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May 9, 2010 08:03 PM

wine lists

When ordering a bottle of wine in nice restaurants, I have been often been presented w/ a different vintage than stated on the menu. Sometimes I don't say anything and other times I comment that the bottle is not the vintage noted on the wine list (and sometimes the server becomes defensive). I am not an expert by any means, but sometimes I do know that the '03 (or whatever) was a special year. Or call me paranoid, sometimes I think they hold back the '03 for a regular because their supply is running low and begin serving the succeeding vintage to others. Of course I realize that often they just have not updated their wine list. But what is the proper course of action. This situation happens relatively often, say one in five instances. I am also not talking about ordering straw bottles of chianti at the local pizza joint, but in restaurants that supposedly build their reputation as establishments that serve fine wine.
Thanks in advance for any comments.

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  1. I've found that they tend to leave great vintages on wine lists to help sell bottles. A tactic I've had a local restaurant use is that they open the bottle from the inferior vintage before they even bring it to the table so it makes sending it back that much more awkward.
    The good news about California vintages is that because of irrigation there isn't the variability you get in European wines.

    1. You have couple courses of actions :

      Always check _before_ the waiter open the bottle .

      - Tell the waiter it's not the wine you ordered (maybe it's a simple genuine mistake) and the waiter will get the right bottle.
      - If there is no listed vintage left (and the list is out of date), ask for the price of the bottle and either accept or refuse
      - Refuse the bottle and ask for the wine list again to make a new selection.

      If you know a bottle you ordered is there and they refuse to sell it to you, just leave the restaurant (pay what you owe), they don't deserve you; and tell that to the waiter/maitreD/whoever is in charge that night.


      1. I've had this happen to me in nice restaurants only twice. That said, living in SF (and before that DC) I think the standards may be a bit different than in other parts of the country. When this happened the first time, I mentioned to the server that it was not the vintage on the wine list, but that it was fine. When it happened the second time, the wine brought out was actually from a stronger vintage than what was listed on the wine list and I said nothing.

        Vintage is, of course, incredibly important. Bringing out the wrong vintage can be like having someone order a ribeye steak, having the server bringing out beef stew, and saying, "well, it is still a cow."

        I can certainly see a vintage change happening without the wine director realizing it, and I bet much more often than not it is an honest mistake on the restaurant's part, as opposed to some devious plan to pass off mediocre wine at high prices. For me, if I got the wrong vintage and it would change my opinion on which wine to get, I simply alert the server or sommelier that this is the wrong vintage and could he please either bring me the wine list again so that I can choose a different bottle, or else check to see if they have any of the vintage that I had requested.

        1. If you don't get the food you ordered, is it still awkward sending it back? If you order a meat or fish dish and it isn't cooked to order (e.g., medium rare steak), do you eat it anyway or send it back?

          Depending on the restaurant, the server may just be pulling from the bin and has no idea that the vintage on the bottle is different from the one on the list. Bottom line is that you are the customer, and you don't have to accept something different from what you've ordered.

          When I get a wine list that has no vintage dates on it, I ask the server to find out the vintages for a couple different wines I'm considering, and then make my choice.

          1. I've seen this happen fairly often at places that don't really have serious wine programs. I don't like it, but it's understandable. At a place with a legit wine program, I'm more likely to get annoyed. If there's a full time, dedicated wine employee, the staff should be made aware of vintage changes.

            I slightly disagree with Steve WRT CA vintages. I don't really want any '98, '00 or '03s landing in a glass near me. Sure, they're not as bad as the '02 Piedmont bottles, but the juice just isn't as strong as it is in other years.