The $3,712.50 Misunderstanding

Sommelier decanting wineLast week’s most interesting wine story occurred at the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City (or, more precisely, the Bobby Flay Steakhouse at the Borgata). On the surface, it was a classic tale of miscommunication, amusing and even farcical—provided it didn’t happen to you. Here’s the customer’s version of what transpired:

Joe Lentini, a self-proclaimed “wine novice,” was dining at the restaurant with nine friends. He asked the waitress for a wine recommendation, and she suggested a bottle of the 2011 Screaming Eagle Cabernet. Lentini claims that he wasn’t wearing his glasses and couldn’t read the fine print on the wine list, so he asked the server for the price; she responded that it was “thirty-seven fifty.” When the bill arrived, she was correct after a fashion: the bottle actually cost $3,750.

Lentini and his friends were reportedly aghast. They complained to management, and eventually negotiated the price down to $2,200 (the average national retail price of the wine is $1,959). Things could have been worse: had the group ordered the wine at Daniel, in Manhattan, they would have paid $4,800.

Borgata has a very different view of the incident. They say the surveillance video reveals that someone in Lentini’s party went to the bar, reviewed the wine list, and asked the server for the price. He was then presented with a receipt detailing the cost, prior to the wine being consumed. A member of Borgata’s management team contends that both the waitress and the sommelier physically pointed to the price on the wine list and verified that it was acceptable.

Regardless of what actually happened, this story reverberated loudly throughout the national media, with virtually every outlet reporting that Lentini had been swindled. “Diner tricked into spending $3750 on wine,” proclaimed USA Today, and they were far from alone. The incident seemed to reinforce one of the classic stereotypes in the popular imagination: the slick sommelier out to take advantage of customers by any means possible.

That stereotype largely faded from reality around the time the VCR was replaced by the DVD player. Today’s generation of sommeliers has been trained to deliver value for money, and tends to be focused on customer satisfaction. Does upselling still occur? Of course, but not to the tune of 10,000 per cent.

One thing still holds true, however: If you want to take advantage of the casino, remember that the Eye in the Sky is watching you.


Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 20120 and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); for more information, go to

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