Another Nixonian Dilemma   1 comment


"Holy crap, Leonid! It's a good thing you're only drinking that cheap New York 'champagne'."

 As a wine lover, I believe that one of the great enjoyments of wine is the simple act of sharing it with people who are like-minded.  But what if your guests like their wine plentiful, cheap and out of a big ole jug?  Is it acceptable to serve your invited guests a different wine than the one you have reserved for yourself?  The answer seems obvious and yet this does happen.

A famous example of this was relayed by Eric Asimov in the NY Times Diner’s Journal:

“Nonetheless, secretly reserving a wine for oneself while serving something else to the guests violates numerous rules of etiquette. Not that it’s uncommon. The most famous such anecdote comes from “The Final Days’’ by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, in which Richard Nixon is depicted entertaining Congressmen on the Presidential yacht Sequoia, serving them a modest Bordeaux with their dinner of tenderloin while the stewards poured Nixon Margaux 1966, the bottle wrapped in a napkin to conceal the label. Tricky, Dick!”

Imagine the potential embarrassment and the look on his face if that napkin covered ’66 Chateau Margaux had been corked.   You know he’s not drinking the plonk being served to the Congressmen.  What is a Nixon to do? (Please select from the following choices.)

a. Intimately whispers into the ear of his server: “I don’t want to drink that other crap, is there  another bottle of this out back?” 

b. Sits silently sober

c. Drinks the tainted bottle

d. Ask for the resignations of Haldeman and Ehrlichman as a diversionary tactic while a new bottle is ushered in. 

And what if there had been a mix-up with the covered bottles?  Could Dick have known the difference?  And if he thought there was a mix up, how would he even broach that subject?

Assuming the wine was good and we have no reason to believe it was not good, and assuming there was no mix up with the bottles, imagine delighting in the presence, the majesty, the power, the finesse of a ’66 Margaux and not being able to discuss it with anyone.  It is possible to be completely alone in a room full of people.  This sort of self-imposed vinous exile smacks of hubris and speaks volumes about a person’s character, personality, sense of entitlement, etc.  

There is one other thing that I need to mention here.  Nixon resigned from office in 1974.  If Woodward and Bernstein were correct in their reporting, that means he was drinking what could have been a fantastic, age-worthy bottle of Margaux within 8 years of the vintage date!  I would have thought that the leader of the free world should be able to score a well aged bottle of fine bordeaux.  My money is on the fact that the “modest bordeaux” being served to the other guests was actually drinking better than the Margaux (at least I really want to believe that).  Which begs the question, how much did he really know about wine?   

This two-tiered wine service is rife with potential landmines. 

Let face it– there are people who don’t “get” the wine thing.  For them it is just another way to ingest alcohol– and maybe we should have a six-pack of Bud on hand just for them IF THEY ARE INTERESTED IN THAT SORT OF THING.  And there are those who on principle, decline to pay more than $10 for a bottle of wine.  But to put out a different wine for them than the one I’m drinking is just bad manners and if history is any teacher, you will be found out.  Even Tricky Dick eventually received the painful lesson that accompanies the discovery of a deception.  I have found that many of my friends who are not fluent in the culture of wine are actually intrigued enough to pursue better bottles once they have been introduced to higher caliber wines and realize what goes into and comes out of a decent bottle of wine.  And even if they don’t take to it as passionately as I do, friendships are made and strengthened over good wine, or at least what people may think is good wine.

Drink the value wines right along with the larger crowd.  Best to save the good stuff for a smaller crowd of 2-4 people or in Nixon’s case, party of 1 in a darkened Oval Office.  And if you’re thinking of recording conversations with friends, colleagues, drinking buddies?  Best to avoid that altogether, Dick.

Posted May 8, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Wine Etiquette

One response to “Another Nixonian Dilemma

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  1. Pingback: You Just Got…Jacked Up! The No Wine With Football Myth « sybaritesauvage

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