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Modern wine manners - advice sought


#1

I need your advice and collective wisdom as it seems that Debretts doesn’t have an entry for “appropriate use of a Coravin in a social situation”.

Tonight I am heading to a wine dinner with some friends (you may hear more about this soon) and I am torn over a particular question.

The dinner is in a restaurant offering BYO, so of course we are digging out a special bottle each to bring. I’d hate to turn up and have my bottle be corked or otherwise damaged (my home cellaring is not ideal), so I could use the Coravin to check before heading out.

However, it also looks / feels odd to turn up with a ‘used’ bottle (I believe Coravin prefer the term “accessed”).

How would you feel if it was you (either bringing the bottle or seeing that someone else had drunk some of the wine they had brought to dinner)? Would you do it?

If so, where would you draw the line?

Would you do it:

  • for a bottle you were bringing to a dinner party?
  • for a bottle you offered as a gift ?

#2

I used to have a similar quandary when baking cakes for our dinner parties. I am a good baker, but even so - the idea that my cake would taste awful, or be too doughy, or that I substituted salt for sugar or some such used to worry me. So I now always employ my daughter (whose got a legendary appetite) as my ‘cake taster’. So yes- the cake never looks perfect upon presentation, but frankly- I don’t care. I’m much happier that my guests are eating a nice cake than biting into something that looks perfect but tastes rubbish.
Similarly, I personally would not bat an eyelid if a friend brought a special wine to a dinner party/restaurant which they coravined (is there such a verb???) prior to the event to check the wine was not faulty. We are talking a ‘tasting’ measure, right? If so, I would be quite pleased that they thought of that! I would, however, draw the line at doing it to a bottle I offered as a gift. Can’t tell you rationally why, but if feels wrong.


#3

For a dinner party red - decant it before leaving home. Up side: it will have time to breathe/have no sediment/you can have a crafty taste to check all is OK. Downside: not appropriate for most whites/laving to lug your decanter forth and back/danger of spillage if decanter falls over on journey

For a bottle you offer as a gift - DON’T! Just trust your wine supplier (n.b. since joining TWS in the '80s I’ve never had a duff bottle)

Enjoy the dinner


#4

The answer is to take two bottles, the one you have sampled and another as a goodwill gesture !

The you will be hailed as a thoughtful generous person and be invited to a lot more similar functions and become very popular…


#5

I think you should just live with the uncertainty - that’s half the fun of BYOB with friends.


#6

That would be fine - but then we’d be down 25% of our expected wine experience … and it would be MY FAULT!

I am getting ready to do this - I don’t think I could survive the humiliation of bringing the faulty bottle.

But I might end up having to pay double for corkage (though, actually I think this might be free corkage night) but also it means a lot more wine. If it was for a party, maybe, but in a restaurant that might mean brining it back home again which is a shame for a nice bottle


#7

As it sounds like a dinner for people with an interest in wine, go ahead and check it. I would certainly rather not find 25% (or more, to be pessimistic) of looked-forward-to bottles corked.

On decanting, there is no need to take a proper decanter: double decanting back into the bottle gives you something portable.


#8

I once planned an evening out based entirely on the fact that it was free corkage at a particular restaurant and then turned up…without the bottle…having left it behind in my rush to get there…I ended up buying a lesser wine from the same producer off their list for twice the price…the wallet is a great antidote for social gaffes.


#9

OK, I did the deed.

And the verdict was:

delicious!

Glad I did it now :slight_smile:


#10

Make sure some is left for the dinner.


#11

One other way of dealing with the problem of “off” bottles is for everyone to agree on a standby (or two, say a red and a white). The understanding - which needs to be hammered out beforehand - is that they only need to be broached if one of the main ones is duff, or off-colour.

In my experience, wine lovers readily appreciate the benefits of the approach. You can rotate who brings which standby so that the same people don’t get lumbered each time. Don’t try it if some of the party are more in the boozehound category though.


#12

Just don’t check it in the way that Winnie the Pooh ‘checked’ that it absolutely really was definitely honey right the way to the bottom of the jar before giving it to Eeyore as a present.

image


#13

Have you been reading bedtime stories, by any chance?


#14

I don’t know what you mean…


#15

If it is at all feasible in terms of logistics, when I still have the opportunity to dig out another bottle if needed I always open the bottle and take a small sample to test the wine for condition before I take it to the restaurant. Usually I would double-decant too to get some air into the wine. I am fine if others do the same, and I have never had any dirty looks or anything. It is no more than some sommeliers in top restaurants would do after all. But then I am usually sharing bottles with others who know about wine faults and might appreciate the decanting. Others might think it is a bit off I suppose.

A standby bottle is indeed another strategy, but I would rather not lug around unnecessary bottles. And you wouldn’t get any decanting benefits.

If the bottle were a gift, no I wouldn’t do it.

If I were taking to a dinner party, by default I would treat it as a gift, present it untested, and not expect it to be opened with the food. If the host decides to open it, that is fine, but it would be their choice. I might say precisely that in case the host feels duty bound to do so. I believe that is the correct etiquette. But if I had checked before with the host that I would bring a bottle to be drunk, I would test it as if I were taking it to a restaurant. That would normally happen with people I know well.

You might also open it in advance just to MAKE SURE that the bottle is served. That would be a bit naughty/cheeky really, but it could be a useful ploy sometimes :slight_smile:


#16

I once coravined a bottle of 1975 Rioja that I was taking to France (to give as a present to a friend living there) because I thought there was a fairly high probability of it being out of condition. It was actually fine, but I was worried the cork wouldn’t totally reseal so I put an AntiOx stopper over the top, planning on taking it off before giving the present (which I would explain I had coravined to check condition). On arriving chez mon ami, I whipped off the stopper only to discover that the pressure had pushed the cork into the bottle and it was just floating in the wine, leaving the foil intact. I had no choice but to put the stopper back on, apologise profusely and recommend that my friend drink it as soon as possible. I got a very sweet thank you email a couple of months later from said friend, saying that he had just drunk it and that it had been delicious. I can only imagine he was being very polite - it must have been revolting!

I like to think I’m infinitely wiser these days…


#17

FWIW I’d say a very small QC sample would be absolutely fine amongst friends unless as mentioned previously it is a gift

I’d be happy my friends had thought to check!


#18

Agreed, I can see the value of checking quality and would respect it. My son, however, would say, ‘First World Problem - get over it now!’ and I guess that’s right really. But the fascination, nuance and sensuality of wine hasn’t got to him yet. (Can I say ‘sensuality’ without being moderated!)


#19

Oh yes, you’ll have to try a lot harder than that :wink: