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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?

Thanks!

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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.

        Hunt

      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.

        Hunt

      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.

                        Hunt

                    2. Why go through the whole deal about letting the customer taste the wine first, before okay-ing it, if it's a not acceptable to send back when it's off? I thought that was the whole point.

                      1. 1) "Is it okay to send back wine because you don't like it?" No.

                        2) If the wine "smelled and tasted of sherry," then it was indeed a flawed bottle; the wine should have been returned; and the sommelier should be shot.

                        Jason

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: zin1953

                          Jason, hilarious! I completely agree! No. 1 absolutely. The sommelier was indeed covering his or her own tracks. Another bottle of the wine should have been opened, as a comparison. Even Meursault with some age to it will not have any sherry like characteristics. The sommelier should have to drink some of the wine before the shooting commenced!

                          1. re: sharonm

                            I'm having a hard time buying the allegation that the sommelier was covering his tracks - what does he have to gain or lose? I'm thinking perhaps the sommelier here just didn't know any better.

                            1. re: brokergal

                              But then if they didn't know any better, what business do they have being a sommelier?

                              1. re: monkuboy

                                That's not my point - I'm not defending someone who is faking it, I'm asking if there's a legitimate reason that a sommelier would refuse to accept a return only to "cover himself."

                                1. re: brokergal

                                  Only reason that I can come up with is pure ego. Other than that, it's a no-brainer - bad wine, replace with same wine/vintage, and hand bottle to distributor. Client is happy (hopefully), and restaurant has one additional glass to clean.

                                  OTOH, I have fought, and quite loudly, with a sommelier, who insisted that a corked bottle of high-end Chard was NOT. I always whisper, when there is a problem. When this discourse was done, I was projecting my baritone, so that folk could hear me in the "cheap seats." There is NO reason for a wine service person to deny it, when a wine is BAD.

                                  Also, I have to admit, that with many decades of fine-dining, I have only had about three "bad-sommelier" episodes and so very, very many "super-sommelier" episodes. They are my "go-to" gals and guys. I know my wines, but often do not know the kitchen, especially THAT day. When my reputation is on the line, I have a 5 min. conversation with the sommelier to get us both on the same page.

                                  Hunt

                              2. re: brokergal

                                Absinthe is a reputable restaurant in San Francisco with an extensive wine list and a theatre-crowd clientele that is likely to know wine. I would expect the sommelier to be experienced, which is why we deferred to her (although she did appear quite young). I am totally convinced now that our wine was oxidised, and I regret that I did not insist that she also taste the wine.

                                1. re: OneMoreCindy

                                  As a sommelier myself gotta say we have not tasted everything. But she should have known that it was oxidised. And just for a good measure I am also young (still get ID'd for goodness sake!) But I know what I am taking about which is why restaurants approach me to help with their wine lists.
                                  Also I do not work in a restaurant I am a wine rep so I am not on the floor at restaurants the way she was, so she should have tasted everything on that wine list.

                                  1. re: OneMoreCindy

                                    It is amazing, to me, at least, how young some of the really good sommeliers are - could be that I am not getting any younger myself. Heck, last time in Picasso (LV), I swear that the sommelier was not old enough to drink wine, much less recommend some major ones!

                                    I have not dined at Absinthe, but have heard good recs. I am surprised that any better restaurant in SF would have problems with wines coming back, with good reason.

                                    The reason that sommeliers "used to" wear that little silver cup around their necks, was to sample the wine. It had facets to reflect light through the wine, and allowed them to it, before it was served. Yeah, it's now more often, than not, and affectation, but a good sommelier should know their wines, and know, in a heartbeat, when one is bad.

                                    See other responses, as to how they should handle a bad bottle.

                                    Hunt

                            2. Here is the real deal about ordering and trying to return wines that you just don't like in a restaurant. This post is also being written by someone who has worked as a server/bartender/manager in wine spectator awarded restaurants. I've been doing this work for almost 15 years, so its a good look at the other side. .

                              If a wine is "corked" or "turned" the wine is returned to the original distributor and a credit is issued to the business. If you just don't like it, most places won't accept it back, ESPECIALLY when there is a qualified wine steward or sommelier on hand to help you with any wine questions. This is because the restaurant then has to take that bottle of wine and try to sell it by the glass in order to make their original purchase price back. It also leaves the door open for clients to come in and sample any bottle of wine they desire without ever having to purchase it. Sound silly? Some people would take it to the extreme and order the most expensive wines, then return them saying they just didn't like them. Try selling a guest a GLASS of wine that would cost 125.00$. The wine would spoil before you could sell it, and eventually you'd be a bankrupt business owner with a lot of open bottles of wine to drink as you closed your doors.

