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Jul 31, 2012 06:56 PM

Server Didn't Pour Taste. My fault?

Last night at a trendy San Diego restaurant, the server did not pour us a wine taste. He opened the syrah, then dumped a big pour in my glass. I whoa-ed him before he did the same to my husband's glass. Is this another beloved ritual/service act that's been deemed outmoded by ignorant people? The whole meal set off on a wrong note, but now I'm wondering if it's me. Did I miss the wine memo that says only Important People or Important Wines get tastes first? Am I supposed to ask for a taste to show I'm Important?

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  1. If there's any possibility that a wine can be bad ("corked") you get to taste it. Essentially this applies to just about any wine that has just been opened. Doesn't have anything to do with being or appearing to be important.

    1. Confused by this post. Any restaurant that has a wine program should know to pour a taste first so that you can determine if it's corked or has some other flaw. Restaurants with no formal wine program can run the spectrum of pleasantly knowledgeable to serving you a warm glass of Sutter Home White Zinfandel.

      I don't think trendiness per se has anything to do with it. Nor does wine importance (any wine regardless of price can be flawed).

      Why I am confused by your post, is that it's simply a factor of having a restaurant that is proud of their wine list and program - and restaurants that are not. I don't see where one would gather it was due to snobbery??

      The only exception is if you bring the wine yourself and are paying corkage. Then I can see someone not thinking to pour a taste first.

      5 Replies
      1. re: goldangl95

        I have been drinking/tasting wine for 40 years. I have also sent back 3 bottles in my life. Someone told me that what I experienced is not uncommon at restaurants today.

        1. re: pickypicky

          *shrug* As I said previously, it just depends on what restaurants. Most restaurants these days serve beer and wine because of the markups/profits they can receive from the alcohol. This does not mean they have a wine program or really know anything about wine service. I don't think it has anything to do with trendiness, young people, or snobbery. Unless you want to call the trend of many more restaurants serving alcohol than perhaps did so in the past.

          I have yet to been a restaurant who had a real wine program that did not observe the formalities/niceties - and if they did not - they should be admonished. As I said, though, the trend if anything. For many restaurants, is to grab some wine on discount and sell it to make a profit - no one knows anything about he wines, no one knows how to serve them or what temperature etc. So you may be encountering that more? *shrug* As I said, I eat out a lot and I have never encountered this.

          1. re: goldangl95

            Yes, too many such restaurants, and I will never return to them.


          2. re: pickypicky

            While not exactly what you experienced, I see some very sloppy wine service, and in restaurants, that should know better. Too many restaurants just seem to not care, with a "take it, or leave it" attitude. Not something that I can abide with.

            Heck, every meal that I have, after breakfast (and there are even some exceptions with breakfasts), has wine. I expect a full service, at any restaurant, where I am dining. If not correct, or to my liking, I pull the server aside, and gently explain things to them.

            Just did a new restaurant in New Orleans, and the server was not up to speed yet. The sommelier pulled her aside, and tried to instruct her. She did an OK job, but then, I took her aside and continued that education a few more levels, though in a very nice way. While I like to think that all servers have been highly trained, I know that does not happen. I am patient, and will work with the new folk, to improve their service.


            1. re: pickypicky

              >>>> it just depends on what restaurants <<<


              >>> I have yet to been a restaurant who had a real wine program that did not observe the formalities/niceties <<<

              Agreed, and this holds true for (most) restaurants without a formal wine program!

              >>> As I said, I eat out a lot and I have never encountered this. <<<


              I can honestly say that I cannot recall one single time this has happened to me UNLESS . . . we've ordered a second bottle of the same wine. In those instances, several times the server has either a) simply poured the wine WITHOUT having me (or someone else at the table) taste it first, or worse b) poured the wine into glasses still containing wine from the first bottle!

