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When a Stranger Asks to Sniff Your Wine, What Do You Say?

CindyJ Feb 3, 2009 05:30 PM

So I was having dinner with my daughter this evening at a very nice, local bistro that happens to be BYO. We were seated at a banquette where the tables are, obviously, way too close to each other. There was a party of three at the next table. When our bottle of wine was opened and poured, the man next to me asked what we were drinking, and I showed him the bottle and let him read the label. FWIW, it was a blend of Merlot, Cabernet, and Cabernet Franc from a small winery in southern France -- an inexpensive, unpretentious, but nonetheless quaffable wine. But then he asked if he could sniff the "nose" of my wine! He wanted to stick his nose into my glass, and, like an idiot, I handed him my glass, thinking that I no longer want to drink the wine from THAT glass, and now I needed to ask for a new glass for myself.

Well, I still believe the REAL reason he wanted to sniff out my wine was because he wanted to pronounce the nose of HIS wine superior. Which it was, but who cares? He was drinking a Los Carneros pinot noir, and he couldn't stop raving about "the nose" of his wine. We got a couple of fresh wine glasses and poured a sample of ours for him, and he poured a sample of his wine for us, because he wanted to compare "noses." It was to the point where my daughter and I could hardly keep ourselves from bursting into hysterical laughter. Every time he said the word "nose," my daughter and I would nod in agreement and say, "Oh yes, just smell that nose."

I'm STILL laughing. He must have used the word "nose" at LEAST two dozen times. In hindsight, I should have obtained a fresh glass, poured a little of my wine for him, and let him appreciate my wine's nose to his heart's content. But that's in hindsight. Anyway, my question after all of this is, what is the proper response when a stranger asks to sniff your wine from YOUR glass?

  1. c oliver Feb 3, 2009 05:44 PM

    Responses: No...Hell no... What a rude idiot! We have to remind ourselves that we don't have to be terribly polite when someone else is terribly impolite. Sheesh.

    1. kattyeyes Feb 3, 2009 06:07 PM

      Glad you had a sense of humor about this--in that same spirit, what I hope I would be quick enough to say would be:
      "What? (as though I hadn't heard the request correctly), then laugh and say, "Oh, you were serious?!"

      2 Replies
      1. re: kattyeyes
        c oliver Feb 3, 2009 06:13 PM

        Good thought but I'd amend slightly: Oh, for a moment I thought you were serious! <<<laugh heartily>>>

        1. re: c oliver
          kattyeyes Feb 3, 2009 06:14 PM

          Exactement. :)

      2. Bill Hunt Feb 3, 2009 06:50 PM

        I would have asked for a glass, so that I could sniff, at my leisure and pronounce the wine good, or otherwise.


        17 Replies
        1. re: Bill Hunt
          CindyJ Feb 4, 2009 05:21 AM

          That's because you clearly respect the "social boundaries" maria lorraine refers to. Even so, I still don't think he was as interested in sniffing my glass as he was in having me sniff his. (Why does that sound SO different from the way I intended it?)

          1. re: CindyJ
            c oliver Feb 4, 2009 06:39 AM

            Now THAT made me truly laugh (and snort) out loud!!!

            1. re: CindyJ
              kattyeyes Feb 4, 2009 07:09 AM

              "I'm getting cassis!" (said after one dog sniffed the other's, um, tail)
              HA HA HA!

              1. re: kattyeyes
                CindyJ Feb 4, 2009 07:19 AM

                ****GOOD belly laugh*****

                I wish you'd all been at the table with us last night. It would have been QUITE entertaining.

                1. re: kattyeyes
                  Caralien Feb 4, 2009 08:03 AM

                  But maybe he simply wanted to smell your nose and the scent it added to the wine, and return the favour.

                  our dog is jealous, as is the cat.

                2. re: CindyJ
                  maria lorraine Feb 4, 2009 10:59 AM

                  I like Bill Hunt's handling of this. His statement does reflect an absolute respect for social boundaries and shows a deft way of handling a social intruder.

                  Hunt *ends* the social interaction with Mr. Nose by saying he will sniff the wine in his separate glass when he feels like it -- not before -- and then decide for himself.

                  Meaning, Mr. Nose cannot wait for Hunt's reaction and what Mr. Nose hopes will be a positive pronouncement of his wine. So Mr. Nose does not get the social praise he is so clearly trolling for. This is a skillful touch.

