Vine Talk: Enjoying wine for pleasure, not price

Tue Jul 20, 2010 8:16am EDT
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By Felix Salmon

(Felix Salmon is a U.S.-based financial journalist and a Reuters blogger here. The opinions expressed are his own.)

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Roger Lowenstein, in "The End of Wall Street," his book about the financial crisis, tells a story about Vikram Pandit, the former hedge fund manager and now Citigroup's CEO.

Pandit was lunching at legendary New York fish restaurant Le Bernadin, says Lowenstein, and, looking at the wine list, saw nothing by the glass that appealed.

He ordered a $350 bottle of wine, and drank just one glass of it. That way, he explained, he could have "a glass of wine worth drinking."

A Citigroup spokesman calls the story of Pandit's $350 glass of wine "an untrue rumor," but whether or not it's true of Pandit, there's certainly no shortage of people who are more than capable of pulling such a stunt.

The great food at Le Bernadin surely deserves to be accompanied by great wine, and people like Pandit can easily afford as many $350 bottles of wine as they feel like buying: with the $165 million Pandit got from Citi when he sold his hedge fund, he could drink 12 such bottles per day for 100 years and still have enough left over for a modest vineyard of his own.

But for most of us the idea of spending $350 on a bottle of wine -- let alone a glass -- is both terrifying and depressing. Terrifying because we feel that we can't possibly appreciate the wine enough to justify its price tag, and depressing because we see that there's a world in which a $350 bottle is the bare minimum of acceptability, and quite obviously we're excluded from it.

That unpleasant mix of emotions helps to explain the fact that only one in three American drinkers considers wine to be their drink of choice. If you're an American and you're having a drink at a bar or with your evening meal, it's significantly more likely to be beer than wine.   Continued...

<p>Bottles of wine, one costing nearly $460, are shown in a wine shop in San Francisco, California January 14, 2008. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith</p>