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Culture: The Vino Swindler: A Serial Dater’s Unlucky Brush with a Wine Tinder Swindler

Culture: The Vino Swindler: A Serial Dater’s Unlucky Brush with a Wine Tinder Swindler

Two months before The Tinder Swindler was released on Netflix, I had my own run-in with a “diamond-exporting,” truth-bending, wine-stealing date.

Leandro was Italian-Brazilian with short salt-n-pepper hair, dark eyes and an attentive personality. Initially attracted to his persistence, his knowledge of Puglia and the prospect of trips to Rio, I matched with him and we chatted for two days before he claimed to be an heir to a diamond mine… excuse me! This is new. Living in the Bay Area, my world sometimes intersected with the wealth of tech and new money, but rarely did I meet someone with an occupation worthy of a Bond villain. I couldn’t resist his invitation to Zuni, a local institution in San Francisco.

I was running early—well, I was on time, so, early for a Tinder date—and got seated alone upstairs near the window overlooking Rose Street. I ordered a glass of Les Beaux Fougets for $20. Delicately sipping, I anxiously waited for Leandro. More than a few “almost there” texts later, he finally called to say he wasn’t allowed in—he forgot his proof of vaccination.

No amount of pleading or begging could get him a seat inside or out, so I abandoned my barely touched cup of Burgundy to find a restaurant that would serve us (in San Francisco in those days it was nearly impossible to find a wine bar that did not demand vaccination cards). Walking down Gough and up to Hayes, I thought to myself, “This is weird; who doesn’t have a picture of their vaccine card?” But weary from the punishing cycle of late-30s dating, I soldiered on.

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We finally chose a nondescript Italian restaurant with a parklet and a decent wine list, though I was disappointed I missed out on the wood-fired chicken for two at Zuni. We ordered a small consolation burrata and a Brunello di Montalcino. As the hints of cherries, blackberries, spice and leather warmed my palate, my suspicions about Leandro began to wane. He spoke of his Jewish-Italian father fleeing Europe, only to settle in Brazil and become a successful diamond mogul; he shared pictures and videos of himself at diamond conventions, while explaining the modern mining practices. With a glimmer of truth cutting the air of doubt that clung to his backstory, I asked myself, “Could he be for real?”

Now as tipsy as I was hopeful, I excused myself from the table. When I returned, it was to a stunning scene. Late on a Wednesday night in the middle of the pandemic, there were no other diners braving the cold and neither was Leandro. My bag hung carelessly from the chair; my jacket had fallen into a crumpled pile on the floor and the check sat on the tabletop.

Resigned to having been ditched, I listlessly sipped a final glass of prosecco decidedly forlorn at another dating disaster when Leandro reappeared, wild-eyed and antagonistic. “This is ridiculous!” he said. “My card was declined! Look!” As he thrust an ATM balance inquiry receipt into my face with “$2,757,488.04” typed across it, Leandro spit, “I can’t believe it!” But I certainly could. A date with an imposter may have cost me $170 and possibly a swiped Chase card, but hey! At least the wine was good.

This article originally appeared in the October 2023 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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