Here’s a sentence I never thought would emanate from my fingertips: I write in defense of Steven Mnuchin.
The U.S. treasury secretary, worth a reported $300 million and criticized for his expensive travel on the taxpayer’s dime and his wife’s Marie Antoinette-like connection to the common people, was recently ridiculed by the British tabloids for his taste in wine. Mnuchin, dressed down in jeans and a polo shirt — just like you and me! — was snapped by a paparazzo showing up at the home of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, with a “cheap” bottle of wine.
The Daily Mail got a shot of the label as Mnuchin was greeted by Kushner, who evidently saw the photographer and had an “Oh what now?” expression as he greeted the treasury secretary with a hug. The wine was the 2015 Arbalest, a red blend from Bordeaux that retails for about $20 to $23.
“A taste for budget booze! Steven Mnuchin dresses down to visit Jared Kushner and takes along a $22 bottle of wine, despite being worth $300 million!” the Daily Mail crowed. “It appears even Steven Mnuchin can’t say no to a cheap bottle of wine,” it added.
U.S. news outlets picked up the story, hyperventilating that Mnuchin wasn’t bringing an expensive first growth or a rare bottle of DRC Burgundy.
“While Mnuchin gifts affordable wine, he has had no problem spending taxpayer money,” Newsweek huffed. The San Jose Mercury News crowed that Arbalest’s winemaker, Benoit Touquette, consults with several Napa Valley wineries.
Let’s get a few things straight. First, $22 is not “cheap” for a bottle of wine. Not when the average price paid for 750 milliliters — the standard bottle size — is about $9. Second, filthy rich people don’t have to drink filthy expensive wine all the time. The Arbalest does qualify as “affordable,” given that the sweet spot for value tends to be between $15 and $25. Buying up to get into that range is often rewarding, while the increase in quality becomes more subtle as you go above $25. (This is my opinion; others may slide that value window one way or the other.)
And Mnuchin is smart in choosing a 2015 Bordeaux. I have raved about this vintage, as has just about everyone. It offers exceptional value at all price ranges. I have not tasted the Arbalest, but wine writer Jeb Dunnuck has, and he gave it 91 points out of 100.
“It offers a perfumed, gorgeous bouquet of plums, incense, spice and hints of forest floor,” Dunnuck wrote. “Full-bodied, ripe and rounded, with a sexy, opulent style, lots of mid-palate depth and a great finish.” Who could object to that?
Third, let’s remember the occasion. Well, okay, we don’t really know what the occasion was, as neither the White House nor the Treasury Department has issued a statement clarifying why the two were meeting and drinking together. Mnuchin was carrying an iPad as well as the bottle of wine, so work may have been involved. (I’m assuming they weren’t gathering to watch TED talks.) With work on the agenda, you wouldn’t want an expensive wine that would distract attention and dominate the conversation. A delicious, unpretentious bottle will fuel the conversation without commandeering it.
Mnuchin may not have made headlines with his taste in wine if he hadn’t visited Kushner on a slow news day. But despite the easy and silly ridicule, we’ve learned one thing about our treasury secretary. Given an appropriate occasion, he has a nose for value.