I was in a smart hotel lounge the other day, the sort where wine and snacks are free. The white wine happened to be Chablis: quite a result, I thought. By the time I was ready for another glass, though, it had run out. The obliging waiter returned with another bottle, but mentioned, as he poured, that it was Pinot Grigio instead. Now Chablis is a lovely wine: dry and savoury with a crisp, sour edge, and one of the all-time ‘classics’. A bit like a great dry Martini. Basic Pinot Grigio, however, is the alcopop of the wine world. Drunk by millions but utterly unloved by anyone who has ever tasted anything better. Sure enough, instead of an appetising, satisfying mouthful, it smelt like pear-drops and tasted like it was made in a factory from left-overs. Being weak and watery was probably its strongest point.
Of course there are terrific Pinot Grigios to be had, even at the lowest price points. We’ve got a cracker at Hakkasan, and it’s no surprise really, as Pinot Grigio is the same grape as the Pinot Gris you find in Alsace and New Zealand. The difference is that much Italian (and other) PG is made to be a cheap, quaffing wine. And it sells so well that you can understand why the producers do it.
The pity, though, was that the waiter didn’t know this. I asked whether any more Chablis was available, and he smiled sweetly and announced ‘No, but the Pinot Grigio is just as good’. He was a nice, helpful guy, and someone obviously thought he was skilled enough to be in charge of the lounge. Pity, then, they hadn’t thought to give him any wine training. And yes, Pinot Grigio is cheaper than Chablis, but if the budget was an issue there are other low cost wines that would have done a much better job. They could even have tried finding a better Pinot Grigio.
I’d mentally rated the hotel a ‘10’ for serving a great Chablis. Now, I’m afraid, it’s down to a ‘5’. It would have been less, but the snacks were good. Easy come, easy go.