You are sitting down at a restaurant; you have mastered how to navigate a wine list, so how do you know if the wine is acceptable?
When you go out to a restaurant for dinner, you don’t have the luxury of tasting one bite of the dish you order before accepting it as your meal. However, with wine, the server or sommelier pours you a taste of wine for your approval. This is done because restaurants know that wine is variable and any individual bottle of wine could have a flaw or be distasteful to you.
Tasting a wine once your server or sommelier opens the bottle lets the customer decide if there is a flaw in the wine. The wine may be “corked”, it may have been damaged by fluctuating storage temperatures or may simply be too hot or cold for your taste.
It is very unlikely that you will have to send wine back, as flawed bottles are not extremely common. However, what if there really is something wrong with that bottle of wine that you are so excited to try? Here are some tips on knowing when to send wine back.
Is this what I ordered?
When the server or sommelier presents the bottle to you, look closely. Is it in fact the wine you ordered? Correct winery? Vineyard? Vintage? Also, if you ordered a bottle of wine, the server or sommelier should open the bottle in front of you, tableside. If the bottle comes to the table uncorked and already open, there could be a different wine in the bottle altogether.
Examine the cork
The cork tells you a lot about the wine. The bottom of the cork can be wet from being down inside the bottle, but is the top wet? If so, the wine may have leaked and could be oxidized. Remember, if you are ordering an older bottle of wine, there may a little mold on the bottom of the cork. This is normal and doesn’t necessarily mean the wine is bad.
Inspect the wine in the glass
If you ordered a young red wine and the rim of the wine in the glass is brown, this most likely indicates that perhaps the cork leaked and the wine is oxidized. However, a brown rim from an older bottle of wine is normal, as red wine goes from ruby red to a more garnet/brown color as it ages. Is your young white wine cloudy or extremely dark in color? White wine should be yellow with platinum or green hues or even golden, depending on the variety of wine. Small crystals in a white wine are just tartrate crystals and are harmless.
Smell the wine
Does your red wine smell like a barnyard animal? Vinegar? Does your white smell like sherry or does it have an astringent smell? If so, the wine is probably spoiled. A “corked” wine, although harmless, smells like moldy gym socks from unpleasant TCA. Don’t be shy about sending these wines back or asking the sommelier how they think the wine smells.
Taste the wine
This is the most important part! Do you like the wine? Don’t accept a wine that you don’t like!