By Evan Dawson, Managing Editor
Rep. Paul Ryan goes out to dinner with some wealthy friends.
Those friends decide to order two bottles of a $350 Burgundy.
A woman sitting nearby recognizes Rep. Ryan and looks up the price of the bottles.
The woman decides it's somehow incongruous for Rep. Ryan to talk about the government cutting spending while he's drinking expensive wine.
She also wonders if his dining partners are lobbyists seeking to buy influence.
The woman yells at Rep. Ryan, lots of people freak out, but then most realize this whole thing is ridiculous.
As usual, wine writer Mike Steinberger has the best take on this fiasco. You can read it here. I had no idea that any Congressional Representative that talks about cutting spending must lead an impecunious private life.
But that's not what's bothering me today. See, the woman who raised a fuss wrote a column last week that is getting a lot of play. And in that column, she perpetuates the absurd notion that expensive equates to high quality. Susan Feinberg writes:
In the midst of heated debates between the president and Congress over slashing government spending, three men sat down to a nice dinner with a couple of great bottles of wine in an upscale Washington, D.C., restaurant...Calling these folks out for drinking $700 worth of wine while negotiating spending cuts that saddle others with all the burdens of “austerity” is what really upsets the natural order of things.
(Bold is mine.)
If this seems like a nit to pick, I assure you this kind of talk only further erects barriers between wine lovers and those who find wine intimidating or pretentious. I hear this rubbish from people all the time. Often they're not regular wine drinkers and they roll their eyes while moaning, "I don't have nearly enough money to drink the kind of great wine you must usually drink."
Sometimes the greatest wines fetch the highest prices. Lenn reviewed the Hermann J. Wiemer 2009 Magdalena Vineyard Riesling this week, and at $36, it's one of the more expensive wines from the region. It's also very possibly the greatest. Anthony Road Wine Company's 2008 Riesing TBA is $100, and it's worth the money. But other comparatively expensive Finger Lakes wines are the various cabernet franc ice wines floating around, and they're rarely good value.
Most of the wines in my cellar are about as expensive as a pair of movie tickets. I'm not talking about the drink-now variety, either. I've happily laid down some of the finest riesling in the world, from both the Mosel and the Finger Lakes, and it will show its greatness for many years. And it's relatively cheap. Yes, I have a few bottles that crack into triple-digits, but that's because I find them to be tremendously good value even for the price. However, some of the truly great red wine that I'm holding is moderately priced Northern Rhone syrah. There's Beaujoulais that set me back teens. When I finally pop them on a future occasion, I promise you I won't be rolling out price tags for my guests. No one will care about that.
Obviously, Feinberg knows very little about wine. And I'll agree with her that spending $350 on a restaurant bottle is stupid, though not because it's unfair to the rest of the working world. People who earn money are entitled to spend it as they see fit. But spending $350 on a middling Burgundy is stupid because I could stock an entire rack with that kind of coin, and it would be far "greater" than that single bottle.
That's the secret of wine that is, apparently, still a secret to so many people. Greatness has nothing to do with price. The sooner people like Susan Feinberg learn that, the sooner she'll learn that Rep. Ryan's greatest sin that night was having bad taste and poor judgment.