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May 16, 2007 09:48 AM

Sending wine back- and being second guessed [moved from Boston board]

This digression was a response to this post: -- THE CHOWHOUND TEAM

"Maybe he was conscientiously trying to make sure we didn't get stuck with something we would hate, but it rubbed us the wrong way."

I can understand why. I hardly ever send anything back but I don't think I'd appreciate being second guessed when I do so. Has anyone ever experienced something similar? I've never sent back wine, so I don't know if this is common? I've sent back a handful of beers and the only comments I've ever received were either a comfirmation or a thanks for pointing that out (on one occassion the bartender actually wondered why no one had let him know this before after he spit the sip he took out with disgust). I understand a draft beer and a bottle of wine are completelyt different animals (and it's pretty easy to dump a pint of beer) but shouldn't the responses be kind of similar?

The closest example I can think of this type of service was when my gf was told by her server that they were out of her beer of choice, Stella, and that he would substitute a PBR for her because, "they taste exactly the same." Not quite the same but I'm glad I wasn't there for either of those situations.

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  1. PBR = Stella? Interesting.

    I might have given that server an educational sniff of the second, unspoiled bottle. The only legit reason to reject a bottle, once you've confirmed it's what you ordered and it is opened, is spoilage. A server at this level of restaurant should have enough training, or enough sense to rely on the sommelier, to effectively verify whether a bottle is indeed spoiled.

    4 Replies
    1. re: MC Slim JB

      I disagree. There is really no such thing as a "spoiled" bottle of wine, and there are differing degrees of unsatisfactory bottles. For example, storage can evicerate a wine, causing it to seem hollow and lacking in fruit. Certain vintages of wines, such as the 1991 Rhones, are so incredibly bad that they should never appear on a wine list, and if the consumer is not savvy enough to know this, the poor quality is enough to send it back.

      In addition, the quality of sommeliers is so distressingly uneven in many Boston restaurants that their opinion is not much more valid than a waiters' opinion. The pricing, at 3-4X wholesale in many establishments, surely fiscally insures the restaurants from taking a large financial hit.

      I rarely send back a bottle of wine, and when I do it is usually because it is corked. However, that response, which reflected a poll of whoever was in the kitchen at the time, would have truly upset me.

      1. re: aadesmd

        I would consider corked "spoiled."

        The one time I got a corked bottle, I was so excited to finally smell what "corked" was, I was actually kind of pleased. The server got an education too - she was at first suspicious, pegging me for someone who was acting pretentious, but I gave her a sniff and her eyes (nose?) were opened - she had never smelled a corked bottle before, either.

        1. re: Snackish

          Oh I think I may have the cake topper of all stories for sending wine back and DEFINITELY being second guessed!

          My parents flew up for Thanksgiving a few yrs ago, and we went to an old restaurant in the town I grew up in for more or less a trip down memory lane... We knew the food was not going to be stellar but were more excited to get into one of our old haunts and have some fun.

          We drank a bottle of wine during salads and appetizers, then ordered a bottle of Cakebread for the main course. Well, that second bottle happened to be corked. Now let me preface the story by saying I come from a huge family of wine-os. Collectors, grape crushers, vineyard reps, and I am pretty sure we know a thing or 2 about wine... Anyway, the Cakebread comes and it's corked. We *try* to send it back. Our server was very friendly and brought the bottle back...but the owner decides to come back to our table and tell us the bottle is perfectly fine and not corked. Of course, a somewhat heated argument ensues. Now - a word to wise for ALL when sending bottles back in a restaurant - it is of NO LOSS to the restaurant when you do so. They simply return to the distributor who replaces said bottle. So at this point, my father then simply says we will not be having any more wine with our Thanksgiving meal.

          Where we were seated in the restaurant was by the door where the owner was greeting the guests for Thanksgiving sit downs. The owner has now taken the bottle of corked Cakebread and is drinking it at the door greeting guests right in front of us. And by this point, he's obviously drunk...and ingesting the cork organism >:)

          My brother walks by and thanks him for ruining our meal with his disgusting manners...and the owner retaliates & offers to "take him outside".

          It was the most disturbing and disgusting display of restaurant ownership I have ever seen in my life. But because of how absurd it was...we have no choice but to look back and laugh now.

        2. re: aadesmd

          I'm not sure I understand you, aadesmd. Are you saying there's no such thing as a spoiled bottle of wine? I think it's fairly common knowledge that there are a number of factors that make a specific bottle of wine undrinkable, though it was produced at the same time as a hundred other bottles from the same barrel. The most common cause is cork taint; see ; improper storage (damage from heat and light) is another, and there are other factors (mostly undesirable microbes, like too much "Brett" character) that lead to spoilage of a wine that has not yet been opened.

          Regarding your comment on the financial hit for a bad bottle: restaurants don't eat the cost of spoiled wines; their distributors do.

          I agree that Boston's sommeliers are not equally talented and knowledgeable. But I have yet to run into one who challenged my assertion that a bottle they'd opened for me was bad (I've had pretty good luck, maybe sending back one or two bottles in a hundred in the last couple of years). One sniff to a reasonably trained nose is all it takes; they've whisked it away and replaced it with another bottle of the same wine.

      2. I have to agree with MC Slim JB, wine can spoil. Call it what you want, but if it's undrinkable, it's spoiled.

        Also, I purchase most of my wine by the case, and I find almost one bottle in every case is "spoiled", "corked" or just plain "gone bad". These are sent back to the distributor, so the store I buy it at doesn't get burned.

        Bottom line; if it's bad, send it back.


        1 Reply
        1. re: CocoDan

          As a waiter that works at a pretty small restaurant, I am always willing to tell people what keg was tapped the most recently or if there has been a flow on the guiness tap that night. Don't be affraid to ask us what's fresh! We [should] know!

          As far as sending wine back goes, as much as I hate to say it, you will always be second guessed. It should never happen to the customer's face, but because of the large contingent of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay and Beringer White Zin lovers out there most service industry people just assume that it's pearls before swine. I wouldn't imagine Grill 23 would act this way but many restaurants would. Some restaurants have great reputations with wine service and some don't. Just be careful where you buy.