Wine Tasting: Reds

No Surprise: Lobbyists Appreciate a High-Priced Spread

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Once in a while, everybody wants to splurge on a fancy wine for a special occasion. But what to choose? The Post decided to ask the kind of folks in town who are most likely to be upscale drinkers -- lobbyists.

Their favorite -- though not the highest rated by Post wine critic Ben Giliberti -- was an Australian shiraz called Mitolo McLaren Vale G.A.M. that costs $54.99 a bottle.

The tasting's five wine-loving lobbyists were a little defensive about being fingered as fat cats. The recent guilty plea of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff has done that to the K Street set.

"Maybe the lobbyists should be masked instead of the wine bottles," said Dirk van Dongen, president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors.

"Will we be able to afford these after lobbying reform?" asked Anthony T. Podesta, who heads the lobbying firm PodestaMattoon.

Joking aside, everyone had fun sipping what turned out to be a selection of first-rate wines. "It's like judging a beauty contest and everyone is beautiful," said Frederick D. McClure of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP.

A few of the tasters were real connoisseurs. Podesta and his wife, Heather Miller Podesta, a lobbyist for Blank Rome LLP, own 9,000 bottles. Robert E. Juliano, who represents the union that covers hotel and restaurant workers, has a 3,500-bottle collection.

Van Dongen said that he drinks plenty of good wine because Juliano regularly hands him a bottle or two, often over dinner at Sesto Senso restaurant. "The price point is right," van Dongen said.

Just in case the official tasters weren't up to the task, two other wine appreciators sat in: longtime lobbyist Nicholas E. Calio, a senior vice president of Citigroup, and his former law school classmate, Andrew E. Bederman of the local law firm Greenberg & Bederman LLP.

Of the 10 red wines sampled during the tasting, a few were rejected as sub-par by the discerning crew. Juliano grimaced occasionally and Heather Podesta complained that a few of the wines were too young to drink.

But generally the group agreed with Tony Podesta, who sat back after he finished and asked, "When do the next 10 come?"

Jeffrey Birnbaum is a columnist and national reporter for The Post whose beat includes the lobbying industry.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company