In the 1980s I had a part-time, pre-university job in the cigarette / wine and spirits section of my local supermarket. The department was positioned at the back end of the fruit and vegetable isle at the time and one of the things that used to astonish me were the number of people who I would watch ‘sampling’ the grapes to “make sure they were okay” before putting (sometimes) a bunch in their trolley.
Nobody did it with lose apples or oranges so I guessed it was the grapes diminutive size that made them vulnerable.
The folk that did it were so open and blasé about it that somehow this ‘mini-crime’ acquired a rather surprising acceptance by the staff.
Still, it has always made me feel uncomfortable about the whole ‘try before you buy’ thing, particularly if it’s not an advertised or offered service.
Imagine then my awkwardness when a friend who’d joined us for a pub lunch was quite insistent about being allowed to sample some of the ‘wines by the glass’ that were on offer.
The poor waitress clearly thought it an odd request but sweetly obliged, returning a few minutes later with some overly generous tasters.
We all watched and waited as our companion sipped and sniffed and then squirmed a little when she offered the glasses round the table for everyone to have a go.
I silently admired the resolve of the wee girl that was waiting on our table and who, once the decision was in, determinedly picked up the glasses, put them back on the tray and took them back with her.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand the difficulty in choosing something you don’t know much about.
I very much wish that managers and owners would invest the time in making their staff more knowledgeable and articulate about the wines they sell and describe them better in their printed lists.
However, ‘wines by the glass’ is an excellent initiative as it provides an opportunity for us to try something we know less well in a small volume.
People may complain about the price of single glasses relative to the cost of a bottle, but seem to forget that there are increased costs in offering this service and increased wastage too. It is simply not possible to have your cake and eat it, I’m afraid.
I know I have regretted decisions I have made in pubs and restaurants — both of the liquid and culinary form — but unless there’s a fault then I’m afraid that’s the gamble we all take when we dine out.
I appreciate and value those establishments that are happy to let you have a sample before you buy but don’t forget that nothing is for free!
So, if you’re an indecisive group and there are wines by the glass on offer, why don’t you each choose a different wine and then share them around?
That way you’re happy, the pub’s happy and a young student won’t be writing about you in 20 years’ time . . .