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Monday Manifestos
Paul Ryan and I Drink Expensive Wine—Just Not Together

By Charles Olken


I once sat at a table with a man who ordered a bottle of Cheval Blanc 1989. He paid for it; not me, but you can bet I drank my share.


Now, whether this fine fellow was trying to impress me or was just paying me back for the bottles of 1970 Beaulieu and Mayacamas I brought to dinner with him at the fabulous Gary Danko restaurant here in San Francisco is of no matter to me. I taste people wines blind and I don’t much care one way or the other how nice the makers are. I once give the dreaded down-turned glass, together with a score of 75 points, to a Chardonnay made by the father of my god son. Truth is truth, and a bottle of wine won’t change that—especially when it is oxidized before its time.


All of which brings me to the modest kerfuffle generated when Representative Paul Ryan (yes, that Paul Ryan of the famous budget proposal) was treated to two bottles of $350 Burgundy at a toney dinner in Washington, D. C. Apparently another diner, of the opposing political persuasion, spotted this “bad behavior” on Mr. Ryan’s part and called him out on it. Now, whether I have a bone to pick with Mr. Ryan over his budget (I do) is not the issue here. People go to dinner in fancy restaurants. They often go to those dinners for business reasons. My business is wine. His is politics. We go with folks who want our ears. Dinners at Gary Danko will at least get my attention for a few hours. It cannot buy my vote at the tasting table the next day, and there is zero likelihood that Mr. Ryan was about to change his spots for the single glass of wine he reportedly enjoyed.


But there is another side to this story, and it is far more interesting to me personally. I refer to the excellent analysis by Mike Steinberger of Slate Magazine. You can find the whole article at .


Here in part is what Mr. Steinberger has so excellently observed. I quote the parts that made me laugh out loud.


“Ryan and his dinner companions knocked back two bottles of the 2004 Jayer-Gilles Echézeaux du Dessus, a grand cru red Burgundy. At $350 a pop, it is the fourth-costliest wine on the list at Bistro Bis, the Capitol Hill restaurant where the three men ate. One of the guests, a hedge fund manager, reportedly ordered the wine, which makes sense: As any Manhattan sommelier will tell you, the priciest wines on a list are catnip for master of the universe types.

What we have here is a textbook case of a table with more money than wine sense. Jayer-Gilles is a middling producer, and the 2004 vintage for red Burgundies has turned out to be a major bust: Many of the wines have a pronounced and very unappealing vegetal note. Ryan and his friends could have saved themselves $400 and a lot of grief by going instead with the 2005 Joseph Voillot Volnay Champans, a much better wine from a great vintage that is on the Bistro Bis list for $150 a bottle. The hedge fund guy may be an ace investor, but next time, he should leave the wine to someone else.”

Nuff said.



drinking spendy
by John
Posted on:7/19/2011 4:04:53 PM

Thanks for the Slate link, Charlie - I missed that, and Steinberger's comments made me laugh.

I think Ryan was unfairly trashed for drinking an expensive wine he did not order. I want to know why he was drinking (OK, eating too) with a hedge fund manager.

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