$13,000 Bottle of Wine

Some of the finest wines are just too fine!

Welcome back to Going Downs, a newsletter about the intersection of celebrity and politics.

Happy Friday!

Earlier this week, I got my first, pretty extensive, series of hate mail letters about Going Downs. Last week, I made fun of Second Stepdaughter Ella Emhoff for being the recipient of entertainment industry nepotism. One lady took to my personal email to send several messages to me about how I’m a “mean girl,” “unimportant person,” a “misogynist,” and I’ll never make it as a writer. She also attempted to get me banned from Substack entirely for “misogyny.” I obviously disagree, lol.

I also was excited to get my Bustle article about the “breathing industry,” published this week. Read: “Why is Everyone Telling Me To Breathe More?” For the piece, I did about 5 different types of breathing training sessions, tried sleeping with my mouth taped shut and exercising that way, and almost induced a seizure by doing Co2 depletion for “emotional release.” I also had the chance to talk to several doctors, including the esteemed Covid frontline pulmonologist, Dr. Michael J. Stephens. Fun stuff!

Onto more important matters…

Todrick Hall’s Luggage Bed

For many Americans, it’s a time of extreme economic despair. For singer and choreographer Todrick Hall, it’s a time to flex conspicuous consumption and turn the place you literally sleep into branded content.

A post shared by TODRICK (@todrick)

It’s not merely enough to sleep like a normal person in a comfortable bed. You should feel like you are in the display case of a Duty-Free shop at an airport or a Christmas window installation at Barney’s. Confounding to me is the stair steps and the low ceiling. Does he sleep with the “I Woke Up Like This” neon turned on?

Hilaria Baldwin Updates

Hilaria came back to Instagram this afternoon for the first time since Cucumbergate happened in taint week.

A post shared by Hilaria Thomas Baldwin (@hilariabaldwin)

I’ve spent the last month listening, reflecting, and asking myself how I can learn and grow. My parents raised my brother and me with two cultures, American and Spanish, and I feel a true sense of belonging to both. The way I’ve spoken about myself and my deep connection to two cultures could have been better explained - I should have been more clear and I'm sorry. I'm proud of the way I was raised, and we’re raising our children to share the same love and respect for both. Being vulnerable and pushing ourselves to learn and grow is what we've built our community on, and I hope to get back to the supportive and kind environment we’ve built together.

Thoughts? It definitely does not address the accent.

I also would like to highlight these amazing quotes by Salma Hayek that came out today about Hilaria. If you didn’t see, Salma is promoting an upcoming HBO Max show in which her boobs talk to her, called A Boob’s Life. Note: I am available to write on this television program.

Hayek appeared on a SiriusXM show, Radio Andy, and got asked about Hilaria Baldwin:

We all lie a little bit. She makes my friend happy. She fooled me because she’s such a good mother and she has five of them. And you know, I don’t care. I feel honored that somebody wants their alter-ego to be similar to my roots.

LOL at calling it an alter-ego…She goes on.

I am Mexican and Lebanese, but my grandparents, my ancestors on my mother’s side are Spanish. I think she’s smart to want to be Spanish. …We all create our own character in life. I mean, this might be extreme. …She’s not a bad person. … And Spanish people are cool. I don’t blame her for choosing that.

$13,000 Bottle of Wine

Chrissy Teigen was back in the news this week for yet another tweet deemed as “unrelatable” with her fans. It all started when Chrissy asked Twitter:

I liked this Tweet when I saw it because I thought Chrissy was about to sort of “unmask” aspects of wealthy life that would be nice for her followers to see during these hard economic times. Sort of like, “being rich ain't all it’s cracked up to be; you get invited to fancy dinners, and the food isn’t half as good as the taco stand but costs more!” She followed this up with:

Of course, people started Tweeting “Let them Eat Cake,” and other guillotine-related content at Chrissy. This caused Chrissy to spiral and posts a few more responses to the hate:

I am fascinated by the idea of Chrissy feeling “screwed over” by someone who makes minimum wage plus tips. I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to lose a baby, so I will very clearly state now that I am not picking on someone here who has dealt with that. I am sorry for her loss, and I understand some of her content may be part of her grieving process.

However, I do believe “bullying” and “screwing over” is a power structure issue. Money makes the world go ’round, and it’s punching down at the working class for Chrissy to clap back at this waiter, or even Twitter users who probably don’t have as much as she has in life (a net worth of 75 million dollars).

One of the things that made me a fan of Chrissy initially was her relatability. Though she had walked the catwalks in Paris and Milan, was (then) dating a famous musician, and was born very tall and pretty, she was funny and found a way to make Twitter users feel like we were on the same page in life. Chrissy Teigen, in many ways, is Twitter. Her current career would not exist without it, in the same way, Busy Phillip wouldn’t see the renewed success she’s had without Instagram.

Chrissy was witty, cool, into pop culture, and a “regular wife.” Or she used to make us feel that way. They say money changes people, and I used to not believe in that. But watching Chrissy’s Twitter personae change in real-time has definitely made me think so.

There’s also the fact that many Americans face the crushing reality that their economic dreams may never come true. Most people have either lost work for nine months, had to foreclose homes, default on loans, shutter businesses, or worse, lose family, friends, or employees to sickness and/or death. I think this is why, when Chrissy posted that she “has nothing” and bought herself a horse, people responded like this:

Again, grief is a process, but many of us are grieving too. 456,000 Americans have died of Covid since last March. That counts for something, right? We can’t compare trauma in that regard.

