WASHINGTON: Pentagon chief Leon Panetta will celebrate the New Year with a $10,000 bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild wine from 1870, courtesy a bet with a friend over tracking down Osama bin Laden.
The wager was struck last New Year’s Eve in California, when restaurateur Ted Balestreri pledged to uncork the oldest bottle in his collection if Panetta, then the CIA director, found the al Qaeda mastermind.
Four months later, Panetta’s wife, Sylvia, called their longtime friend and said: “’Ted, get the wine opener ready,’” Balestreri told the Monterey County Herald. “When I asked why, she said, ‘Go turn on your TV.’”
As head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Panetta argued for and presided over the May 1 raid that killed bin Laden at his compound in Pakistan.
Balestreri, co-owner of the Sardine Factory restaurant in Panetta’s hometown of Monterey, said the bet came during a New Year’s gathering in his establishment’s wine cellar.
Some guests asked about his collection and he said he had no plans to open his oldest bottle, worth at least $10,000.
“But I said, ‘If Leon catches Osama bin Laden, we’ll open that bottle,’” Balestreri said, adding that Panetta quickly replied, “You’re on!”
US government officials are subject to strict rules about accepting gifts, but Pentagon officials were quick to point out that the bottle of wine was not a present and would be served to guests at a private New Year’s party.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 29th, 2011.
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