              If it is indeed the same wine, I don't care about getting new glassware -- save the poor dishwasher some work, I say -- but one should still taste it separately to see if the second (or third, I suppose) bottle is sound, and one shouldn't "mix" the two bottles of wine, either!

          3. Sounds like they need some wine consulting help. If they are going to charge you a 4x markup service should be better. This is why I always bring my own wine/ decanted and often times my own stemware to restaurants.

            1. I dislike the taste, I much prefer that they dispense with it and either pour me a glass of wine or leave the bottle on the table so I can pour it myself.

              29 Replies
              1. re: redfish62

                I'm just the opposite. I very much want them to pour the taste first, especially if I brought the wine. We often have wine dinners where a group of us each bring one or two bottles of wine to a restaurant. In the ones where we thing the wine service is the best, not only do they always pour a taste, but they make sure that they pour it for the person who brought that bottle. Anyone who drinks wine regularly knows that corked or cooked bottles are going to happen. I'd prefer to find out with the taste, and not with a full glass. There is a reason for tradition.

                1. re: dinwiddie

                  If they pour you a full glass, and the wine is corked, they have to throw away the whole bottle, don't they?

                  So what difference does it make if they pour you a taste or a glass, if the wine is spoiled they throw away the bottle and bring you another one. The fact that you have been poured a full glass does not in any way mean that you have to accept a bottle of spoiled wine.

                  The only difference is that pouring you a full glass is more efficient, because then in the majority of cases when the wine is NOT spoiled, you have dispensed with the needless taste.

                  It's a needless little ritual. It is possible for a bottle of beer to get skunky but they don't pour your a taste of beer, they pour you a glass of beer. If the beer turns out to be skunky you merely point out that the beer is foul and ask them to bring you another bottle.

                  1. re: redfish62

                    I would disagree with you. Detecting a bad taste or smell is easier for me with less in the glass. The taste is also my first glimpse of the wine, and again, it is more aromatic and easier to experience with less wine/more air in the glass.

                    So what you write is that pouring wine is all about the effort of the server? That skipping the taste means he/she has less work to do? That's absurd. But yes, entirely possible that younger people would think that way.

                    1. re: pickypicky

                      Correct. Tasting doesn't need to take more than a few seconds. Swill the glass around to get the volatiles out (can't do that with a full glass). Eyeball the wine. Sniff taste. You're not tasting to discover if you like the wine. You are tasting to see if it is bad.

                      1. re: pickypicky

                        No it's all about less work for me, the customer. Just move (1) the wine from (2) the bottle to (3) my glass.

                        If the wine is bad I will let you know.

                        I don't want to be bothered with any tasting. When you buy wine by the glass do they give you a taste? I

                        1. re: redfish62

                          If you go to a restaurant that cares about wine, and you ask about different wine-by-the-glass choices, there is a good chance that they will offer you a taste before you order.

                          This is not even to see if the wine is OK, the staff will taste it when they open a new bottle, or if the bottle has been open a while. It's just a courtesy to make sure you are happy with your selection.

                          1. re: pamf

                            I have experienced such, with wine-centric restaurants, that have extensive B-T-G (By-The-Glass) selections. It is common to offer a taste, before approving the full pour, however large, or small, that might be.

                            To me, this is a nice, and welcomed touch.


                          2. re: redfish62

                            On two occasions, both in very high-end restaurants, with Chef's Tastings and the Sommelier's Pairings, we have encountered "corked" wines being poured. In both cases, other diners were poured corked wines!

                            Smelling and tasting are essential. It is anything BUT a waste of time.


                            1. re: pickypicky

                              if you cant tell the wine is bad with a full pour, then you cant really tell the wine is bad, now can you?

                              (edit) i also wanted to add that this wasnt intended to sound so disrespectful. im writing this as a wine novice. it really was a question, didnt intend for it to sound like a challenge. sorry.

                              1. re: charles_sills

                                Actually, it IS somewhat easier to determine with a glass that is LESS full -- there is more room to swirl and aerate the wine (without spilling) -- then with a full glass . . .

