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Jun 25, 2007 10:15 AM

Is it okay to send back wine because you don't like it?

We dined at Absinthe on Friday and ordered a bottle of Mersault ($109). It didn't smell corked, so we accepted it, even though our first sniff was unexpected. It smelled and tasted of sherry, and nobody liked it, so we called the sommelier over and asked her to smell it, telling her we just didn't know enough about that wine to know if it was "off". She smelled it, told us it was the characteristic of the wine, and did not offer to suggest something we might like more. Since we had chosen it, we felt like we were stuck with it. Even though our food was good, we left feeling like we hadn't had a great experience.

Two questions -

Is it ever okay to send back wine you don't like?

Is "overwhelming sherry" really the taste/aroma characteristic of Mersault?


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  1. Frankly unless it is the sommelier that leads one to select a particular wine I think one is stuck with whatever one chooses. For that reason I personally stick with wine that I know, and if I want to get adventurous I'll expect the sommelier to know enough about the wine list to make an appropriate recommendation.

    I'm not familiar with Mersault so can't offer any input there.

    3 Replies
    1. re: brokergal

      Update - I searched online and could not find ANY description that states a "sherry characteristic" of Meursault. I did, however, find this description of oxidation:

      Oxidised - a wine that has had too much contact with
      oxygen. It has a sherry-like smell. Oxidised white wine is
      curiously dark in colour for its age while red is abnormally
      brown for its age. All wines gradually oxidise as they get
      older. This is an essential part of the ageing process.
      However, some wines are prematurely old. This may be
      due to poor handling of the grapes after they have been
      picked, faults in the winemaking or because the cork has
      provided an imperfect seal.

      1. re: OneMoreCindy

        You pose several questions, enveloped in a situation. I’ll give you my take of it, though I have yet to read all of the responses. At the risk of parroting other responses, here goes:

        If YOU ordered the wine, without active input from the server/sommelier, then it is up to you to determine if the wine is good. Baring that, a “second opinion” is called for. If the wine is flawed, then it should be replaced with the same wine, same vintage. The flaws can be TCA “corked” taint, oxidation or similar. If, however, the server, or the sommelier has recommended the wine, and you just do not like it, then you do have a case, for a replacement, by another wine.

        OK, question #1 down. Now, as to the Meursault, Sherry is not normally part of the flavor/aroma profile, that I associate with this wine and I drink a lot. It sounds like the wine was oxidized, which could indicate either a bad cork, or bad storage. That said, Meursault can age very well, and gracefully, like many white Burgs. As one of these wines age, several things change in the flavor/aroma profile. Often, honey and muted floral can come into play - I often find dried rose petals. Over time, the oxygen in the neck of the bottle, plus any passed by a good cork, will darken the wine, and change it some more. I did not see the vintage - young, old? I’ve had some that had 20 years on them, and Sherry-like is still not part of what I have observed.

        From your description, it does sound as thought the wine was oxidized, possibly from a bad cork. A sommelier, should immediately pick up on this, and should replace the bottle with the same producer’s wine, same vintage. Should there be a problem with it, then some serious research by the sommelier is needed, or some serious education of the client.

        To shorten it, if it’s the wine that you ordered and is not flawed - it’s yours. If a server, whomever, recommended it, and you don’t like it - it’s their fault. If you order it, and they present it, and you nod OK, prior to their opening it, only to find, once opened, that it’s the Syrah, and you wanted that producer’s Pinot Noir - it’s your wine. If it’s flawed, and that is NOT just TCA, then it’s there responsibility to replace it, and hand over the flawed bottle to their distributor for replacement/credit. You order an Amarone, without strong urging/direction from the staff, only to discover that you do not like Amarones, it’s yours.

        Had all of these situations, while dining, and have enforced the “rules,” whether it was for the restaurant, or for me.


      2. re: brokergal

        I'd differ, a bit, from the statement, regarding "stick with wine that I know." Dining, with wine, should be very fulfilling. I usually order something that I do not have a few cases of, in my cellar, when dining out, unless I have to do the wines for a meeting, or group. At those times, I speak with the sommelier, and get all the recs. We'll hone these, depending on the dishes ordered, but that is about as far as my comfort factor goes. One should feel comfortable ordering outside their normal list of the "likely suspects." OTOH, one is likely to choose a wine that does not fit, in either the personal tastes, or with the meal. It should be the responsibility of the servers/sommelier to "suggest" a better pairing. Beyond that, one does own any bottle ordered, unless flawed, and then the replacement should be the same wine/'vintage.


      3. There are so many factors to this issue. Typically if you ask for a bottle and its not corked or oxidized, etc then you are stuck with it. If it was something the sommelier recommended you have with your food and you don't like it then they may be more apt to replace it since it could appear they suggested/forced a bottle on you.

        If you aren't wine savvy, you may be safer with wines by the glass because they will often offer a small taste of a wine or wines so that you order what you like.

        I think the fact that you told them you didn't know enough about wine let the door open for them to tell you the wine was fine. If you were firm that that there was something wrong and appeared confident then you may have been able to get a better outcome.

        One thing I do is order a glass of red wine in a restaurant which usually gives me an indication on how they store their wines. If the red wine is served too warm then its likely they don't take care of their wines and I won't order a bottle.

        Its possible the Mersault was not properly stored.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Scott M

          Thanks. The selection was made by my father-in-law (but the bill was being paid by us). He said he really loved Mersault, and thought we would all really enjoy it. He obviously didn't care for it either, but I think he was too embarassed to stand up to the sommelier and insist that it was not at all like a Mersault he has had before, I had nothing to compare it too, and because I hadn't ordered it, I was loathe to make a big stink about it.

