Why spending hundreds on a bottle of wine can be good value
PUBLISHED: 11:53 22 May 2019 | UPDATED: 11:53 22 May 2019
Some people won't pay more than £10 on a bottle of wine. Andy Newman says, if you love your wine, you'll happily spend £50 on a single glass
Running a restaurant is a tough gig at the best of times, so it can't help much when one of your waiting staff accidentally serves a bottle of £4,000 wine to a customer who has ordered one priced at "just" £260.
This is what happened at London steak restaurant Hawksmoor last week - and it has had the bottom half of the internet buzzing with a mixture of envy at the diner's good fortune, and outrage that anyone could spend so much on a bottle of wine.
Before we get to that, we should pay tribute to the way that Hawksmoor dealt with the faux pas. They have shown public support for the presumably mortified waiter, acknowledging that we're all human and that mistakes do happen. And they have (publicly at least) congratulated the customer on their undeserved good fortune. All of which shows a good deal of class; if you have dined at Hawksmoor, you won't be surprised at this.
Lots of people are saying it's not fair that this kind of thing always happens to other people, but in fact the very same thing - albeit on a slightly more modest scale - happened to me at an upmarket chain restaurant in Norwich.
I had ordered a £70 bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, without realising that there were two different such wines on the list. Rather than ask me which I wanted, the sommelier automatically brought me a bottle of a rather more expensive Châteauneuf, priced at nearly £200.
It wasn't until he had poured the first two glasses that I glanced at the label and realised the error. At that stage, I argued that as I had simply ordered "a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape", he should have asked me which one, rather than assume I knew there were two on the wine list and that I wanted the more expensive option. Realising he didn't have a leg to stand on, he had to let me keep the now-open bottle for the lesser price, which was as close to a bargain as I came to that evening.
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The customer at Hawksmoor had ordered a bottle of Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, priced at £260. The fact that he had ordered this particular wine suggests a level of familiarity with the upper end of the wine spectrum, so it's unthinkable that he didn't immediately notice the error when he was poured a £4,100 Château Le Pin. I suspect he buttoned his lip and savoured his good fortune.
For most people, talk of ordering £260 bottles of wine - let alone ones costing north of four grand - is pie in the sky. Much of the online comment about this story has been asking whether any wine can be worth that much, with many aggrieved keyboard warriors outraged that anyone should choose to spend their own money in this way.
I am fortunate to have tasted some of the very finest wines in the world (often at someone else's expense - it's one of the perks of writing about food and wine). And while it's unlikely that my own modest resources would ever stretch to forking out several thousand for a bottle, I would, and indeed have, spent hundreds - and felt that it has been worth every penny.
If you're a football fan, you probably wouldn't think twice about spending hundreds of pounds to see your team in the Champions League final, if you could afford it. If you are into fashion, you might drop a couple of hundred on a designer pair of trainers. Lots of petrolheads spend a considerable chunk of their disposable income on a BMW, Mercedes or Jaguar.
Rationally, this makes no sense. You could pay just £13 to see King's Lynn play at home, pick up a pair of George trainers at Asda for a tenner, or drive a brand-new Dacia Sandero for less than seven grand. They are still, respectively, a football match, a pair of shoes and a car, and yet many of us will pay much more than these prices for things which essentially fulfil the same function.
I would never criticise someone else for making those choices, so why do so many people think it's fair game to have a pop at those of us who choose to spend our own, hard-earned cash on luxury food and drink?
Personally, I derive far more pleasure from sipping a £50 glass of Château d'Yquem 1983 (as I did recently - the evidence is in the picture above) than I would watching 11 men kicking a ball around. We're all different, and I know that many people get huge pleasure from spending freezing Saturday afternoons at Carrow Road, where tickets cost roughly the same as that glass of amber paradise.
You pay your money, and you take your choice. And if your wine pleasure is being subsidised by a restaurant's error, so much the better.