                                1. re: zin1953

                                  yeah i understand that from the previous post. i guess my question should be, then why would you ever have a full pour, if you are unable to taste it as well with less air in the glass?

                                  1. re: charles_sills

                                    Define "full pour."

                                    1) a wine glass should NEVER be filled more than one-third full; 2) there is a HUGE difference between "tasting" a wine and "drinking" a wine.

                                    When one tastes, one is looking for flaws, one is evaluating and concentrating. It is work. (I spent 35+ years in the wine trade, and I have *never* been as exhausted -- including long hikes in Yosemite -- as I've been after critically tasting and evaluation 200+ wines in a single day.

                                    When one is drinking, it's all about enjoyment, about the interplay between the wine and the food and the conversation among friends . . . . that's NEVER exhausting.

                                    1. re: zin1953

                                      by full pour i meant the amount of wine you get in a glass when it isnt just a taste. i guess i just dont understand and thats how it will always be haha.

                                      1. re: charles_sills

                                        Charles, you described yourself as a "wine novice," and so I took you at your word.

                                        It's quite simple: there is NOTHING mysterious at work here. If you *want* to understand, it's easy. If you don't want to, that's fine too. Since you asked questions, my presumption was that you *wanted* to understand. Guess that was my mistake.

                                        1. re: charles_sills

                                          Maybe you were referring to a wine by the glass selection? I've never had a problem (maybe I just look thirsty, I don't know), but would probably complain if it wasn't at least halfway up the glass.

                                          1. re: unagi1

                                            It depends on the glass. I should preface this comment with the fact that I very seldom buy wine by the glass. However, I appreciate when proper stemware is used in a restaurant. I also think that wine pours by the glass are larger than what I would pour into a glass from a bottle I purchased.

                                            I consider a healthy pour to be 150ml or just over 5 ounces. (5 pours from a standard 750ml bottle) That is what I would expect from a BTG program. In a proper red wine glass that would be about 1/4 full. In most good (if generic) white wine glasses it would be a little more than 1/3 of a glass.

                                            1. re: unagi1

                                              Actually with wine by the glass it is an interesting question. One isn't supposed to fill up a wine glass more than half way in order to allow a lot of air, an ability to swirl, sniff the contents etc. without worrying about wine spilling everywhere.

                                              There is, however, the fact that if you are only paying for one glass whether one would rather get more wine than worry about all the above factors. I'm not even sure what my answer is to that question.

                                              1. re: goldangl95

                                                Keep in mind that most of the BTG selections have already been opened, thus allowing some time for the oxidation process to work itself into the equation. At that point, it's those asthetics that you mentioned such as swirling, determining the color, sniffing that although contribute to the overall appreciation of the wine do nothing for the actual tasting portion.

                                                I too agree on the more wine part.

                                          2. re: zin1953

                                            Is the definition of "tasting" that you provide above being related to what we do in restaurants when we order a bottle and are given a taste? I think for most of us when tasting at restaurants we are crudely judging the wine we order simply seeing whether it is "off" or not. We're not evaluating, scoring or concentrating deeply. And for me and maybe others it is during the course of the meal that the wine might further develop and become even more interesting in the glass; as well as have interplay with the food and lead to good conversation among friends.

                                            1. re: Chinon00

                                              I don't think there is any disagreement in the definition . . . but rather "a matter of degrees."

                                              The average person with anything more than a "passing interest" in wine will indeed concentrate a little more upon being presented a sample for tasting -- "is there anything wrong?" requires (IMHO) more than a quick sniff to see if it smells like vinegar. One is checking for a whole list of things -- in a heart beat, it's true -- but checking nonetheless. And that requires more effort and concentration than picking of the glass and taking a swig, or downing it like a shot of tequila.

                                              If one is participating in a wine judging, it's an entirely different level of effort and concentration, but it's the same -- merely cranking up the dial to "11."

