Causing trouble again @EatingOurWords: How to send back a bottle of wine #ShitStorm

From the department of “I can already hear the massive shit storm brewing”…

From my post today for the Houston Press

A few months ago, when I was dining with family in a Houston restaurant (that shall remain unnamed), I ordered a bottle of Dolcetto, one of the classic food-friendly grapes of Piedmont, in northwestern Italy.

The server disappeared and swiftly returned with the bottle I had asked for. And presumably because I had asked for the wine list and had ordered the bottle of wine, he poured the first sip — the tasting sip — for me.

I swirled the wine in the glass, smelled it, smelled it again, and said matter-of-factly, “this is great. Thank you very much.”

And then he did something that transgressed the inherent social compact that exists between waiter and guest.

“Sir, taste the wine,” he said.

“The wine is fine,” I said politely, “please go ahead and pour it for our table.”

“Sir,” he insisted, “taste the wine.”

I looked at him incredulously.

“Sir, the other night, I had a customer who smelled the wine and said it was okay. But then, after he tasted the wine, he sent it back. So I have to ask that you taste the wine.”

When in Rome, I thought, do as the Romans do. And so I tasted the wine.

“It’s really great. I really like it. And it’s going to be great with our meal, I’m sure.”

Satisfied that the wine’s fitness had now been unquestionably verified and reaffirmed, he smiled and poured the wine.

This episode reminded me of how uncomfortable most people are when they are asked to determine the fitness of a bottle of wine at a restaurant.

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6 thoughts on “Causing trouble again @EatingOurWords: How to send back a bottle of wine #ShitStorm

  1. When I’ve had questions (sometimes happens when I order an offbeat wine), I usually have the sommelier or the waiter try the wine. It does get tough when they tell me that’s supposed to be how the wine tastes and I don’t like (happened once in Italy and I think the waiter was trying to pull the wool over our tourist eyes). I do love when the sommelier tries the wine before us and sends it back automatically. The sign of a truly great restaurant.

    • “I do love when the sommelier tries the wine before us and sends it back automatically. The sign of a truly great restaurant.” It’s so true. It’s one of the great disconnects of our restaurant scene in the U.S., the fact that onus of gauging the wine’s fitness is on the end user and not the person selling the wine.

  2. What an interesting post. I’ve never had that happen to me and I wonder how I would have reacted. What I have had happen is sometimes a waiter, not usually a sommelier, will bring over a wine that they say I ordered and actually bring me something different because it’s already open and they assume I don’t the difference. I wonder does that happen to men too? I am sure it does but it always surprises me when it happens in a great restaurant like one that I dined at on Friday in Manhattan which shall remain nameless. Interested to know your thoughts.

  3. Such an important thing to learn, and my experience is that a lot of people would rather not be embarrassed or seem “haughty” by sending back a wine that isn’t correct. In my years of ordering bottles in restos, I have only had two occasions where I had to send back a bottle. Once is was clearly corked; the other time was more complicated – something was *off* but I wasn’t sure quite what was off about it, and this is inherently difficult, but it is also the job of the waiter or sommelier to make it as easy as possible for a diner. Luckily both times it happened, it was a seamless transition, but without posts like this, where would people learn the etiquette? Thanks for an interesting perspective.

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