Yesterday I did a wine tasting with a lovely couple from Michigan, who eventually told me what was a rather embarrassing incident for them at the beginning of their Roman holiday. The wife, with kind blue eyes, was given the heavy task of choosing the wine at dinner- a responsibility that many might find intimidating in their home town let alone in a foreign country. The waiter, seeing her struggle, suggested a wine….with the price tag of 400 Euros. She made a sound and then tried to explain “Ummm….something less expensive”. The waiter then went on to suggest something cheaper…and eventually what they were led to were a few bottles that cost 200 Euros each. She admitted that she suspected the waiter was just seeing “TOURIST” written across their foreheads and taking advantage, but they just waved the white flag and went along with the costly bottles rather than continue to ask for cheaper options.
The uncertain traveler being wrung out like a towel, dripping their travel budget out like so much soapy water…thinking to themselves that maybe they just misunderstood.
Now you might be thinking: Why on earth did they pay so much when they clearly didn’t want to??
Simply put: To avoid making a social faux pas in probably what was a fancyish restaurant (they unfortunately didn’t recall the name of the spot). It happens to even the smartest traveler, even the ones that would certainly never be swindled on their home turf.
This story made me sad for a number of reasons. One because it breaks my heart to see kind people be taken for a ride and Two because it’s a great example of a waiter doing an absolutely horrific job at helping a client choose the right wine. The waiter or sommelier at a restaurant is trained (or at least supposed to be) to assist you; it should NOT be their aim to sell you exceptionally expensive bottles unless that’s what you are looking for. You don’t need to be a wine expert when you go out to eat because it’s someone else’s job to help you find the right wine on their list. If you tell them how much you are looking to spend, they should be able to without problems or protest find the bottle that matches your tastes/budget/dinner. And in case you are thinking it, based on the location of where they ate, I doubt it was the case here that they stumbled into a restaurant, without reservations, that didn’t have any bottles cheaper than 200 Euros.
I was happy to be part of their trip ending on a positive note. They bought 3 bottles of wine which they had tasted with me: a Friulano, a Refosco, and a Barbera d’Alba…each bottle costing between 13 and 18 Euros. The 200 Euro bottles of wine they drank at the start of their trip – they don’t even remember what they were! But the ones they tasted yesterday they will hopefully remember for a long time to come!