Vikram Pandit’s $350 glass of wine

By Felix Salmon
April 12, 2010
Andrew Ross picks up on this anecdote from Roger Lowenstein's new book:

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Andrew Ross picks up on this anecdote from Roger Lowenstein’s new book:

The problem of executive pay did not admit to an easy fix. Well into the crisis period, when banks such as Citigroup were operating on federal investment and when Citi’s stock was in single digits, Vikram Pandit, the CEO, was observed with a lunch guest at Le Bernardin, one of the top-rated restaurants in New York. Pandit looked discerningly at the wine list, saw nothing by the glass that appealed, and ordered a $350 bottle so that, as he explained, he could savor “a glass of wine worth drinking.” Pandit drank just one glass; his friend had none.

I have to say I have a grudging admiration for Pandit here. For one thing, this story doesn’t really speak to the issue of executive pay: Pandit made his real money not as an executive but as a part-owner of Old Lane, which got bought by Citigroup for a vastly overinflated sum. Yes, Old Lane was bought largely for the purpose of bringing Pandit into the Citi fold, but that kind of thing is very hard to consider “executive pay”.

What’s more, I’m sure the rest of the bottle hardly went to waste: most likely it was either drunk by the staff or sold off by the glass to people who were very happy to see such a high-end wine available by the glass.

And more generally, you don’t need to be worth tens of millions of dollars to pull a stunt like this. You just need to like good wine with good food, and to decide that in this particular restaurant on this particular day, a good glass of wine is worth more to you than $350. I can think of people I know earning six-figure salaries (as opposed to seven or eight figures) who are definitely capable of doing this kind of thing.

Of course, it’s also possible that Pandit put the meal on expenses. And you can see the logic: if a $350 bottle of wine would be an acceptable expense normally, it’s silly to polish the bottle off solely to justify the expense of ordering it. The main benefit of ordering a great bottle of wine is to taste the wine inside it; by the time you reach the sixth glass, you’ve already got that benefit, and at that point you’re mainly just getting drunker.

None of which stops the fact that the optics here are terrible. Pandit doesn’t behave this way in public any more, I’m sure — he’s super-alert to any signs of conspicuous consumption at this point. But I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that, in the privacy of his own home, he occasionally does exactly the same thing, and opens up a spectacular bottle only to drink a single glass. It’s a pretty modest vice, by contemporary standards of plutocratic excess.

6 comments

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do restaurants really do that? take leftovers and re-sell them to other people?

Posted by KidDynamite | Report as abusive

Assuming a typical restaurant markup, the $350 bottle was probably closer to a $125 bottle at retail. I think the guy is entitled to a $125 wine now and then, given that I feel that I am, and I’m not running Citibank.

Posted by maynardGkeynes | Report as abusive

I’ll have whatever he thinks he’s drinking. Only difference is, I’ll actually drink it and be quite prepared to face any consequences.

Posted by HBC | Report as abusive

Let the wine trickle down.

The vineyard took the restaurant.
The restaurant took Pandit.
Pandit took the Citi shareholders and customers.

I wonder who actually paid for that episode of overkill?

Posted by rror | Report as abusive

RROR- who paid for that episode of overkill? Why the usual- the taxpayer, or as Patik would prefer, the American Bhangi.

Patik hasn’t actually ever DONE anything in his life, has he, other than sucking on the wine bottle, sucking on the poor, and sucking on anything that he thinks will get him another sip of wine, money or greed. Kind of the indian version of ‘white trash with money’, don’t you think? lol.

Posted by Jimadj | Report as abusive

Justify it all you want… the bottom line is that it is shameful. I can afford it but I would not do it. There are 40,000 homeless people in New York City. I will try to look at the bright side… at least he didn’t go to the vomitorium after drinking the wine.

Posted by mtmjr77 | Report as abusive