I was in two Cork hotels over the Christmas period for parties – the sit-down meals with crackers and hats varieties. In both, we indulged in some of the respective House Wines – you know, the stuff that smells of turps and takes the paint off skirting boards.
No, wait a minute, I’m thinking of actual turps – there must have been a mistake – surely the days of bad wine should be long gone, particularly when you’re paying €20 a bottle for it?
Well apparently not. Some hotels and restaurants still think it’s acceptable to select their house wine on the basis of maximum mark-up for the maximum prices people will bear before walking out on first sight of the wine list.
I won’t embarrass the hotels, or more importantly my company on the respective occasions, but the point does need to be considered generally. In one, a premium and fairly new Cork hotel, the house red was a Chilean Cabernet, at €23 a little on the steep side for house plonk but as it was a Christmas party we bit hard and ordered.
It wasn’t corked, it was just bad – harsh and tannic, little fruit, paint-strippingly astringent. We ended up drinking beer for the night.
This practice of profit over any semblance of quality vexes me greatly. As a business owner I am acutely aware of the need to make a margin, and I’m quite sure the aforementioned (otherwise very pleasant) hotels have considerable overheads, but this is ultimately self-defeating, and does neither the wine nor hospitality industries any favours at all. People just won’t continue accepting this level of bad value and poor attention to quality.
So my one big wish for 2009 is that hotels and restaurants, particularly the good ones, put a bit more effort into choosing their house wines, for their customers’ benefits as well as their margins. There is a happy middle ground, and a huge opportunity – make good wine a little more accessible and people will spend more, even in a recession.