                  Agree that the entire encounter sounds like Mr. Nose wanted to show off, either his wine or olfactory perceptive powers or something.

                  1. re: maria lorraine
                    Caralien Feb 4, 2009 11:19 AM

                    One question, which hasn't yet been addressed, did Mr. Nose require a glass noticably larger and more expensive than everyone else's?

                    1. re: Caralien
                      CindyJ Feb 4, 2009 11:55 AM

                      I'll bet he would have if he could have!

                    2. re: maria lorraine
                      CindyJ Feb 4, 2009 11:53 AM

                      I think Mr. Nose was also trying to impress us with his one-word wine vocabulary. Maybe I should have turned up my nose at the nose of Mr Nose's wine. Who knows how he might have reacted then!

                      1. re: CindyJ
                        kattyeyes Feb 4, 2009 05:24 PM

                        We went out to dinner tonight for a little three-course, prix-fixe with wine pairing, and each time we stuck our noses in our glasses to, you know, enjoy the nose, I hope you know I started to think of this post today and giggled. ;) Especially when my guy remarked of his first wine, "It has a nice nose, doesn't it?" NO LIE!

                        1. re: kattyeyes
                          c oliver Feb 4, 2009 05:43 PM

                          Which takes me to my favorite thing to say --- "dang, this smells good!"

                          1. re: c oliver
                            CindyJ Feb 4, 2009 06:11 PM

                            Uhhh... are we still talking about wine?

                          2. re: kattyeyes
                            CindyJ Feb 4, 2009 06:10 PM

                            That's SO funny, kattyeyes! I don't think I'll ever again be able to keep a straight face when someone makes reference to his wine's nose.

                      2. re: CindyJ
                        Bill Hunt Feb 4, 2009 04:53 PM


                        I hear what you are talking about. I *think* that I know what you mean, and do not quite know how you could phrase it better - so long as most of us "get it."

                        If he was not interested in sharing with you, for your appraisal, then I'd say he should be on his own. No dice sport!


                        1. re: CindyJ
                          cockscomb Feb 4, 2009 07:13 PM

                          just imagine if someone asked to smell your plate... quite odd i would think

                          1. re: CindyJ
                            Luwak Feb 12, 2009 08:03 PM

                            Perhaps he was coming on to you. It reminds me of the scene from “Eyes Wide Shut” in which Nicole Kidman is at a social event and a gentleman standing next to her picks up her wine glass and sniffs it. “I think that’s my glass,” She says. “I’m absolutely certain of it,” the stranger says as he looks her directly in the eyes and drinks deeply from it. At once a stunningly audacious affront and a sensual entreaty.

                            But seriously, it sounds like he was being a pain. I would offer to have the waiter bring him a glass and serve him a taste.

                            It’s the sort of situation in which you’d really like to ask to inspect the fragrance of Mr. Nose’s wine, give it a hearty sniff, put your lips over the entire rim of the glass, roll your head back and pass the entire contents into your mouth, then down and back into the glass again, hand it back to him and say, “Boy, that’s not bad on the palate either!”

                            1. re: Luwak
                              CindyJ Feb 13, 2009 06:46 AM

                              No.. this was NO come-on. And if it was, it sure backfired! How I wish you'd been there to guide me through the "etiquette."

                        2. maria lorraine Feb 3, 2009 09:14 PM

                          I dunno. Seems a little excessive with all the talk of the nose of the wine, and a little lack of respect for social boundaries....BUT I will say that when I'm really warmed up in wine-tasting, I can "read" a wine by its nose. I barely need to taste, and it's rare I'm surprised by something on the palate when I've already really, really concentrated on the nose. That said, the guy sounds a little annoying, and you had a good chuckle by saying, "Oh, the nose. Yes, the nose, the lovely nose..." At least you got a good story out of it.

                          One more thing: someone who has a phenomenal sense of hearing, like a dog's sense of hearing, perceives a rich sensory world of sound that others don't experience. The same is true for smell, or taste, or touch. We don't have much idea of the world beyond our sensory abilities. Imagine, just for a second, that you are a dog, and any minor smell near you is as bright and specific and bold as a bright color. That's how dogs and certain people smell. It's not all fake and posturing, as Mr. Nose appears to be.. Some of it is very very real, and these people experience smell on a level that you cannot fathom.

