When and How to send a Bottle of Wine Back
If you’ve ever been at a table where someone orders bottle of wine, then you’ve seen the ritual that it is opening it. From showing the label to the host, to presenting the cork, pouring a taster, and once the host has nodded, then everyone gets some. Have you ever wondered what happens if the guests decides to shake his head instead of nod? Do people actually do that?
So the other day I was about to drink a lovely bottle of wine, which I as I started to open, showed a few red flags.
The label was stained. This could be fine as long as it was not the wine inside that leaked out.
But it was. The dreaded wine stain that goes all the way from one end of the cork to the other. If it only reached half way, it would be fine. But with this one, wine clearly escaped the bottle, which means that air was let in.
Since I was at home and really wanted to drink my wine with dinner, I decided to give it a chance anyway. I poured two ounces in my glass and gave it a whiff. To my surprise, the wine didn’t smell like vinegar as one would expect given the previous evidence. This bottle had been compromised, but it still smelled like a very drinkable wine. So I took a sip, and while not being 100% what I expected from that particular bottle, it was delicious. As I had dinner and wine and processed what had happened I thought to myself: “If this wine had been served to me at a restaurant, I would have absolutely sent it back for a fresh bottle.” This thought reminded me of all my guests that wonder about the restaurant ritual of opening a bottle and the ones that have asked me the etiquette of sending a wine back. Shortly after I found myself in front of my computer writing this blog.
First of all, the ritual must be explained as every step has one or two reasons to exist.
- The somm brings the wine over and shows the host the label.
- This is mainly to avoid the “That’s not what I ordered” argument after the bottle has been consumed. With so many names and subtleties in wine labels, it is very important to confirm you are indeed getting the wine you ordered.
- If you see any sort of stain on the label like I did on my wine, pay attention to the cork as your bottle may have been compromised.
- The somm will pour you a sip and present the cork, as you smell the wine.
- This is for you to confirm the wine is sound. There are many possible faults in wine: Reductive wine can smell like rotten eggs, cork taint or corked wine smells musty like a wet dog, and oxidized wine smells like vinegar. My rule of thumb is: “If it smells like wine, and tastes like wine, you should be fine”.
- The other reason is to ensure that it is being served at the right temperature. If your wine is too warm or too cold, it won’t show its best. At this point kindly ask your waiter or somm for a chiller or a decanter to bring your wine to the adequate temperature. NOTE: This sip is NOT to see if you like the wine or not. Your server or somm will assume you ordered a wine you like. If you don’t know what you like or what to get, ask for assistance, we’re here for you. If you decide to venture out and order a random bottle of wine without assistance to see if you like it, and you happen to really hate it, you could send it back, but nobody wants to be that person. Remember, if you’re not sure, let your server or somm know what you normally like and how much you want to spend, and we will find you the perfect wine for you.
Because wine leaked all the way out, you can be sure air got inside the bottle. This means that the wine wont taste the way it’s intended to taste.
So you say “I noticed from the cork that air has gotten into the bottle, the wine is good but I’m sure it’s not what it should be. Could we please get a fresh bottle?”
Some of you might ask: But why waste the wine if it still tastes good? Or why be a burden to the restaurant that now has to absorb the cost of that bottle because you decided to get fancy? The truth is, that sending the wine back in this situation is highly encouraged by everyone involved.
You get a fresh wine that has not been compromised.
The restaurant gets their money back from the agency, and ensures you get a quality experience.
The agency gets their money back from the winery as they keep sending the wine back (now along with any other compromised wines).
The winery gets to analyze the wines to understand what went wrong and make the necessary corrections. Most importantly, for a winemaker, all that matters is that you enjoy the wine so they can build their brand. They would rather get a bottle sent back and pay for it, than you getting a wine that doesn’t taste exactly how it was intended to taste and choosing to never get that wine again.
So if your wine is compromised, and you are sure because of your OkanaganWine.Club training, send it back, it is a win-win. If you’re not sure, ask your server or your somm. As I said, we’re here for you. The chances of this happening are literally around 2%, but at least if it does, you’ll be prepared to be a connoisseur and not a snob.