Yoleaux! Let me say it again . . . Yoleaux! That’s how I felt at this year’s Dîner en Blanc. In case you’re unaware of this annual event let me start by setting the scene.
Every year over 4,000 people, eager with anticipation, prepare for the communal garden party. The rules are simple. You must dress in all white. You must provide your own table and chairs. You must bring your own food and libations. And most importantly, you must be ready to party.
This being an event located in the fair city of New York, people don’t simply follow the rules, they embellish them. An amazing spectrum of dynamically dressed men and women convene on the grassy pasture in Battery Park City overlooking the Hudson River.
As people arrive from all directions, it is a truly hectic scene. Men in white tuxedos are joined by women in ball gowns and fascinators who all scurry around the park looking for their designated set-up location — each with an assortment of table dressings, vases with various flowers, and any other white accouterments in tow. The fact that everyone and everything is covered in white makes the spectacle particularly enthralling.
There is one important point that still warrants mentioning. The location of the event is secret (you find out the location mere hours before the start time), and you can only purchase tickets if a previous attendee has invited you. Initially, I did find it somewhat odd that one has to pay for the honor of lugging their own table, food, and wine across the city to sit with other monochromatically inclined individuals. Other than receiving the rare ability to drink in public without looking over your shoulder for a policeman to pour out that bottle of white you’ve been saving for just such an occasion, I didn’t quite understand the appeal. That is, until I got settled and things kicked off.
According to tradition, Dîner en Blanc officially begins when the entire crowd stands up and helicopters their napkins in a frenzied display of excitement. My photos don’t do the scene justice, but someone did plan ahead and deployed their drone to capture the event, because, you know, no party can officially begin anymore without a drone selfie. Yoleaux!
My attendance was made possible by the gracious invitation of Bordeaux Wine, the organization that evangelizes Bordeaux wines, the world famous French wine region. To introduce each wine is Bordeaux’s international wine ambassador, Patrick Cappiello, a partner and head sommelier of respected restaurant Pearl and Ash, located on the Bowery in NYC.
Patrick frequented our table to pour different Bordeaux wines and talk about their unique features. I was surprised to learn about the range of wines available in the region. I, like most readers probably, am most familiar with the lauded and oft bankrupting selection of reds available. Medoc, Graves, and Saint Emilion come to mind, but my knowledge quickly fades thereafter.
Patrick introduced us to four wines: a red, a rosé, and two whites. We began sipping on the rosé as the sun was beginning to fade behind the Jersey City skyline. The rose colored sky seemed to mirror the wine tone perfectly, an ideal setting to begin my wine excursion. My experience with rosé is typically limited to the Provence region, made famous by the French Riviera and its perfect wine accompaniment, rosé. I find that rosé can be pretty polarizing, both in flavor and human interest. Either you like it or you don’t. I am a big fan of rosé, but find most are either too sweet or lack the body to drink more than a single glass. Les Hauts De Smith, though, did not disappoint. It had a crispness and light fruit tones that felt well balanced, so much so that before I realized it, I had housed a bottle with my fellow wine-loving neighbor and the sun had not even fully set. I was off to a good start.
Second came the two white selections – Chateau de Cerons Graves and La Fleur d’Amelie. I was totally unfamiliar with white Bordeaux but quickly discovered that they exhibited a range that covered the spectrum. White Bordeaux typically consists of two grape varietals, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion. The Graves was predominantly Semillion, a grape varietal that I can most closely associate with Chardonnay. It had a rich texture often associated with Chardonnay, but lacked the buttery vanilla profile that I find most dissatisfying in many oaked Chardonnays. It was a pleasure to drink, but what I personally gravitate toward are whites of the lighter more earthy variety. Which brings me to La Fleur.
La Fleur is mostly Sauvignon Blanc and, as is the case with this well loved French varietal, it exhibited a wonderful mineral profile. It reminded me of driving through the winding hills of Sancerre, another wine region, made famous for its Sauvignon Blanc. The La Fleur stood up well against its more popular cousins.
The final bottle Patrick shared with us was the red, Clos Magne Figeac Saint Emilion. By this point I was beginning to feel the effects of the previous three wines, but was eager to bring the tour home with this incredible bottle. It had soft tannins and reminded me of a walk in the forest. Welcoming, but not too heavy. It was a perfect finale to the wine fleet.
At this point Patrick, not without some excitement, proclaimed that all of these bottles can be purchased for about $20! I quickly mirrored his excitement, not only because of this gem of good news, but also because, by this point, I was fully in the cups, which was fine because so was everyone else. People were already beginning to mill around and mix with other tables. Everyone was extremely friendly, exchanging fine wine and good conversation. The music also was slowly transitioning from an eclectic mix of Francophile garden-variety music like Edith Piaf, to more contemporary tunes, music that could best be classified by its beats per minute.
This is when things really took off. Dîner en Blanc quickly transformed from garden party, and took on the personality of, well, a rave. An outdoor dance party consisting of 4,000 intoxicated and overly friendly men and women, all dressed in outlandish white outfits pretty much describes it. It was definitely a sight to behold. This continued for the next 90 minutes, and throughout the wine was flowing.
Then, just as quickly as the event came together, it dissolved with equal speed as the clock struck 10. The music stopped. People collected their tables and chairs. Flowers were exchanged as a final farewell, and the grassy pasture was returned to its pristine beauty.
Robert Cohen works for a design agency and spends his free time tending to his garden and cycling long distances. He loves to travel and spends as much time on the road visiting wineries as possible.