Tim Roxborogh on the joys of moaning about your holidays
Overseas restaurants with no wine knowledge
My palate is so unsophisticated I once called it a "platter". By accident. While trying to impress a sommelier. So while I know I enjoy a pinot gris or a rose and that I'm prepared to go as low as $13 for a bottle and as high as $17 if I'm feeling particularly flamboyant, I'm about as far from a wine snob as you can get. That said, even someone with a "platter" as low-rent as mine knows not all red and white wines are created equal.
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Unfortunately, this basic understanding that just because you like pinot gris doesn't necessarily mean you like sauvignon blanc, or likewise, that pinot noir and merlot are not interchangeable, hasn't spread all over the world.
From personal experience, this is especially the case in Asia where I've asked wait staff what wine they have and they've responded with "Both: red and white". From Thailand to Sri Lanka, from Indonesia to Vietnam, I've encountered menus merely saying "white wine" and "red wine" without specifying what type. And don't expect the poor bewildered bar staff to know either, which I guess is part of the fun.
But it's too easy to just suggest this is an affliction outside of the Western world and I can say with some glee that is not the case. Late last year I was in Boston and some friends and I headed out to the popular North End neighbourhood near downtown, an area famous for its Italian restaurants.
We were jetlagged and hungry and decided to go for pretty much the first place we saw. Against breathtaking odds, we found probably the only Italian eatery in the North End that was utterly clueless about wine. The menu had both chardonnay and pinot grigio under the heading of "red wine". So naturally we decided to have some japes with our young waiter.
While it's unlikely we were holding him up from attending his next Mensa meeting, I admired his gumption at telling us that yes indeed, the restaurant had red chardonnay and red pinot grigio. "Those wines aren't traditionally red though", I pointed out, to which our chappie responded without missing a beat: "I believe they're special red varietals of the grigio and the chardonnay that we have."
"How certain are you of that?" To which the jig was close to being up and he admitted he didn't really know but that he'd check with his manager. While he was out back inspecting labels, we noticed some of our laminated menus had used Twink to white out the chardonnay and the pinot grigio from the red wine column and to have them superimposed with handwriting to their correct location in the white wine column.
To me, this was the most glorious discovery during the whole fairly lousy, terrifically entertaining meal. Here was a restaurant that could afford to pay the whopping rents of the prime real estate it was on, but couldn't afford to reprint a few error-riddled menus. The fact that someone – most likely the boss – had noticed the error and thought, "No! They're already laminated! A bit of Twink will do!" is oddly kind of delightful.
The wine region you've never heard of, just a stone's throw away
The pinot grigio (which is extremely similar to pinot gris and arguably even easier on the palette/platter to those prone to confusing palettes and platters) was delivered and no, it wasn't the intriguing "red varietal" our waiter had suggested. Sure, his knowledge was a little lacking, but between you and me, let's just say he made up for it with some remarkably generous pours.
Tim Roxborogh hosts Newstalk ZB's Weekend Collective and blogs at roxboroghreport.com