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Free taste/try and samples: do you get suspicious?

Yesterday two of us went to a small pub. The server seated us and asked what we'd like to drink before I had a chance to look over the card, so I said that I wanted to try an aperitif. Which does she recommend?

She pointed out the list, and had good things to say about just about everything on it.
I said give us a moment to think it over and she said sure. In a flash (ok maybe two flashes),
she was back with a bottle and glasses, and said this was her favorite from the selection of ports -
an old tawny, and she wanted us to give it a taste. She pours a very generous taste, and I can see on the card
that this is the equivalent of 8 euros and change. It was delish, and the size of the taste was frankly about all we needed.
The wines by the glass were on a chalkboard behind the bar, so I got up to read it, and the server again pops over to ask which I'd like to try. The Dolcetto caught my eye, and again she gives me a generous sample. That's the one for me.
She brings a full glass over to the table, and my friend picks a CA zinfandel.
"Try it first?" the server asks. No need, just a glass.

So, I'm wondering if we have stumbled upon a hidden gem, or do I need to recalibrate my expectations of nice service (or my sense of menu pricing.) Do you get a little suspicious when it seems like a restaurant is being too generous?

I had a goat cheese tart starter -- fabu! -- and a hearty cassoulet; friend had white bean soup and the fish, happy with both. Check was not a bargain but seemed reasonable, in the 70 euro range.

I'm wondering if it means I'm getting a little cynical in my middle years if I start to second-guess a cheerful, generous low-key pub.

Posted by
15107 posts

Where was this pub? Tawny port is not generally served as an aperitif; if is an after-dinner drink. And California Zinfandel is very unusual to find in Europe.

Posted by
2348 posts

Gee, Lola, when I read your comment I googled the question
and got several screensful of information about port as an aperitif,
but I'll be sure if I ever return to this place to let them know
that you said they're doing it wrong.

Should I also remember to drink cappuccino only before 11 am and wear white shoes before Labor Day?

Posted by
9859 posts

Actually Lola, in France "porto" is an aperitif. I don't remember if tawny is the sweet one, but the sweet one is served as an aperitif. Likewise, if you ordered "martini" you get sweet vermouth, Martini-brand, in France--or at least it used to be back in the day. It could have changed by now with the craze for cocktails.

Posted by
15107 posts

I must be a traditionalist, then, because most of those articles indicate that port is "traditionally" served as a dessert wine or after-dinner drink. That is certainly the case in the UK and, I believe, Portugal --- the two countries most associated with port traditions.

Although white port, which most port aficionados do not value as port, is mentioned here as an aperitif.

This one article does mention tawny port as an aperitif in France, as Bets notes:

That is news to me. .. . But I haven't been in France for 14 years ( except for Chamonix) and obviously I am not up to date. I thought the French aperitif wines were Lillet and Dubonnet----both served chilled with a twist.

It would be a shame to treat a good ten-year tawny port like that, IMHO. Besides, good tawny port is too rich, sweet, and complex to serve the purpose of an aperitif----which is to stimulate the appetite and fresher the palate. Best is something light, chilled, and perhaps slightly bitter or herbal, like Campari, or a nice glass of Prosecco.

But I am glad you had a nice time, and I don't see anything to be "suspicious" about.

In what country is this delightful little pub? I am guessing France, because of the cassoulet, but ( again revealing my ignorance here) I do not associate "pubs" with France, unless they are for British visitors and ex-pats.

Posted by
6087 posts

Yes, please; Where is the pub? It sounds like a great place for a meal or to spend a leisurely evening. Please share!

Posted by
2348 posts

It was a mistake for me to write 'pub' rather than wine bar, and I want to keep it a hidden gem and respect the owner's practice of not keeping a current web presence. They describe themselves as 'une place par et pour les femmes' since it was opened in the early '70s and want to continue that cultural legacy even though they now welcome everyone. They don't want to lose the intimate ambiance.

Anyway, that is a distraction from my topic, which is whether you feel good about being offered samples and tastes or if you feel like you're being sold to.
At Trader Joe's and Costco the free samples are kind of a mutual sin enabler -- they get items on your radar in exchange for you doing some free snacking. If this is what we're used to, maybe some adjustment needs to be made when on travel? I mean an adjustment in our heads. RS often praises local shops and producers that feel evangelical about their goods and want to share the good news. Is that how you take it, or do you think it means that the markup is so high that they can afford to give away samples?

Regarding the other distraction on aperitifs, in my social crowd Campari and Dubonnet are not just passe, they are retro. I often enjoy prosecco or pastis but they too are becoming too pop for anyone who aspires to being in fashion. Cocktails rule the roost. Herbal liqueurs gain some points but tend to be quickly passing fads. There is another dessert wine that I like as an aperitif, called floc de gascogne, which is a blend of armagnac and overripe wine, but it isn't commonly available. Which is part of what makes it cool.

Posted by
9859 posts

Suspicious--not at all. It helps me decide what I do or don't want and helps them sell and keep a happy customer. Their markup is their business. I can choose to return or not. I can be skeptical of a lot of things in this world, but not free tastes.