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Sending Wine Back – The Etiquette

We’ve all at one point been in the situation where we are offered to taste a wine at a restaurant before the remainder of the bottle is poured for the other guests at the table. Some of us might feel the pressure to accept the wine, even if we aren’t completely sure it’s good, because we think we don’t know enough about wine to decide, or we simply feel bad sending it back.

Most of us are not wine experts, so there’s no need to feel bad if you think there’s something not quite right with the wine you’ve tasted, but can’t pin point exactly what it is. In most cases, if you think there’s something wrong with the wine, it’s perfectly acceptable to let the sommelier or staff member who poured the wine know. You might even ask them to taste the wine and see if they agree.

 

I don’t like this wine…

If you’ve never tried the wine you’ve ordered before, so can’t really compare it to the previous time you tasted it, you might just need to let the wine open up and get some air before deciding if you like the way it tastes. Don’t judge it too harshly right away. If there’s something wrong with the wine, like it is corked, this is something you can generally tell as soon as the bottle is opened, but if you simply don’t like the wine, this can be a little trickier.

 

If you ordered the wine without the assistance of a sommelier or staff member at the restaurant, you are taking a little gamble as to whether you will like what you’ve ordered or it is to your taste. If you’re unsure, it’s always best to seek assistance from the sommelier. Tell them what you enjoy drinking, and what you definitely don’t enjoy drinking. If you think the wine recommended to you after this doesn’t match your taste, you should feel confident to let the sommelier know, in a nice way, without feeling bad. After all, they want you to enjoy the wine too.

 

What is corked wine?

You may have heard this term before but aren’t really familiar with what it actually means. Firstly, it’s important to note that only wines that have a cork closure can be “corked”. Screw caps, crown caps or even synthetic corks cannot cause a wine to become corked.

 

Wine becomes spoiled by cork taint or “corked” when a contaminated cork has been used to seal the bottle, and it’s perfectly acceptable to send a wine back if you think it might be corked. This is a fault, and you shouldn’t be expected to drink the wine. Corks are a natural product and when they come into contact with bacteria and chemicals used in wineries to clean machinery, such as chlorine, the cork becomes contaminated.

 

What does corked wine taste like?

Different people will have different sensitivities to corked wine. Some people may not notice it at all, whereas others can smell it a mile away. Some perceive it to smell like cardboard or mould, while others think it can smell like a wet dog…nice huh? Thirsty anyone?

While a corked wine isn’t bad for you to drink, aside from not smelling that great, it also mutes the vibrancy of the fruit flavours in your wine. So, your wine becomes less enjoyable to drink…and we all want to enjoy drinking our wine!

 

Can anything else be wrong with the wine?

Well, yeah. If the bottle hasn’t been stored or transported correctly, this can affect the way it tastes. If it’s been stored in the sun or at too high a temperature, it can taste almost cooked, so those fruit flavours become dull and less fresh. Again, ask for another opinion on the wine if you think something tastes off.

 

What about wine sold by the glass?

I sometimes will ask to try a small sample of wine on pour by the glass before I decide which one I’d like to order. The bottle will most likely already be open, so the staff behind the bar are usually pretty happy to allow it. This way I know if I’ll be happy to drink a whole glass of it. Also, some wines sold by the glass may taste a little tired or like the bottle has been open for too long.

Again, don’t feel bad sending it back. You just want to enjoy what you’re drinking, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Generally speaking, if you approach the restaurant or bar staff in a positive way, they’ll be more than happy to find something for you that you’re happy to drink.

 

So in short, if you think a wine might be corked or bad, politely start a conversation with whoever helped you chose the wine to try and find a better option. Most restaurants or bars will be happy to help, so don’t feel bad or guilty, wine is here to be enjoyed, and enjoy it we shall!

 

Need help choosing wines for winter? Read our guide here.

Curious about oak and what it does to wine? Get all the info to become an expert here.

 

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Lucia Guadagnuolo

Lucia Guadagnuolo

Tour Host and Yarra Valley Manager at Wine Compass
Lucia has just commenced her WSET Level 3 Award in Wines, enjoys hosting wine tastings, discovering the Melbourne foodie scene, and has a keen interest in the wines, and fried foods, of Southern Italy.
Lucia Guadagnuolo

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