I haven’t been to the Olive Garden in a really long time, years probably. I had heard they were pushing wine these days, offering tastes and bringing wine bottles to your table and modeling them like Price is Right prizes.
We had about a 20 minute wait, so we wandered over to the tasting table they had set up in the lobby. You could taste the house wines… for twenty five cents! I thought that was hilarious. I tried the “Bianco” and P. tried the “Rosato”.
Tasting notes from the Olive Garden are as follows:
Rosato: “Semi-sweet, light-bodied, with a fresh fruit taste. Made from a blend of Merlot, Enatio, and Schiava grapes.”
Bianco: “A crisp, pleasantly fruity, semi-dry, light to medium-bodied wine. Made from a blend of regional varietal grapes including Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, and Chardonnay.”
Our tasting notes…
P. on the Rosato: “This tastes exactly like the box wine that my mom used to buy.”
Me on the Bianco: “Ick. It tastes like a tin can. I can’t even drink it. You take it.”
P: “Maybe it was aged in beer cans.”
Me: “No, I think a hobo jumped off a train with his stick and his bandana and went fishing in the river and caught one of those tin cans like in a cartoon and the Olive Garden came by and stole it and aged their wine in that.”
P. on the Bianco that I wouldn’t drink: “It tastes like cheese!”
Me: “You just ate a piece of cheese.”
P: “Oh. Right.”
Conclusion: Not worth twenty-five cents.
Once we were seated, our waitress came by with a Penfolds Shiraz in her hands. She showcased it as their “featured wine”. She then pointed out how fantastic their wine menu is because it makes the wines very easy to tell apart. The white wines are listed on the left; the red wines are listed on the right. She left us alone with the wine list for a few minutes, now that we had been properly schooled on how to tell the difference. We barely held in our laughter until she turned the corner.
We picked the Bottega Vinaia Pinot Grigio, although we took advantage of another twenty-five cent tasting first to make sure that it wasn’t another Olive Garden house wine in disguise. (The Olive Garden will give you a taste of any wine they sell by the glass… for twenty-five cents, of course.) When she brought our bottle, she asked if we wanted to taste it again. I thought, well, yeah, since you taste from the bottle to make sure the wine isn’t corked or something, not to see if you like it and want to keep it. But then I felt bad for being all wine snobby at the Olive Garden, even if it was only in my head, because the waitress was really nice and I’m sure that even though the Olive Garden has decided to get into the wine pushing business, they don’t send all their waiters to sommelier school.
The Olive Garden tasting notes for this wine are: “A medium bodied dry white wine. A “Best In Class” Pinot Grigio that is truly special. each grape cluster is picked by hand only when it is at peak ripeness, sometimes requiring several passes through the vineyard. One of the only places available is Olive Garden.”
We liked it. We really like Pinot Grigio in general, but find so many flavorless ones. When we try Pinot Grigio, they seem to fall into one of two categories: good or rain water. This one was good. It was very flavorful, dry, not too fruity. It wasn’t the most fantastic Pinot Grigio I’ve ever had or anything, but I’d definitely drink it again.
I see that it’s gotten a lot of good reviews. It looks like it retails for about $16 (it was $28 at the restaurant).
Conclusion: Despite the fear that the house wines may instill, the Olive Garden does have some decent wines on its list. Just bring a quarter so you can check things out before you splurge on a whole bottle.