Wine Basics – Returning a Bottle

In response to the post on bad wines a reader asked about the etiquette of returning a bottle at a restaurant.  Here goes.  There are two points when you might return a wine, before it is opened or after it is opened.  More times than I have gotten bad bottles, I have been served the wrong bottle.  So, take a look, is it the wine you ordered?  Pay particular attention to the year (vintage) on the bottle.  Is it the same as on the list?  If not, it’s not the wine you ordered.  If the wine is different in any detail, feel free to tell the server.  They should be happy to take it back.

Particularly if what is different from what you ordered is the year, you may be told that they no longer have the year you ordered.  Rather than saying that the change is OK, feel free to reject it.  You should be served what you ordered.  You may feel the vintage is not that important.  Sometimes it is very important.  If someone tried to serve me a ’96 Chianti Classico instead of a ’97, I would be upset.  ’96 was a pretty poor year.  ’97 was a very good one.  For some wines it isn’t that important.  For example, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc tend to be very consistent from year to year.  To me, you still have been served something different from what you ordered and your acceptance of it should be conditional.  Rather than saying “that’s OK”, you may want to say something like “I’ll give it a try”.  That way if you don’t like it, you are well within your rights to return it.

As mentioned in the post on bad wines, you also should look for signs of a bad wine such as the wine being warm to the touch, the cork being pushed part way out, the color being wrong etc.  There is no reason to open such a wine.  Just return it.

After a wine is opened you can reject it for being a bad bottle; but, what if you just don’t like it?  This gets a bit trickier.  Some restaurants have a policy that they will take back any bottle for any reason.  I applaud them.  If that is the case, the server is likely to notice that you don’t care for it.  If they offer to take it back, feel free to accept.  Please remember this when it comes time to tip.

If you are not is such a place than I find myself splitting hairs.  If the wine was recommended to you by the staff and you don’t like it, you should tell the server.  They should take it back.  If you came up with it on your own, well I think you are on your own.  Then again, wait until you have had it with some food, or it has been open a while.  You may find you like it after all.

One final note:  There is no reason why only one person at a table should taste the wine.  I am not saying that at a table of six it is OK for everyone have a taste and empty half the bottle in the process.  If you are unsure, why not ask someone at the table to taste?  Feel free to ask the server too.  Good restaurants are more interested in you enjoying yourself, becoming a repeat customer, and telling others how good the place is, than in selling a single bottle of wine.

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