                              My advice? Ask for help. No one expects their guests to know everything about food, wine, etc. and that is the server/wine stewards job. The restaurant doesn't make the wine, just purchases it, so go back and give them another try. Wine flavors vary and everyone has different tastes. And yes, some truly fine, aged, "old world" wines do have an almost sherry like finish to them. French wines tend to have high acidity, mineral, floral, earthy, and woodsy flavors to them. Sherry, port wood, raisin, etc. can all be good descriptions of certain wines. It can be normal.

                              Again, ask the server for help in selecting wine. Then you can make up your mind about what it is you'd like to go along with your meal.

                              Happy sampling!

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: Mamaafc

                                As someone with 35 years ITB, I agree with *almost* everything you say. But . . . (there is always a "but," isn't there?)

                                >>> Sherry, port wood, raisin, etc. can all be good descriptions of certain wines. It can be normal. <<<

                                I am having a hard time coming up with another wine, besides Sherry, in which aldehydes are acceptable.

                                Cheers,
                                Jason

                                1. re: zin1953

                                  Jason good response. In fact there is a natural occurance that happens in some wines that is also called maderization in which the wine will become "oxidized" and carries that odd or sherry like flavor to it. You may notice a really golden, almost high yellow color to it as well. I've found several, but most have been in Italian whites, and only once in a white Chateau Neuf de Pape. Some wines are just like that, some are at the point where they have just been held onto too long. Who knows? Mostly if I like it, I drink it. It would tick me off to spend 110 bucks on a wine I hated though.

                                  1. re: Mamaafc

                                    Yes, but Meursault is not a vin jaune from the Jura, and both the Italian white(s) and Chateauneuf du Pape blanc were oxidized to be that color.

                                    Meursault as it (properly) ages often takes on a quality oft described as "nutty," or "hazelnuts," but it's never aldehydic or "sherry-like."

                                    Cheers,
                                    Jason

                                    1. re: zin1953

                                      Wow, I've been gone for a couple of days and didn't realize that my post would lead to such a heated debate.

                                      I agree that most really good white burgundy wines should take on some of the classic Chard flavors. After all, thats what the grape is! But more recently I've had the opportunity to taste some really good French chards that have more floral, mineral style flavors to them. It's so interesting to see wines change from year to year and be from the same producer.

                                      As far as the post went regarding wines bought in the "grey market", it probably didn't happen that way. All business owners who have a liquor license are subjected to the ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control) and they are allowed to come into your business at any time to check your stock, your books, test out alcohol percentages (to make sure you don't water down the liquor or increase it), etc. Anyone who can't pass these basic tests with the ABC gets subjected to fines and suspension of their liquor license. And the ABC posts that big, ugly sign right on your front window. Most reputable places don't want to risk that. And wine is a risky purchase. What is it, one out of 10 bottles is now corked? That would lead an owner to want to buy it from a distrubitor so he/she can return it for credit.

                                      Its been fun.

                                      AFC

                                2. re: Mamaafc

                                  I agree completely. Though a few restaurants have obviously been very liberal with their "return policy," as I often have sommeliers, who will whisper, "hey, got a '70 Latour, b-t-g, for you and your wife... " I know what happened, and smile, and accept the wine, knowing that they are trying to do, as you state, pay for a good gesture, to a boorish client. I have had some wonderful wines, and most often, the b-t-g price has been virtually painless, for what I am drinking. Besides, if I can help out my favorite restaurants by just buying a few glasses of wine, I'm always ready.

                                  I think I like the way you stated the client's responsibilities, better than mine.

                                  Hunt

                                3. One thought regarding trying wines you haven't previously...many restaurants now have the wine list online. I like to look over the online list before I go, and look for interesting or different bottles-then research them in the comfort of my home/office. You can also find a retail price for many of them, just to get an idea of the markup.
                                  Then when your in the restaurant, you can ask the sommelier about them with some advance knowledge.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: David W

                                    I agree completely. If the restaurant has a PDF online, I go for it, and spend a few moments of study. If they do not, I ask for them to FAX me a copy. I wish that more restauranteurs would add this to their Web site, though I realize that it can change in a heartbeat. In my surveys, I can still get an idea of what to expect, rather than specific bottles and vintages.