People were also upset around Halloween about this Tweet, posting gifs from the movie Parasite to compare the film’s comment on wealth inequality during an international crisis.

All this aside, let’s get into the etiquette of buying expensive wine at restaurants, and if being “tricked” is really a common thing.

An article on Sprudge written by a wine connoisseur, titled “How to Make Sure What Happened to Chrissy Teigen Never Happens to You,” firmly sides with Chrissy on the matter and called Twitter users “tacky” for inciting class warfare. But the writer does lightly put the onus on Chrissy (or whoever ordered) to ask for the price of a wine and not suggest wines in phrases like “your finest Cab!” Looking at the actual wine list also helps.

I also found an article on Quora about how Sommeliers are trained not to discuss money, “unless prompted by the customer first.” The Sommelier Trade Review suggests being direct with the sommelier about the price. If you’re trying not to be gauche, you’d say, “I’m looking for something in the two-hundred-dollar range.” Even sleeker, you would point at a similar bottle of wine on the wine list and say, “I’d like a great bottle in this price range.”

Backing up a bit, we’re talking about sommeliers here. Chrissy was talking about a waiter. To become a certified sommelier, the exams and study process takes up to three years. It’s totally possible that Chrissy, unfortunately, interfaced with a waiter and not a sommelier who accidentally recommended something super expensive. But it would be weird for a random, non-wine-trained waiter to recommend a top-shelf bottle like that. Or to be allowed to by the restaurant staff. That’s where I think people got upset - the way she wrote the tweet implies mal intent. “Waiters” strive for tips and are thirsty for them! A sommelier, on the other hand, is an esteemed vino professional.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s wine critic, Esther Mobley, took a stab at trying to figure out exactly which wine and how this happened. Using markup math and process of elimination, Mobley guesses that it was “a first-growth Bordeaux from a very old and very famous vintage.”

The French Laundry does list a few first-growth wines from famous old vintages at prices that get close to Teigen’s bill: The 1926 Chateau Latour is $13,500, 1945 Chateau Margaux $12,500 and 1959 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild $12,000. I have no idea where she and Legend were dining, but these wines or similar first-growth bottlings seem the most likely candidates.

But Mobley says that ordering these bottles off the cuff is difficult.

To be clear, buying these bottles isn’t normal. Even the uppermost echelon of restaurants that have wines like these in their cellars don’t sell them to customers very frequently. Keeping bottles like these on the list is a bit of a prestige play for a restaurant, helping it win awards, and the restaurant might have only one bottle of each specific wine. Most of the time, in fact, wines like a ‘26 Latour aren’t being purchased at steakhouses, but at auctions. They’re collector’s items; a collector might be buying them to drink, but they equally might be buying them as an investment to sell later, similar to collectible pieces of art.

Then I guess, what we’re left with, are three possibilities.

  1. It was an accident. They pulled the restaurant’s only ‘26 Latour off the shelf in the dark, meaning to hand some other $200 bottle. It was the waiter and not the sommelier.

  2. Someone at her table ordered the restaurant’s “finest wine,” not thinking that “fine” goes up to $13K. I’d say a nearly 100-year old Bordeaux is fine enough.

  3. The waiter saw a table with a famous person and wanted to take advantage of the situation.

Or a combination.

If it is #3, which many people online felt Chrissy was suggesting, I think it’s important to have some empathy here on both sides. Rich people get taken advantage of all day. Their “friends” sell personal stories to the press as “sources,” they likely pay a higher price everywhere they go because of fame, and they’re expected to tip over 20% or be blasted on social as that one girl did with Kylie on TikTok for leaving a $5 tip.

On the flip side, famous people should expect swindling on all sides. Some regular folks may even see fame as a kind of scam anyway. Wealth certainly must feel like that, with people like Donald Trump and Bernie Madoff facing few consequences for their alleged financial crimes. And, with “At Will” firing, the depletion of unions, and truly a lack of caring about worker loyalty, capitalism can fuck you over at any minute. Maybe the waiter was desperate for tips and saw an in.

But somehow, I highly doubt this is what happened. I’ve worked in 4 restaurants in my life in food and drink service, and I just don’t see it happening. People got fired over stealing umbrellas from the coat check at one place I worked at in Rockefeller Plaza. Maybe the waiter was trying to impress Chrissy by giving her “the best,” thinking that at $75M net worth, $13K is a drop in the bucket.

And let’s be clear, as Mobley implies, this restaurant isn’t some roadside Chic-Fil-a. Servers working somewhere like French Laundry must be at the top of their game in the culinary industry. Servers would need to have an encyclopedic knowledge of food and wine, have cut their teeth at other high-end establishments, and beaten out the competition in an industry striving for hospitality perfection. For example, at Ad Hoc, a different Thomas Keller restaurant, a sommelier position requires “3-5 years of the fine dining experience.” Making a faux pas like charging a famous celebrity and her friends or family a $13,000 bottle of wine without her permission could be a fireable offense. If Chrissy or her table got upset (which it sounds like they did?), the waiter (or sommelier) could lose a coveted job and references.

In sommelier-ation, if you don’t want to spend a buttload on wine, you have to say so. And be careful when ordering the “finest!” It might just be too fine.

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