By The Glass
Have a good reason to return wine
WHEN is it proper to send wine back? Most diners realize that wine is a fragile product and can be damaged in several ways. But few know the circumstances under which a wine should be refused. Here are some guidelines.
This may shock you, but wine should not be returned if you just don't like it. You did make the choice to order it. Do you return your apples, oranges, tomatoes or bananas if they are not as sweet as you expected? Do you return your pasta if it's not al dente?
To me, wine is just an extension of the plate and should fall under the same set of rules. If you asked for a sweet wine and they gave you a dry one, or if you wanted red but they served you white -- those would be understandable reasons to send it back.
But only if the waiter or sommelier guaranteed your satisfaction -- "If you don't like it, I'll get you something else" -- should you return a wine that you simply don't like.
WINE should be refused if it is faulty. If a wine is "corked" -- tainted with TCA (it will smell like wet cardboard) -- send it back. (This is never a problem if the wine bottle has a Stelvin, or screw-cap closure, or with a synthetic cork.) If it smells like soy sauce (a sign of oxidation) or if it is devoid of the fruitiness that should be there and just smells like a cupboard -- send it back. If the wine smells of sulphur, like matchsticks or rotten eggs -- send it as far away as possible.
Other faults are rare, but do occur, such as the presence of mercaptans (the smell of onions) and brettanomyces (the smell of wet dog). These flaws definitely justify choosing a different bottle.
It may be difficult for the average person to identify any of these faults, but if you tell the waiter or sommelier you think there is something funny about the wine, he or she can pour a taste and check. Hopefully the staff is trained well enough to be able to judge.
Now, if the person serving the bottle destroys the cork, leaving a ton of cork floating in the bottle and your glass, they should get you another bottle, and someone who can open the bottle properly. Keep in mind, though, that if the wine is "old" and rare, the cork may be crumbly and will disintegrate as soon as it is pierced with a wine key. That does happen, but usually restaurants that serve those wines have servers who know how to decant them and remove the cork before it gets into your glass. You wouldn't want to lose the pleasure of trying that rare wine, would you?
I have sent wines back before. Once it was in a three-star Michelin restaurant overlooking the Seine River. The sommelier didn't like it, but I was right.
2005 Les Garrigues Cotes du Rhone ($10):
For this price you can't go wrong. This red wine has a ton of grenache flavor and spice that will overdeliver.
2003 Chateau Aney, Haut Medoc ($23): I don't think you can find a better red bordeaux at this price. Juicy fruit, balance, elegance and long aftertaste of cassis and vanilla. It's just lovely.
Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier and wine educator with Southern Wine & Spirits.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org