                                    Hunt

                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                      Please don't shoot the Sommelier. They are people like the rest of us. Some are cool and others are nerdy, some are funny and others are stiff, some are great people and others are jerks, they are basically just like the people you work with. They have really good days and really bad days. Sometimes they get colds and sometimes they get yelled at by their bosses. Some are new to the business and will need time to figure it out, just like everyone else just getting started. While you're at dinner enjoying a festive occasion with friends, they are working. Imagine a job where you have to smile constantly and please EVERYBODY! Imagine having to please 6 individuals with one bottle of wine that goes with each dish. Sommeliers are extremely passionate people and should not be shot.

                                      No, Cooked, Sherry-like flavors should not exist in your Meursault. And no, you should not have to drink a wine that is "off". And you definitely should not have to pay for it. But it isn't always the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. However, you can catch more flies with honey. Just speak nicely to your wine helper, and think of how you would like to be spoken to while you are working in your high-stress job.

                                      P.S. Most wine lists are updated daily - most website PDF files are not.

                                      But don't shoot the Sommelier - Please!

                                      1. re: winepunkguy

                                        Oh, I'd never (well, almost never) shoot the sommelier. I rely on them all too often, as I like to take a break myself and not have to be the host, and the sommelier too. In many decades of fine-dining, I've only noted a very few mis-steps by a cellar-master, or sommelier. In my company, they earn their keep, by knowing their list, and how the chef is doing things THAT night.

                                        I feel that I can communicate with most and will follow their suggestions. Few have ever steered me wrong. In those few situations, I really should have known better, and learned a bit, about communicating.

                                        When communicating my dissatisfaction, I always whisper. It's about me, the wine and the sommelier. No one else needs to know of a problem. In 99+% of the occasions, the bottle has been whisked away and replaced with another of the same wine/vintage. No one, even at my table, is usually aware of what has transpired, and that's the way it should be.

                                        I'd always rather all at my table, or dining around me, doesn't even know that I exist. It's about the final quality of the food, the wine, and the total dining experience.

                                        As for finding the quientessential bottle, that is a big problem. With a group of 4, or more, I work, in concert, with the sommelier to come up with the best combos, for the entire meal. I'll usually make sure that I have a light pour of all, even if they were not meant to accompany my courses. I do find, however, that when it's just my wife and I dining, I greatly appreciate either a "sommelier's" pairing, or a good half-bottle selection, for just the reason, that you mention.

                                        Nah, I'm a sommelier's best customer - I know my wine, I know a great deal about food-wine parings, I do not mind spending $s for good wine, especially if it pairs well, and I trust the sommelier to know the subtle nuances from the kitchen.

                                        Hunt

                                      2. re: Bill Hunt

                                        Although my posts are generally intended for humor first and insight second, I find your posts most thought out and informative. Please forgive a bit of levity.

                                        1. re: winepunkguy

                                          Levity, like good wine, should be the spice-o-life! Oh, and add great food and a wonderful dining companion... OK, you get the picture.

                                          Hunt

                                    2. I've only done it once, and not because of the wine...because the glass was dirty. The waitress was annoyed...the bartender was annoyed...and my next glass arrived with something that looked suspiciously like spit in it.

                                      After that little episode, I'd think twice about sending wine or anything else back.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: MartiniQueen

                                        I would have gotten the names of the staff members, and written a letter of complaint to the owner/manager. That attitude is completely unacceptable . . . PRESUMING the wine was bad and/or -- as in your case -- the glass was dirty.

                                        1. re: zin1953

                                          its worse for the wine glass to be dirty than the wine to be bad. Its pretty apparent when glass is dirty.

                                          demand a manager!

                                        2. re: MartiniQueen

                                          Ew-w-w, gross. I have sent many glasses back. Some, for dirt, lipstick, etc. and some for disenfectant aromas. I've also sent them back, or requested replacements, when I see good glassware on another table, and I get a "jelly jar." I also help the servers, when it comes to which wine should be served in what style glass. However, I am anal about my wine glassware. OTOH, the servers usually learn quite a bit, even though they may have to search for the glasses, that I want.

                                          Hunt