                          10 Replies
                          1. re: maria lorraine
                            CindyJ Feb 4, 2009 05:28 AM

                            I do agree with you that certain people possess super sensory powers; I just don't think that was the case with Mr. Nose. Here's what I REALLY think: he wanted bragging rights about his "fine" wine that he had had shipped (illegally, I might add) from California. I mean, that bottle cost a whopping $30 (including shipping costs) so it MUST have a great nose, right?

                            To me, there was nothing serious about the whole encounter. In fact, on the way home my daughter and I both agreed that this would have made a great Seinfeld episode.

                            1. re: CindyJ
                              Bill Hunt Feb 4, 2009 05:00 PM

                              I also have a pretty highly developed and trained sense of smell (and taste). Were it my glass, and I wished an additional opinion, I would have gladly poured for those from whom I hoped to elicit comments. That is the kind of person that I am.

                              Heck, I'm always offering a pour to folk, dining around, should they have expressed some heavy interest. Many reciprocate, but not all - that is not my motivation.

                              Met some very nice people, with just a small pour of my wines.

                              In a restaurant situation, especially in one that is tightly packed, I'd keep my observations on my wines to just those at my table. Should I intrude on other diners, I would be very apologetic.

                              I would assume that Mr Nose wished to make a show and a big deal of his wine. Glad he enjoyed it.


                              1. re: Bill Hunt
                                CindyJ Feb 4, 2009 06:23 PM

                                "Met some very nice people, with just a small pour of my wines."

                                I kind of like that notion, so I have a question to ask you, Bill. This coming Saturday, we'll be having dinner at a BYO that has one seating and one large (seats 20) communal table. Everyone will be arriving at approximately 6:30, but since dinner service doesn't begin until 7:00, I'm guessing that that first half hour is kind of a "booze and schmooze" time. Now, since everyone will be bringing their own wines, and it will be a group of people who don't all know each other, under what circumstances should I offer others a pour of what I bring along?

                                1. re: CindyJ
                                  Bill Hunt Feb 4, 2009 07:59 PM

                                  We do similar, about once per year for a wine & food group. Most events are pretty much themed and may be tastings, or diners with wine.

                                  For this one, each person brings a wine, or wines, that they enjoy. Tables are usually 8-tops, and people do different things, like blind tastings of their wine(s). Then, everyone walks around the room pouring for others at other tables. If there is a "game," like guess the varietal, or AVA, then that continues to the other tables, as well.

                                  In your case, it's a bit different, as it's a prelude to a meal. Were it me, I'd bring two bottles of a "welcome wine." Though it would take some care, one can get 20 pours (small) from two bottles. I'd offer my first wine to all. You will probably have a few, who will not partake for whatever reason. Then, I'd have my one bottle for the meal, and offer to share it with others close around me. I'd not fancy getting up and passing my bottle, when I'm trying to enjoy MY meal. I find that most wines go best, when sharing - but MY meal is MY meal, and others should have brought their wine for THEIR meal. If I have any left over, then I'll hand off the bottle to whomever.

                                  I'd also think about some lighter wine, that I really like, that others might not have experienced and do two bottles of that. For me, it's often a Tavel Rosé, as too many turn up their noses (reference to the OP) at "pink wine," and there are some great ones out there.



                                  1. re: Bill Hunt
                                    CindyJ Feb 5, 2009 06:29 AM

                                    I love your idea, Bill, of bringing a "welcome wine" along. And I know the wine store where I'll be doing my shopping will help me choose just the bottle to bring. I'm a little unclear about the lighter wine you're suggesting -- would that be to share during the meal, or before it? Or is that a suggestion for the "welcome wine.? And regarding Tavel Rosé, are you familiar with the one from Domaine de Cristia? If so, how does it stack up with others you've had?

                                    1. re: CindyJ
                                      Bill Hunt Feb 11, 2009 06:53 PM

                                      By lighter, I mean general body. Much will depend on what might be "passed," in prelude to the actual diner.

                                      I am not familiar with Domaine de Cristia, so I cannot compare. If it is available, and you enjoy it, the wine should work. Over the last year, or two, some circles have begun to embrace Rosés. This is both good and bad. It does create awareness for how good many of these "forgotten" wines can be, but also prompts importers and distributors to bring in wines, that do not hold up the standard all that well, just to get the volume up. In the end, it's what you like, regardless of the popularity of the wine.

