Sommelier and wine director Jason Wagner has been uncorking the finest wines for years, from the Four Seasons and L'Atelier in NYC to building lists and helping open the hotspots Nellcote and RM Champagne Salon here in Chicago. Now the sommelier at The Gage and Henri, Wagner has stories for days about the wine extravagance of Whales.
"I was starting to wrap up my night and get ready to go home when a server from the bar of the hotel came to get me. 'That table wants to see the wine list and talk to you.' As it was the end of the night and usually the servers in the bar would send me to tables because they didn't care about wine, I was mildly annoyed. I get to the table and I start to look for clues as to what they might be interested in. It's two gentlemen and one lady. I notice they're drinking Miller Lite and engrossed in watching the game. I present the wine list, ask if they want to talk about anything in particular and I end up talking to the lady, mostly about how I became a sommelier (she was interested in following a similar path). After a while of that I excuse myself thinking that was all they really wanted out of me."
"Then suddenly, during the 9th inning, just as I'm about to get on the elevator to leave, the server comes back. 'They want to order something.' I go to talk to the table again and they tell me they're in a discussion about Screaming Eagle (again, never less than $3,300 on the list). 'Is it really that good?' the gentleman who was the host of the table asked. I told him that was a sort of philosophical question. Is the wine amazing? Yes indeed. Could someone who makes what I make in a year ever justify spending that on a beverage? No indeed. I then talked to them about some other wines on the list that I thought were very high in quality at a fifth of the price. Then things got quiet. Two outs, ninth inning. Just before the final out was made the host orders a bottle of Screaming Eagle (I don't remember the vintage, but it was a younger one) at about $6,000 and a bottle of Lewis 'Cuvee L' which was about $600. I brought both of the wines, decanted them and poured them. They crushed through both bottles fairly quickly and wanted some more Screaming Eagle, but at the time, I had only one bottle of each vintage except the current release, so I suggested Sloan (again in the $3,000 - $4,000 range). This one was one of the legendary Sloan wines, the 2002. That one went pretty quick as well. All in all, I think 6 bottles went down at that table and the bill came to over $18,000 (including the beer). They were very generous with the wine, sharing with me and the other Sommeliers and were very generous with the server as well. I guess I wasn't the only lucky one that night."
"We had a regular guest at the hotel who would stay in the penthouse with his family several times a year. The penthouse is the most expensive room in North America coming in at a whopping $32,000 a night. Comes with 24-hour butler service, a driver (your pick of Bently or Rolls), and on and on.
Every year this guest would get together with a few of his buddies who were all in this club together. The club consisted only of people who own a specific Ferrari of which less than 20 or so were made. This time they decided they would have lunch in the penthouse. At the time it was not open for lunch, he payed for us to bring in cooks to cook for he and his two buddies.
As sommelier of the hotel I would provide the wine service. He had sent some wines from his private cellar for me to serve. It was 2 Jeroboams (3L) of 1982 Petrus. I opened the first bottle and it was obviously off, so I mentioned this to him and he told me to open the second bottle. The second bottle was sound, but there was something kinda different with it. It was still delicious, but wasn't showing what it should have. I served it anyway (since it was the only wine they had). He and his guests decided it wasn't really what they wanted to drink so they asked for the wine list. They had 3 bottles of wine and the bill was over $12,000."