Feasts. Soon, your camera phone and Instagram feed will be filled with images of feasts - wine bottles, friends, and food. Last week, I attended my first feast of the season. Something felt universal about the experience of sharing time with others – the convivial atmosphere of being with people celebrating, laughing, talking, enjoying seemingly endless platters of food, and of course, bottomless glasses of delicious wines. I started to think about gatherings from history and, of course, fell down the rabbit hole. . .
In June of 1520, two young rival Kings agreed to meet in between their seats of power near Calais, France, with the hope of creating unity. Henry VIII, then 28, met with Francois I of France, then 25, for a feast that lasted 18 days. It would be known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Eager to outdo each other and to prove their superiority over the other, no expense was spared - it is estimated that the cost for this epic feast was $19 million dollars, and was attended by 12,000 people, from royals to nobles to servants. Elaborate costumes adorned the guests (some dressed in cloth of gold) as they were entertained with jousting, wrestling, and feasting. Nearly 216,000 gallons of wine fueled the festivities, with much of the wine coming from Burgundy and Bordeaux. Not all the wine was served at the actual meals; some went to the two 13 ft wine fountains that Henry set up – one for white and one for red. Attendees could use the silver chalices next to the fountain to fill their cups to their hearts' content. Alas, as epic as this display of wealth and diplomacy was, the Kings would be at war within two years of this legendary fête.
Not every historical feast was as high-brow or strategic as the Field of the Cloth of Gold. One comes to mind that was essentially a goodbye party to thank George Washington for his assistance to the Continental Congress - and it was at a bar. Yes, our noble Founding Fathers tied one on. . . days before the signing of the Constitution. On September 15th, 1787, the Founding Fathers headed to their local go-to spot, City Tavern. Somehow, the bar tab survived. Fifty-five attendees went through 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of Claret (Bordeaux), 8 bottles of Whiskey, 22 bottles of Porter, 8 bottles of Hard Cider, 12 bottles of Beer, and 7 bowls of spiked punch. In today’s dollars, the tab would be $15,400. They were also charged for olives, candles, broken decanters, glasses, musicians, and servants. The bottle-per-person ratio is an eye-popping two, which doesn’t include the shots, punch, or beer. Famously stoic, it is assumed that George Washington kept the partygoers somewhat in line and, frankly, that $15,400 is a steal for all that Bordeaux alone. . .
Arguably, the most epic feast of all time, and I’ve mentioned it before within my piece about Queen Elizabeth, is the famous 2,500th Anniversary of the Persian Empire dinner held in Iran on October 14th, 1971. Six hundred guests dined at one large serpentine table that was essentially catered for by Maxim’s restaurant from Paris, then the most famous restaurant in the world. Heads of State from numerous countries joined Royalty from around the world to enjoy legendary wines such as the 1959 Dom Perignon Rose for the official toast, Chateau Haut-Brion 1964, Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1945, Moët Chandon 1911, and Musigny Comte Georges de Vogüe 1945. The cost of this decadence is estimated to be between $120-$200 million dollars. The dinner is considered the most sumptuous feast in modern history according to the Guinness Book of World Records and was documented on film with Orson Welles as the narrator. To quote Orson Wells, “This was no party of the year; it was a celebration of twenty-five centuries.”
So, as we begin our feast season, know that there is excellent precedent in going all out and wearing the gold cloth, setting up 13 ft wine fountains, feasting for 18 days, toasting with Madeira (and lots of it), dining with hundreds of guests, and drinking the really good stuff. I look forward to my Instagram feed filling up with celebrations, toasts, and smiles. Here’s to enjoying each other and life!