My blog is called Avoid Bad Wine, and that is a noble goal for all wine lovers. Sometimes, however, you just can’t avoid a bad bottle of wine. You’re just sitting there minding your own business, and they bring it to you.That’s right. You are in a restaurant with some friends. You are expecting good food and good wine. The server, wine steward, sommelier, whoever, opens the wine, you taste it and… whoa! That doesn’t taste right at all. What do you do? Do you send it back? Do you tough it out and drink it anyway? What?
There is such a thing as a bad bottle of wine. It’s fairly rare, but it does happen. But you have to be sure it is in fact a bad bottle. If you have ordered a type of wine you’ve never tasted before, it is really bad? Maybe you just don’t like it. Let’s say you have spent your life drinking California Cabernet. You have never even tasted a French Bordeaux, but you decide to show off and order a bottle of Bordeaux. Vintages are much more important in Bordeaux than they are in California. Weather in California is usually fairly consistent from year to year. Not necessarily so in Bordeaux. The wine might be from an average year, and it will not taste the same as the good California Cab you’re accustomed to. Although it will taste better with food, you decide you don’t want it. The wine is not spoiled. Can you expect the restaurant to take it back?
No. You ordered it, and it is not a bad bottle of wine. It isn’t spoiled. The lesson is this: don’t order something out of ignorance in a restaurant. Restaurant wines are too expensive to experiment with. Stick with something you know. If you are in a nice enough place to have someone on staff who knows about wine, ask questions. That’s what those folks are there for.
If you really think it’s bad, ask the server to taste it; or ask for the manager and have him/her taste it. This happened to me a couple of months ago. A white wine which was supposed to be a pale gold was light brown. It was “Maderized”, a term for an oxidized white wine. The nose was very distinctive — you could tell it was bad with your eyes closed. It was replaced with an apology and no questions asked. Most restaurants will quickly replace a demonstrably bad bottle of wine. They just have to guard against someone trying to be a big shot by sending back a bottle.
What if they bring you the wrong year? You ordered a 2005, and they bring a 2006. Can you send it back? Not if you’ve told them to go ahead and open it. If not, sure. You may not want to send it back depending on the wine and where it’s from. It could be they just ran out of ’05 and now have ’06. But if we’re talking about a wine where vintage really matters, you probably should send it back. There may be a big difference. Again, it is always a good idea to be familiar with what you are ordering. That way you can be sure of getting what you want.
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