When I think “wine auction” I think somber, snooty, stuffy. Incorrect. I’m pleased to report that these adjectives couldn’t have been further from the truth at the Canadian Opera Company’s Fine Wine Auction. 

At the posh annual event, that raises money for the COC, things were going off. In one corner the auctioneer was furiously banging his gavel to subdue the rowdy and well-lubricated audience. In another, a mountain of specialty cheese was being generously divvied out to eagerly awaiting hands. Why yes, I would like to taste some soft burrata infused with white truffle, post-haste! The bar counter was align with glasses of red and white ripe for the plucking, positioned and poured with near OCD perfection. Servers spiraled throughout, balancing trays of tender lamb morsels, pakora, ahi tuna sandwiches, mini grilled cheeses, and burgers sliders (still the reining hor d’oeuvre champion). The staff at Crush Wine Bar were on their game.

The venue filled quickly, as did the bar and counter space for which I was hoping to rest my cheese plate for civilized consumption. With wine glass in hand and cheese plate in the other, it took sheer will power to prevent me from chomping my face right down on the plate like a Hungry Hungry Hippo.

On the lower level, a silent auction was already well underway. Cookbooks, fine foods, stemware, performance tickets, weekend retreats, and of course bottles and bottles and bottles of wine. It was down here that I encountered two characters worth noting. They were like A Night at the Roxbury reincarnate. Yes, I’m talking greased spiky hair, excessive male jewelry, and purple shirts. But let’s not be fooled, these guys were serious buyers and were keenly eyeing a rare and highly coveted bottle of 1982 Chateau Margaux.

I am a wine novice: the type of person who stares blankly at wine lists, orders something from the middle of the page, and hopes for the best. And if something wonderfully palatable appears before me, I claim full credit and relish in my miraculous achievement. My friend Derek, on the other hand, actually knows a thing or two about wine, so I wrangled him as my companion for the evening. It was he who explained that the little, unassuming bottle of Chateau Margaux would actually be closely tracked by serious collectors over the course of the evening.

Back upstairs to the live auction action. The evening’s MC, CTV reporter Paul Bliss, fired a few jokes into the din of the audience before passing the baton to Stephen Ranger, auctioneer extraordinaire. Derek and I were bidding together, opting to get one paddle between the two of us, lest we get carried away. After observing the first 10 or so items come and go, it certainly appeared that the wines were selling for reasonable prices, especially considering their exclusivity. With this in mind, there was huge potential here for anyone wanting to start a small collection of their own or just acquire one bottle that you’d never see pass through the the doors of any LCBO. 

The bidders were eager, sometimes raising their paddles even before an opening bid price had been announced. Amidst the action, I notice two purple-sleeved arms shooting up again and again. Yes, team Roxbury was hard at work. Hah! Who would have guessed?! They even squeezed back down to the silent auction at the end of the night and successfully scrawled upside down, to the dismay of the other last-minute bidder, the winning offer on the Margaux. Fewf. Well played. 

Highlights: A raffle for a Christian Louboutin clutch, munching on white truffle infused burrata cheese, feeling energized and sophisticated waving a paddle in the air, and observing purple shirts coming back into vogue. Watch for it!

Best Comment Overheard: “Oh, no, no. None for me, thanks. Too scary.” – uttered by a middle age man when offered a sample of beautiful chocolates. 

Top Selling Single Bottle: The 1982 Chateau Margaux went for $1,500 but was trumped by the 1975 Chateau Petrus that went for $2,000!

Conclusion: Wine is good.  

~ Jessie Olivier

~ Photography by Cecily Carver