                                      The general idea of a "welcome wine" is to whet the appetite of the guests. That is why wines, like Sauvigon Blanc, can work well. The guests get to salivating, just a bit, from the wines. I find similar with a good Rosé, though the pink color does get to some people. Usually, these are folk who recall, not so fondly, other pink wines in their past, and turn their noses up at it, predicated on the color alone.

                                      Though I have been known to break from this tradition, the normal routine is go from lighter whites to heavier reds in the course of a meal. Still, when the cheese course shows up later, I usually have appropriate (in my mind) wines, regardless of any progression, or will chose cheeses that pair well with older, bigger reds, and omit whites all together. This can be a tough call for the host/hostess, but needs to be considered. If I am bringing out some whites, after the guests have already had heavy-hitting reds with the meal, I usually go for older Montrachet, or Charlemanges, depending on the cheeses. I'll also try to have some cheeses that pair well with leftover reds, and urge the guests to sample all, with every wine available and form their own opinions.

                                      Sorry if I got off-topic here, and ended up with the end of the meal, but I always try to choose wines to go with each course, and to progress, even if not in a purely linear fashion. For me, it's about what goes with what. I am also apologetic, that I do not know this particular Rosé. I would *guess* that it probably quite enjoyable and appropriate.

                                      Let us know how it goes, and good luck,


                                      1. re: Bill Hunt
                                        CindyJ Feb 12, 2009 02:58 PM

                                        Our wine progression began with the Domaine de Cristia rose, which was pleasant -- it was fine for pre-meal sipping, and we ended up pouring a bit only for one other couple -- such was the nature of the pre-dinner socializing. When we were seated, we opened a bottle of Champagne (Bereche et Fils Brut Reserve NV) and that carried us through three appetizer courses. Next we had a lovely pinot noir from the Willamette Valley (the specifics escape me at the moment) with the roasted duck breast, and a tawny port with the dessert courses.

                                        Dinner was a nice event -- a single communal table shared by 18 people (four separate groups). But I must say, I had anticipated more socializing. The "hosts" were the chefs, who came out prior to each of the 7 courses to tell us about the course about to be served. Everyone brought their own wines, and I don't know what most other people were drinking; I do know that our wine and food pairings worked very well for those in my group.

                            2. re: maria lorraine
                              Sam Fujisaka Feb 4, 2009 06:51 AM

                              I have a fine sense of touch; but that doesn't allow me to go around asking people if I can feel them up.

                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                CindyJ Feb 4, 2009 07:06 AM

                                Now THAT made me truly laugh (and snort) out loud!!!!

                                1. re: CindyJ
                                  kattyeyes Feb 4, 2009 07:11 AM

                                  OMG...it would be interesting to watch you try, though Sam! HA HA HA!

                            3. d
                              dinwiddie Feb 4, 2009 04:40 AM

                              I'm not at all germiphobic, probably comes from growing up with five younger siblings. But, as a wine geek, I understand why folks who are "into" wine want to "test the nose" as it were. My reaction probably would have been to ask him to give me a glass and I'd have poured some in it for him to smell and taste.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: dinwiddie
                                CindyJ Feb 4, 2009 05:36 AM

                                Now I realize that that would have been exactly the right thing to do, but I was caught off guard and responded to his request in the wrong way.

                                1. re: CindyJ
                                  dinwiddie Feb 4, 2009 06:06 AM

                                  That happens. You should see what goes on when my siblings and I get together at a restaurant. Forks full of food or sometimes plates get passed back and forth for tastes. Once four of us got together for Restaurant week and each ordered a different appetizer and entree and dessert. We ended up taking a bite and passing the plate to the left so everyone got a taste of everything in rotation. Boy did that get some weird looks from the table next to us. But like I said, I grew up with these girls (I have 4 younger sisters and a younger brother.) Since we are all grown and our kids are all in the 18-23 yo range, these dinners can get very large. So far none of us have died from it.

                                  Sometimes one of my sisters will take a sip from one of the wine glasses in front of me (my siblings have come to expect me to bring several wines with me to these dinners when we are in a restaurant that permits corkage, but that is a different discussion on the wine board) to see if she wants me to pour her a glass of it. (They normally all get a glass of each wine, but sometimes she wants to taste mine before deciding if she wants a glass of it for herself.)

