"People don't want a good wine that's good value," he said. "They always want more. They want wines to show off. It has to be a trophy wine: big name, big score or both. They want to feel like they're getting away with something."
I thought he might mean a bargain; a $100 wine for $50. But no, he said people come to steakhouses expecting to spend money. Often, they're on business, which means they're passing the cost on to you and me eventually. That explains why they're willing to spend $10 for a baked potato or $50 for dessert. So what's another $500 or so for wine, especially if you get three whole bottles?
He painted a picture of upscale steakhouses as kind of a mini-Vegas of profligacy.
"People order 6 bottles for four people all the time," he said. "They don't want to finish the bottle. That would mean they didn't get enough. It's the same thing with steak: they don't order a sensible piece of meat they could finish. They order an enormous steak and eat less than half of it. Excess is all part of the party."
So what is it they want to get away with?
"They want to have something their neighbor hasn't had, so they can brag about it," he said. "Depending on the crowd, it might be a 98-point wine, or it might be an impossible-to-get single-vineyard wine. It doesn't matter if they like it or not, it's all about bragging rights."
The good news for the wine industry is, steakhouses sell a lot of bottles at high prices.
Is there bad news? I don't know. If you're reading this in horror -- I was taken aback at this peek behind the curtain -- it's comforting to realize you probably don't want those wines anyway.
On Valentine's Day, wine, spirits and beer producers came together in what might be an unprecedented way to ask Congress not to listen to monopoly-seeking wholesalers.
Every member of Congress got a letter opposing HR 5034, the "CARE act," which would eliminate federal oversight of state liquor laws. This is a bad idea because beer distributors are the players with the most money to spread around to politicians, and money is even more effective at getting laws changed at the state level.
Of course, Congress is far from immune to its votes being bought, which is why the bill had 153 co-sponsors last year.
It's an easy bill for Congressmen of both parties to support sanctimoniously while having their hands greased; they can claim they're for states' rights and for preventing alcohol getting into the hands of minors. But since those are solid Republican talking points, the bill seems on the surface to have a better chance of passing now that the Republicans hold the House.
The letter, which was signed by leaders of the Wine Institute, Wine America, Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the Beer Institute, the Brewers Association and the National Association of Beverage Importers, seems aware of that.
The letter doesn't really try to pound home the case that it's a bad bill, though it does say "Over 4,000 state alcohol beverage laws are on the books, clear proof that state regulation of alcohol is intact and meaningful." Its main point, at the conclusion, is this (italics are mine): "We do not believe that Congress should spend valuable time wading into an intra-industry squabble and unraveling a successful regulatory structure to the detriment of consumers, the industry, and the federal interest in a fair, competitive, and orderly market for alcohol beverages."
In other words: How's that health care repeal coming along? Finished with cutting $100 billion from the budget yet? What about fixing Social Security?
I have to say, I fear that this Congress might be the one to pass this bill, and I don't think we could expect President Obama, who allowed gene-modified alfalfa to be deregulated, to veto it.
I only write on this topic occasionally and will feel guilty for not doing more if it passes. The man who has done more to keep an eye on this than anyone else is Tom Wark, so I strongly urge keeping an eye on his blog, Fermentation.
Earlier this week I posted some comments on another man's blog suggesting that he find different topics to write about. This caused one of his former co-workers to write his own blog post suggesting that I retire from blogging.
I've never been so flattered! It's like being a major literary figure, or perhaps the head of the Federal Reserve, to have my comments and tweets parsed for relevance. Perhaps, as with Shakespeare, somebody will come up with a theory that I don't really write this blog; I'm just the WASPy-looking front man for a team of sassy African-American women who really love wine and hate stuffiness and hypocrisy. (Editor's note: Word!)
I'll have to be more careful about my comments on baseball sites ("It's a bad signing. They shouldn't have given up the draft pick") now that I know how important I am.
Also, I'd like to announce that I will take the suggestion and will indeed retire from blogging.
Until next week, anyway. See you then.