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Sending a wine back


#1

Have you ever actually sent a wine back in a restaurant or bar because it was corked or oxidised?

We all taste the bottles all the time, but how many of us feel confident enough to say “this is not fine, actually, can I have a different bottle”?

I know it took me YEARS to pluck up the courage to do this, but this was in the times when restaurants and bars were less well trained in both wine service and customer service.

Since then, I feel confident to express my thoughts, in large part because I know they are unlikely to suffer since they too can get refunds from suppliers (though it pains me to think this will get charged back to a producer).

However, since then I’ve had only a couple of occasions where the staff have disagreed with me - and I found that infuriating, but in those cases their excuse was that they were not well trained enough (these were not top establishments). I can’t imagine how I’d feel today if a sommelier at a top London restaurant were to disagree with me, as the customer.

This article by Chris Losh is definitely worth reading:


#2

A few times. And occasionally I’ve had a wine that someone else ordered/tasted and it was so badly corked I couldn’t drink it but they were happy so who cares.

The only time I’ve had a problem was in a wine bar in Verona with a snooty barman who tried to tell me it was how the wine should be (a bit like the story here I suppose). I was with someone with much better tasting ability than me at the time who agreed with me, so we didn’t back down, but he was very reluctant. We didn’t stay for another.


#3

We had a tainted bottle some years ago in a restaurant in France. Really awkward as although we spoke some French we did not know then how to say that the wine was corked. We eventually got the message across but it was hard work and embarrassing as it felt like the whole restaurant was listening in. They did, reluctantly, replace the bottle. So ‘gout du bouchon’ now part of our armoury for French holidays! Never had to use it as yet.

We also bought a bottle of wine from a Pingo Doce supermarket in Portugal that was disgustingly corked. We speak zero Portugese but did get someone to sniff it and got a refund.


#4

My Italian experience was the worst one, staying at an hotel on Lake Garda that strangely for Italy had a limited wine list, I ordered a Nebbiolo based wine on the first night and it was fine, had a couple of different ones on subsequent nights all well, on the following night we had friends at the dinner table and I played safe by ordering the wine I had on the first night.
The wine was tainted and I sent it back, the problem was the replacement bottle was the same, tainted.
Then the fun started and the inference was that an Englishman knows nothing about wine and there was nothing wrong with it, after awhile I thought I had prevailed but then a waitress was sent over with glasses to taste the wine with me to teach me about the wine !
I spoke enough Italian to make it known I was not playing their game and set of to see the owner who was hovering at the back of the restaurant.
Eventually he agreed and asked what I wanted and I said not that wine, but I put it to him that as all dodgy (whatever that was in Italian) bottles are returned to the wholesaler for credit why the fuss and humiliation in the first place, he didn’t answer, and that last point applies to all restaurants so never be afraid of sending a wine back, if I hadn’t been able to make myself understood I have no idea what the outcome would have been.

This was the only line I knew I had got right, fortunately…
mi hai umiliato e io non sono felice


#5

oh dear, not the sort of words you want to have to learn :frowning:

You can imagine the updated language classes we should be having, heh? (with apologies to Eddie Izzard):
“Le singe est dans l’arbre … et il est malheureux parce que son vin est bouchonné”


#6

One always has the feeling that what you have said comes out like these do…


#7

UK restaurants charge 300-400% of the retail price (tho’ they pay wholesale prices) so there should be no issue to them if a wine is declined, and no diner should feel any compunction about rejecting an ‘off’ wine.

In the linked article, the restaurant behaved abominably, but by switching wines instead of getting another bottle of the same wine the writer gave the impression that it was a wine not to his taste rather than a faulty bottle.


#8

I ordered a glass of wine in a country pub and it was off. The landlord said it couldn’t be, as he used a oxygen suction preservation device.

I asked him to open a fresh bottle, and there wasn’t an obvious difference, I’d pay for the new bottle as well as the first glass.

He did, the new one was totally different, which he tasted and accepted.

But I noted he put the bad wine back ready to serve the next customer.

I don’t think he understood these preservation systems don’t keep wine fresh for weeks.


#9

I’ve returned a beer on a few occasions, usually because of a diacetyl (butterscotch) flavour.


