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From an October 2020 Instagram post by the owner of Balthazar, a French brasserie in New York City.

One night at Balthazar, four Wall Street businessmen ordered the restaurant’s most expensive red wine: a $2,000 bottle of Château Mouton Rothschild. One of the two managers transferred the Bordeaux into a decanter at a waiter’s station. Simultaneously, a young couple ordered the restaurant’s cheapest red wine, an $18 pinot noir, which they wanted poured into a decanter. These two very different wines were now in identical decanters. Mistaking the $18 wine for the $2,000 Rothschild, the first manager poured the cheap wine for the businessmen. According to the manager, the businessman hosting the others considered himself a wine connoisseur, and showing off, tasted the cheap wine before bursting into raptures about its purity.

The young couple, who ordered the $18 pinot noir, were then inadvertently served the $2,000 Rothschild. On taking their first sips of what they believed was cheap wine, they jokingly pretended to be drinking an expensive wine and parodied all the mannerisms of a wine snob.

Five minutes later, the two managers discovered their error and, horrified, phoned me at home. I rushed to Balthazar. The businessmen’s celebratory mood was clearly enhanced by the wine they had mistakenly thought was the restaurant’s most expensive. This put me in a dilemma: whether to come clean and admit the manager’s mistake, or allow them to continue drinking the cheap wine in blissful ignorance. It was unthinkable at this point to pull the real Bordeaux from the young couple’s table. Besides, they were having too much fun pretending to be drinking a $2,000 bottle of wine. I decided to tell both parties the truth. The businessman responded by saying, “I thought that wasn’t a Mouton Rothschild!” The others at the table nodded their heads in servile agreement.

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January 2021

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