectors in order to taste, share, and celebrate some of the world’s greatest wines with one another. It is a wine dinner like none other, where there are no rules other than to bring your best.
The evening affair commences with an elegant Welcome Reception in a venue overlooking Nantucket Harbor just before sunset. An abundant raw bar and passed hors d’oeuvres are accompanied by a glass of the featured Champagne House of the evening, perhaps Krug Grand Cuvée or Taittinger’s ‘Comtes de Champagne’ Blanc de Blancs Brut.
This elaborate opening ceremony is followed by a seated multi-course dinner, which is where the real entertainment begins. The concept of the evening is that everyone in attendance brings a prized bottle of wine from their collection (or a recently procured older vintage rarity) to share with the other guests at your table. Supplying a list of your wine selections to the organizers of the party ahead of time will help them to curate optimum guest seating for the best possible experience for you. This helps to ensure a well rounded portfolio of high quality wines at your table that are of similar quality to the one you will be bringing.
What type of wine should you bring? For an event of this caliber, it is strongly suggested that you bring a Grand Cru, First Growth, or equivalent quality bottle of wine to share with the table. This means a wine that has a pedigree, perhaps from an older vintage, and not just the newest wine on the block that recently received 100 points from a wine publication (this wine probably isn’t ready to drink yet anyway). You will be enjoying a multi-course repast, so keep an open mind to bringing a spectacular white wine for the first course or a “nectar of the Gods” dessert wine or vintage Port as a perfect pairing to the grand finale of the evening. In this case, your due diligence before the evening should include discovering the menu in order to coordinate your own food and wine pairing.
Be sure to do your homework on the wine(s) you choose to bring so that you can share your knowledge. At it’s finest, each “Show & Tell” has a good story behind the bottle in order to capture the audience, but remember to show restraint when discussing your wine: no one likes a braggart or a show-off.
How many bottles of wine should you bring? Rule of thumb is that each guest is asked to bring at least one bottle per person. If you are attending as a couple, then you are expected to bring two bottles (or one magnum) to share with the table. While you may not be a huge drinker and think that this amount is somewhat excessive, keep in mind that because you are bringing such a rare gem, it may need to be decanted which could leave a few ounces lost due to the amount of sediment present in the bottle. Also, if your table is set for ten people (including the winemaker) one bottle will give everyone just over a two-ounce splash to sample. Some may really like it and want a little more, while others may decide to pass.
BONUS TIP: Bring a back-up bottle. What if your wine is corked, oxidized, or just over the hill? Think of it has having a spare tire which you may or may not use and can always return to the cellar if it returns home unopened. There is one winemaker assigned and seated at each table at the Fête (lucky you if you get to sit next to one!). The historical roots for such an occasion trace back to Burgundy, France—the city of Beaune in the heart of this region is the sister city to Nantucket. The Fête was hosted by the vignerons as a way to celebrate the completion of the harvest amongst their harvest crew, friends, and family. As the host of your table, this esteemed wine personality will also be sharing with you numerous bottles of the top wines they produce (some may even bring a special stash from their personal cellars). The winemakers enjoy the opportunity to taste other wines, especially rare, older vintages. They want nothing more than to share with you their enthusiasm of where they come from and what they have to offer, along with their guidance and experience, and knowledge they may have about your wine. For those of you who enjoy wine travel, be sure to exchange contact information with your winemaker so you can add their winery as your next vacation destination.
At some point during the festivities, a short, live charity auction will take place. Items include exclusive wine experiences and prestigious wine lots (including this year a Nebuchadnezzar, a ginormous 15 L bottle which is equivalent to 20 regular sized bottles of wine, from Domaine Christian Moreau Pére & Fils Chablis ‘Les Clos’ Grand Cru). This year’s charity is Share Our Strength: No Kid Hungry, which helps children across the U.S. get the food they need.
At press time, tickets for La Fête are still available at NantucketWineFestival.com. If you’ve already got yours, prepared for napkin twirling, table dancing, and loud boisterous singing—those winemakers sure know how to have fun!