          In the future, before investing $109 bucks on a bottle of wine, I will ask to see the sommelier to describe the wine before I buy it.

          And yeah - I pretty much thought that it wasn't the restaurant's fault that we chose poorly, but I'm not convinced the wine wasn't oxidized.

          1. re: OneMoreCindy

            can wine even smell corked?
            a key characteristic of over oxidized wine would be a completely soaked cork(hence you look at the cork which is the reason they show the cork to you).
            Also how old was the wine?

            its not that easy for a young wine to be oxidized.

            1. re: clayfu

              corked and oxidized are NOT the same thing, and it's very easy for a poor seal to create oxidization in a relatively young wine.
              "corked" is a term referring to TCA or cork taint, a fungus found in cork trees that literally taints the wine when a plug from that tree is placed in the bottle.
              Oxidization is what has been described here, and from the description of the smell, it sounds as though that is what happened to this wine.
              Furthermore, cork taint is not only something one can smell, it's a pervasive aroma that eventually ruins the wine it affects.

              1. re: HeelsSoxHound

                right. i dont think anyone said corked and oxidized were the same thing. Also doesn't most oxidization come over time? Since most wines that are over oxidized have bad corks which aren't going to have immediate effects in the first years or so?

                just curious, not arguing with you.

            2. re: OneMoreCindy

              I've had several Meursaults before and none of them ever reminded me of sherry. Some do get to have fairly strong nutty aromas but that's a far cry from sherry, if you ask me. The only times I've tried wine that had a strong sherry component was when they were oxidized. Of course that's not to say that other types of wine might not remind people of sherry, but Meursault is definitely not one of them.

          2. Meursault should never smell like Sherry -- at least not overwhelmingly. I've had Meursaults that smelled like Sherry, though... One was in 2005 but the wine was from 1970. The other was in 2004, the wine was also from 1970. The problem here isn't the grape or vineyard, it is the 35 years old thing. I knew that it was just a curiosity both times.

            The dark truth about somelliers is that they need to move the wines that people in the know aren't going to order themselves. Don't get me wrong, there are some wonderful somelliers out there. But, unless I know who I'm dealing with and have reason to trust him or her,I am very weary.

            If I felt a wine was oxidized or heat damaged (or corked) I would send it back without thought. I would not send back a wine that I didn't like unless either (1) it was available by the glass, (2) it was *pushed* by the somellier, or (3) there was some discussion with the somellier prior to the wine order about the possibility.

            The only time I ever sent back a bottle of wine simply because I wasn't enamoured was at a little Austrian restaurant that I always took my girlfriend to. We loved it -- the husband was the chef, the wife the somellier/pastry chef. She reccomended a 1997 Panther Creek Pinot (I forget which vineyard). I told her I was leaning towards the Etude because I had been having bad luck with Oregon Pinots at the time and had recently enjyed the Etude (I think it was the 1999). She told me she wanted to try the Panther Creek -- hadn't had it in a year -- so I should order it and taste it, and if I didn't like it as much as the Etude, she'd bring that out instead and she would drink the Panther Creek. So that is what I did. We tasted it, knew it was too light for us, I told her we wanted the Etude. End of discussion. We actually wound up doing an A-B with her and talking about the wines with her for quite some time over the course of the night... but that is the only time I've sent back a wine because I didn't like it, and obviously, that is very unusual situation. I mean, I went to tastings with her, she was a drinking buddy as well as a somellier.

            1. Your Mersault was definitely oxidized and the sommelier was just saving his/her ass by telling you that the sherry taste was typical...A great Mersault has overtones of vanilla, honey and oak...yes it's okay to send the wine back if you think it's bad...I sent back a $150 bottle of Nuit-St. George on Cape Cod several years ago and the owner agreed with me...and to clayfu, yes, you should be able to smell a corked wine

              3 Replies
                1. re: jungleboy

                  Thanks. I sent a note to the restaurant. We'll see if I get a response. At least now I know what oxidized wine smells/tastes like. Blech!

                  1. re: jungleboy

                    mersault is known for aromas of toasted hazelnut, roasted chestnut and minerals. oak and vanilla would be an immature wine made in a clumsy new world style.

                    a wine being "corked" is a very different issue from the problems with thsi bottle. color and smell indicate it was oxidized, or more precisely "madeirized", and not fit to drink. this is not an obscure region or funky varietal. if the "sommelier" tried to tell you this was typical, she needs a serious review of white burgundy.

                    i'm wondering if it was bought on the "grey market" and she had no recourse for return and credit? even so, she should have taken it back.

                  2. It's OK to send back wine if there is something wrong with it , the same as for food. From your description , there was indeed something wrong with it . Mersault smells of fruit and wood and toastiness , that toastiness coming from the char in the barrel . There is no room for any Sherry taste , just chardonnay fruit and wood . You ordered a $109. bottle of chardonnay , and you should have been happy with it . When the so called sommelier realized you weren' t happy , she should have fixed the problem . IMHO .

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: pinotho

                      I totally agree. I hope OneMoreCindy gets a good resolution from the restaurant, especially at that price point. And yes, $109 is an awful lot for one bottle of a white that probably cost what, $30 at retail?

                      1. re: brendastarlet

                        That really depends. At "retail," most of the Mersaults in my house run US$40 - 200, depending on the vintage, and producer. Since I have yet to see the producer and the vintage listed, I'd venture a guess that in was "wholesale" US$25-50. Either way, if it was "bad," the restaurant should replace it, and turn it in to their distributor for credit. No biggie. It costs them the time to open a new bottle, and put out fresh, clean glasses - that's it. I'd rather have a full case to hand back to my distributor, than have one client go home feeling put upon.