                                              1. re: zin1953

                                                Let me add, as a woman, that a wine taste is sexy. It's like a handshake or an exchange of glances-- instead of a bear hug or a slurp. Even with an inexpensive wine, the first approach is a glorious unknown. I am always excited by the prospect. There is something provocative in the way a small bit of wine clings to and seduces a clean glass. For a moment, everything else at the table, in the room, in my life drops away. The only thing left is a scrap of color. An aroma. The beguiling streak of legs down the empty bowl. And finally, finally, the taste.

                                                (And gentlemen, here may lie the difference between us, in this department and many others.)

                                                1. re: pickypicky

                                                  I don't know; I happen to agree completely.

                                                  1. re: zin1953

                                                    I agree. Just not in that romance-novel type of fashion. Nice sentence structure, pickypicky.

                                    2. re: redfish62

                                      A needless ritual? Boy, do I disagree. It's important for both the diner and the restaurant.

                                      Let's do it your way. The wine is popped (even the server doesn't take a sniff) and poured. Server leaves.

                                      At some point, you or another diner will taste the wine and discover that it's flawed. Let's say it's corked.

                                      So, you wave the server back over and notice that he's bringing you your first courses. Ack. Food but no drinkable wine. You may not have even gotten the pleasure of an apperitif. And that first bottle may have been selected to go with this very course.

                                      The waiter puts everyone's plates down and removes the offending bottle. And he must now remove the tainted glasses that are filled with TCA infected wine and replace them, as well.

                                      He returns to the cellar to retrieve another bottle. Pops it, pours it, and leaves.

                                      Ack, this one's oxidized... um, waiter?

                                  2. re: redfish62

                                    Where are you coming from, with those comments. Do you even drink wine, when dining out? I cannot believe that you do, and if so, not very often.

                                    That comment is totally absurd, IMHO.


                                      1. re: Beach Chick

                                        No, but you can get an "Amen!" ;^)

                                  3. No one has mentioned that the waiter left out the 'sexist' (and quite proper) tradition of pouring for the male customer first.

                                    7 Replies
                                    1. re: FrankJBN

                                      Interesting. I always thought the tradition was the person who ordered the wine(who for many many years would most likely be the male patron) was the person to taste. Was it really a gender rule e.g. like displaying menu prices?

                                      1. re: FrankJBN

                                        Curious. Why is it "quite proper" to pour for the male customer first? Similar to goldangl95, my experience has been the taste is poured for the person who ordered the wine (regardless of gender), and then full pours for women, followed by full pours for men.

                                        1. re: FrankJBN

                                          The person ordering the wine should be the first choice. That person might designate a taster, and then, regardless of gender, will be the one to pass, or fail. It is not a gender thing, by definition, though might be in practice.


                                          1. re: FrankJBN

                                            The wine is poured into the gentleman's glass first so that any cork residue comes to his glass, not to the glass of his guest.

                                            1. re: FrankJBN

                                              Assumes that men are always the hosts. Not always the case.

                                              1. re: FrankJBN

                                                That should be amended to the host's, or hostesses' glass. That person is the one, who might get cork particles. The gender aspect is not really in place nowadays, though according to wine industry surveys, men still order about 75% of the wines, served at meals, and are considered to be the host.

                                                Along with the possibilities of cork particles, it is considered that the person ordering the wine is in a better position to know if the wine is flawed, unless they pass that responsibility to another at the table, or to the sommelier.


                                              2. re: FrankJBN

                                                Why on earth is this "proper"? I have certainly been offered the wine list more often than, say, my wife, but the server has ALWAYS poured the taste for the person who ordered the wine -- not automatically for me, or whatever man happens to be present.

                                                The only exception is if the wine order is placed with Waitperson A, but Waitperson B (who has never before visited the table) brings the wine as ***ASSumes*** it was the man who ordered. The intelligent waitperson, however, will ask in a situation like that who is going to taste . . .