How to 'Send Back' a Bottle of Wine at a Restaurant
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Photo by Jeremy Parzen Outrageous behavior in a restaurant won't aid you in sending back a corked or otherwise defective bottle of wine.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I am often treated disparagingly by sommeliers in fine-dining restaurants. It's sad, but it's true.
A week before last, while in Atlanta to deliver a talk at a conference, I was a guest at the organizer's dinner table in one of the city's top dining destinations. He handed me the wine list and said, "Order whatever you like."
I kid you not: The waiter refused to bring me not just one, but two of the bottles that I ordered.
"You won't like that wine," he said of the first, an oxidative white from Puffeney, a top producer in Jura, France. The second, he told me, wasn't ready to drink. It was the current vintage of Barbaresco Rabajà by Produttori del Barbaresco, the label best represented in my own personal wine cellar.
After much cajoling, I finally convinced him that I knew both of the wines well, and he acquiesced.
On one level, I thought to myself at the time, he was doing what a lot of cocksure sommeliers do these days: He assumed that I was a wine idiot and that I would enjoy his selections more than mine (he wasn't trying to up-sell me, either; both of the wines he recommended cost less).
But in retrospect, it occurred to me that he was also trying to avoid an ugly situation that occurs all too often when restaurant-goers order wines with which they're not familiar. In my own work as a sommelier, I've seen it, too. Guests will taste a wine and want to send it back, not because it's defective or corky, but because they don't like it. When that happens, it leaves the restaurateur and sometimes even the waiter with an open bottle for which they haven't been paid (and which they cannot return to the distributor).
Sending back a bottle of wine in any situation is always a delicate and often contentious issue.
Here are a few rules-of-thumb for sending back a bottle of wine at a restaurant.
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