                                  1. re: dinwiddie
                                    CindyJ Feb 4, 2009 06:25 AM

                                    That sounds a lot like MY family. You never know if you'll get your fork or someone else's when food starts getting swapped around -- and it hardly seems to matter. And countless are the times we've been at a restaurant where one person orders dessert, and everyone else just "orders" a spoon or fork! But that's family -- and it feels more than a little odd to me to swap food and drink in this same familiar way with strangers.

                                    1. re: CindyJ
                                      bubbles4me Feb 4, 2009 06:54 AM

                                      I would have done just as you did. I work in a wine store so there are times when there are up to 7 noses and lips on one glass, I'm sure I have consumed many a cootie. I get icked out when during a tasting a customer that has been eating cheese and pate, (depositing bits of each on the rim of their glass) and hands me their glass asking me to smell it and tell them what aromas I'm getting..argh! That is when I have to draw the line, get my own glass and pour a sample of which ever wine they were asking about.

                                      1. re: bubbles4me
                                        CindyJ Feb 4, 2009 07:10 AM


                              2. b
                                Brad Ballinger Feb 4, 2009 08:20 AM

                                Well, this isn't really a wine question as it is a social grace (or lack thereof) question. If it was me, I'd say I'd be happy to share a small amount if he got a glass from the server. When he offered some of his wine in return, I'd probably decline if I suspected it was for the reason you mentioned.

                                The closest thing I've had happen to me along these lines happened while dining in one of my favorite St. Paul restaurants. I had brought my own wine because it was our wedding anniversary and I had wines from the year we were married. Another diner walked over and asked if I was Brad Ballinger. Said I was, and he offered to share some the wine he brought into the restaurant with me. I hadn't met him before, but "knew" his wife from another online wine board. Of course, I sent a glass to his table as well. But neither of us had a pissing contest as to which wine had the better nose, palate profile, or finish.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Brad Ballinger
                                  CindyJ Feb 4, 2009 08:37 AM

                                  Maybe I need to spend a little more time mingling in more sophisticated wine circles, listening, observing, tasting and, of course, sniffing. The request last night caught me off guard. Now that I've had time to ruminate on it, I know I'd handle it differently if it ever happened again (what are the chances?). But in the end, as they say, "it was what it was," and what it was for me was a pleasant dinner with a funny take-away story.

                                  1. re: CindyJ
                                    Brad Ballinger Feb 4, 2009 09:14 AM

                                    Yeah, the story is a great one. And the price not to much to pay to tell it.

                                2. steve h. Feb 4, 2009 11:30 AM

                                  ask him how much money he has. if he responds, tell him, "sorry, not enough."

                                  1. f
                                    FriedClamFanatic Feb 4, 2009 06:44 PM

                                    OMG, Cindy!

                                    I just read this thread (mainly because I know you're local). Where was this and who is this idiot? ("Madam, mine is bigger than yours! Shall we compare?") I definitely don't care what others are drinking and don't want their body parts anywhere near what I am enjoying. Food or otherwise!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                                    As to wine snobs............Chacun le gout!

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: FriedClamFanatic
                                      CindyJ Feb 5, 2009 05:44 AM

                                      The "where" of it is easier to answer than the "who" of it. The "where" was at Sovana Bistro, my number one favorite local restaurant. But if you've ever been there, you know how close those banquette tables are to each other. The "who" -- only first names were exchanged, but they live in Marlborough Village, actually just up the road a bit from me.

                                      1. re: CindyJ
                                        FriedClamFanatic Feb 5, 2009 08:08 AM

                                        Thanks.at least I"ll be forewarned the next time we eat there.......of course, he'll just get to talk to a crusty old curmudgeon rather than a nice lady!

                                    2. KaimukiMan Feb 4, 2009 08:04 PM

                                      I'm absolutely certain the proper response is to take a healthy lip smacking chug of your wine, being sure to leave a lot of saliva on the rim of the glass, then hand the glass over saying "oh please do, I have a terrible cold today and can't smell a thing"

                                      Of course it is easier to think of that sitting here at my keyboard than in the moment. Thank goodness I will be prepared next time it happens.

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