You’re out to eat and you’ve ordered a bottle or glass of wine, but something just doesn’t taste quite right about it. Maybe the wine is corked, maybe it’s over-oxidized, or maybe you simply don’t like what you ordered. Sending back a bottle or glass of wine can be incredibly intimidating. Your mind is filled with questions such as: How will the server respond? Do you have to prove that you one hundred percent know what’s wrong with it? What if the server tastes it and disagrees?
The reason this situation creates such anxiety is two-fold. From the perspective of the diner we’re nervous about being challenged as to why we want to send the bottle or glass back, once we’ve decided to say something. We just want the server to take the bottle or glass away and replace it with something else. But from the perspective of the server and the restaurant, they hate to take back wine that was opened or poured simply because a diner doesn’t like it, because they have no ability to resell it. If the wine ordered was a really expensive one, this can be terrible for the restaurant, so often they want to make sure something is actually wrong with the bottle.
With these two issues in clear contention with one another, what is the most appropriate way to handle sending back wine?
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Here are a few rules:
Corked or oxidized wine happens. It’s part of the risk we take by choosing to close the majority of our bottles of wine with a cork (however, it’s worth reminding that if the wine was not closed with a cork, it can’t be corked).
If you think the wine that has been poured for you is corked (in our wine 101 section, we explain how you can identify when a wine is corked), the first course of action after tasting it, is to politely mention to your server that you think the wine may be corked, and ask them to taste it as well. In most instances this is all you need to do in order to have the server replace the bottle. Instead of declaring forcefully that you are 100 percent sure the bottle you have been served has been compromised, by asking the server for their opinion, you let everyone’s guard down, and most restaurants will simply remove the bottle and replace it with a new one. No one is going to force you to drink a corked, or possibly corked, wine.
But what if something simply tastes off with the wine? It isn’t corked, it just tastes weird. If you’ve never had the wine before, it may be how the wine is supposed to taste, especially before it gets a chance to breath. Remember, when tasting a wine in a restaurant, we’re tasting it immediately after the bottle was opened, which is not always the best circumstance for assessing a wine. In this case, follow the same guidance as above and ask your server to try the wine too. Mention politely that something tastes funny to you about the wine, and you aren’t sure what it is. If the server is unfamiliar with the wine, they’ll probably just ask you if you’d like to choose another bottle, but if they are familiar with it, this will allow them to either explain why the wine tastes that way or recognize that something is wrong with the bottle and replace it.
Finally, what do you do if you simply don’t like the wine? The best advice is to try and avoid that situation in the first place. You can do this by asking the server if you can try the wine before you order it. If a restaurant happens to have an open bottle of the same one you intend to order, they are usually more than willing to supply you with a taste. If no such opportunity exists, try your best to have the waiter explain what the wine tastes like, and let them know as clearly as you can, what you like and don’t like, so that they can help. At the end of the day, if you tried to understand the wine before ordering it, and after trying it still don’t like it, politely send it back. Simply say the wine is not what you understood it to be, and any restaurant worth a damn will gladly bring you another bottle.
In any situation involving sending back wine, the key thing to remember is be polite and kind. No one likes to feel attacked or feel like it is their fault that there is something wrong with the wine in your glass. If you kill them with kindness, you’ll find the entire experience will go down smoothly, with no anxiety in sight.