#10

I’ve never had occasion to send a wine back in a restaurant, but friends of mine did so once in Burgundy. They ordered an expensive bottle, over 60 euros, with their meal but when it arrived for tasting they refused it because it was corked. The manager said there was nothing wrong with it so they got up to leave. The manager said he would call the police, my friends said OK, we’ll wait. A polceman arrived and listened to both sides, after which he said will you both agree to what I decide? Both agreed, and the polceman said my friends should buy another bottle of the same wine at shop price. They did so, and took it away. An interesting story that raises all sorts of obvious questions!
Normeric.h


#11

Just read Christine Parkinson’s comments on Losh’s article and her ‘worst case’ reminded me of a similar experience in a restaurant in Lisbon. There were four or five of us at table and a bottle of Alentejo red was ordered, tasted and emptied into our glasses. At this point someone said he didn’t like the wine (nothing wrong with it), the waiter was called and a bottle of a different wine was immediately provided, free of charge and without comment. Can you beat that for service!


#12

I’ve never sent one back, as such, but I have - on several occasions with wines clearly ‘not right’, queried the wine with the sommelier or waiter, and had it taken back. Much the same thing, I suppose.
My first one was a little half-bottle when I knew little about wine. It was pretty clearly corked, but I wasn’t sure… and worried over asking (we were abroad, so a language barrier too) for ages. Eventually plucked up the courage, and the waiter barely took a sniff before wrinkling his nose and running away with the bottle, it was so obvious.
Most recently a glass of an old white on Coravin, which I felt was somewhat oxidised. The sommelier didn’t disagree, and not only provided a glass of something I much preferred (and left the ‘bad’ one behind in case I changed my mind), but also dropped in an extra freebie of something sweet at the end of the meal by way of extra apology that I hadn’t got on with the first glass. That sort of service makes me tip gratefully, and return to a place - as a customer it’s good to feel welcomed!

Always ask if unsure - even if you don’t mind the taste. A good sommelier will explain where the characteristics you’re querying come from (if there’s no real fault and you are just interested), or deal with the situation appropriately.
(In some restaurants if ordering by the glass I’d always ask first if the wine I’ve selected is from a fresh bottle, or how fresh the bottle is, which makes it easier to deal with the situation if it turns out to be very stale…)


#13

@AVI6 This is a very valid point, also whether the wine has been vacuumed or the cork just stuck back in the bottle before returning to the fridge. I find this more of an issue in bars than restaurants.


#14

Nope, in a restaurant I’ve only ever sent a wine back because it was warm - here, France, amywhere. And I have no problem if a pint of beer seems off, my local will replace it if there is a problem.

Sorry, but you are looking for a problem that does not exist.

I have however… sent a (very) few bottle of wine back to TWS because they were not up to scratch. I think Robert that you need to accept that despite the best intentions, the odd duff bottle can slip through anywhere.


#15

Not sure what lapin_rouge means about ‘a problem that does not exist’. I have sent bottles back, including at a WS lunch. (That was annoying, as someone should have checked, not left it to the caterers.) I have decided to put up with the problem occasionally as a guest. But anyone who eats/drinks out regularly must come across problem bottles.


#16

Wait… What?! So the problem does exist - i.e. the odd duff bottle. And no one should suffer duff bottles.


#17

I am generally quite tolerant (or lazy, as it’s much easier to forget the injury & simply open another bottle) but once at a restaurant I had to send back both the wine, the ‘starter’, the ‘main course’, the chlorine tasting tap sparkling water, the lot.

Another time I was presented with a bill of half a million pounds for a glass of champagne dominated cocktail (after it had taken nearly 40 minutes to make) at st pancras station, but I was able to successfully argue that far too many trailing zeroes were ‘probably’ added to my bill.


#18

Ha! I love the idea of a bill for a cool 0.5m.

I did once have an experience which gave me cause to re-check a wine list mid-meal, to realise that we had mixed up the price and bin columns, and ordered a bottle for 10x the amount we thought we had. An expensive error, made the more amusing by realising how casually we had dismissed it on opening as “a bit watery” when the sommelier enquired. :blush:
From that point every sip induced a giggle at the thought of what it cost. Oops.


#19

Yes I recently had the ‘a bit watery’ moment with a Rothschild 04… Tried to get out of it by saying that ‘it only proves 2004 was not the best year for bordeaux’ :slight_smile: