Sending Back a Bottle of Wine


You are in a restaurant for a nice night out. You order a bottle of wine… and you *know* the markup is at least 100% on the bottle. That’s one way that restaurants make money. There are a lot of overhead costs for storing and serving wine, too. But when the sommelier or server brings it over and opens it for you and pours you a taste…

…when is it okay to send it back?

When you are given the opportunity to taste the wine, make sure you follow the steps of Wine Tasting; just do an abbreviated version. No one – your dining companions included – wants to wait for you to do a thorough examination of the wine. You can tell almost immediately if the wine has gone bad. Here are some tips:

  1. Don’t smell the cork!ย Contrary to popular belief, this is actually a faux pas. It will tell you nothing. The cork is given to you for two reasons: 1) For you to examine – Wine running down the cork can tell you that air may have seeped into the bottle, oxidizing it. 2) Tradition – Long ago, opening the bottle at the table and offering the matching cork proved that was truly the wine in the bottle, that it wasn’t a nice bottle refilled with another wine.
  2. Swirl your glass. Draw circles on the table with the base/foot of the glass to get a good swirl without spilling.
  3. Smell the wine.
  4. Taste the wine.

The cork on the left is from a bottle where air may have seeped in and oxidized the wine.

If the wine has gone bad, that is when you can send it back.


But how do you know if the wine has gone bad?

Trust me. You will know. Do you want to drink a wine that smells and tastes like a wet newspaper or rotting cardboard? I thought not.

But just in case you still aren’t sure check out the Wine Portfolio‘s descriptions on how a wine can go bad and when it is appropriate to send back.

But what if you don’t like the wine?

Can you send it back then?

In terms of etiquette… no. Otherwise, we all could just have the restaurant open bottles and bottles for us to taste until we find the one we want. That would be quite an expense to the restaurant.

In fact, the restaurant where we hosted our wedding reception in Pensacola, Florida, had wines on their list worth thousands of dollars. In this case, these wines could not be sent back, regardless if the wine had gone bad or not. Check out their Reserve List policy at the bottom of the page:

Reserve List

McGuire’s Irish Pub Reserve Wine List

While McGuire’s Irish Pub houses a wine cellar meant to take care of such wines, anyone who cellars wine knows that opening aged wine at any given time is a gamble.

Instead of worrying if you are going to like a bottle of wine or not, let your server or sommelier know what you tend to drink or what type of wine you are looking for – dry or sweet, fruit forward or earthy, for example. Or choose something safe. If the menu has names you recognize or lists wines you’ve had before, choose one you like. For me, if I see something from Sonoma County, particularly the Russian River Valley, I know I will probably like it. Still, I personally like to try wines I’ve never had before. To try something new, I don’t mind the risk. I’ve found some of my favorite wines this way!

An Exception?

All of that being said, I did meet someone who was quite knowledgeable about wine who disagreed with me about when it is appropriate to send back a bottle.

She said that she wouldn’t be reluctant to send back a wine she didn’t like if she is at the type of restaurant where the staff should be knowledgeable about their wines, especially if there is a sommelier. If she gives them a description of what she likes to drink or what she is looking for that evening and asks for a recommendation, but that wine fails to live up to her expectations or the description she is given, she sends the wine back.

I understand her point, but I don’t know if I could be so bold. I brought up the the cost to the restaurant for opening this bottle and the inability to sell it once it is opened. She explained that the restaurant could offer the bottle by the glass as a special that night.

I never thought of it that way.

Then I thought of one night while dining at Sul Lago, Shawna offered us to try a wine that wasn’t normally offered by the glass. We never would have had the opportunity to try it if it hadn’t been opened and sent back. Sure we paid $10 or $12 per glass for that wine, but it was sooooo good!

Besides, I kind of like the idea of wines changing based on what the restaurant has or wants to open that night, rather than having a set wine list. Our favorite wine bar in Sorrento on our honeymoon was like that. Every night, different wines were listed on the chalkboard and erased when gone:

Wine List at Bollicine in Sorrento, Italy

Wine List at Bollicine in Sorrento, Italy

So while it’s perfectly acceptable to send a wine back if it has gone bad, it’s still bad form to send it back if you just don’t like it. If you do, chances are the restaurant will still appease you. However, you will most likely look foolish to the restaurant and to the other guests there if you put up a stink, especially if it’s a standard mass produced wine!

But what do you think about if a wine was recommended to you based on your preferences?

Would you send a wine like that back if you didn’t like it?

Please weigh in on your thoughts on this one!

And finally, the winner of last week’s Wine Wednesday Vacuum Wine Saver Pump Giveaway:

Emily at Blogging Runner!

Emily, please send me an email with your address at UncommonWine (at) Yahoo (dot) com and I’ll send you your Wine Saver. Congratulations!


3 responses »

  1. I would never send back a wine just because I didn’t like it. If it’s not turned and it’s not my favorite I will just chalk it up to that wine not being my favorite (as long as it is still drinkable, I will drink it ๐Ÿ™‚ ). That isn’t a reason to send it back in my opinion. What if it was a food that you ordered and you just happen to not like it. Not that anything is wrong with it, its just not your cup of tea…you shouldn’t be able to order something else. Order full bottles of wines from regions you know you like or producers you respect. Trying wines by the glass or going to tastings is a way to be adventurous and not cost the restaurant money for you to try lots of different wines.

  2. After ordering a wonderful steak and a bottle of Cab, my fav, was recommended by the server. The wine didn’t live up to what a Cab should have been. I just didn’t want to spoil, what was sure to be a wonderful steak with a poor wine. When asked what we thought about the wine, we told him it was lacking and HE offered to take the bottle back and bring us a new/different bottle. He wanted us to enjoy our steak with a wine that was great!!!!

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