Sending the Wine Back

T he Drinks Business website reported recently that a study has suggested that us polite Brits don’t send wine back as often as we claim we do – research by behavioural scientists claims to demonstrate ‘a disconnect between the number of people that claim to send wine back in restaurants, compared to the number of bottles that actually get sent back…’

The suggestion as to why we might pretend that we send wine back is that we want to appear sophisticated – it seems a strange thing to lie about, but I suppose the underlying assumption is that we would not want to admit that we would sometimes accept a faulty bottle, either through not recognising it is tainted, or being too polite or uncertain to question it.

So what’s the right thing to do; should you send the wine back, or politely keep drinking? The answer, in my opinion, is very firmly that it is ok to send it back, provided you believe it is tainted, as opposed to simply not particularly liking the wine that you have ordered. A wine affected by cork taint, the most common fault, will have a sort of ‘wet wool’ or ‘wet dog’ aroma and its fruit flavours will be muted, or absent. I would also send back a wine if it had a substantial sulphur odour – sort of a rotten egg smell - occasionally this will clear but I’d rather not have rotten eggs with my food. An oxidised wine will smell sort of stale or sherry-like. Its colour might also be a giveaway once it is in the glass; with both reds and whites taking on a sort of brown tone. Again, its fruit flavours will be long gone.

After several years of taking the slightly cowardly approach of only ordering wine that was likely to have a stelvin closure, I must admit that I have sent a couple of suspect bottles back in the last few months. I’m fortunate to be able to recognise wine faults, having tasted rather a lot of wine, but when I recently decided I didn’t want my meal to be ruined by a stinky bottle that I would then have to pay a premium for, rather than point out the fault myself, I politely asked the sommelier for his opinion. Fortunately he agreed that the wine was tainted, and replaced it. The new bottle tasted glorious in comparison. The sommelier even seemed pleased to have been consulted. It suddenly seemed such a silly thing to be worried about.

British politeness doesn’t have to mean that we suffer an awful wine and ruin a perfectly good eating experience – from now on I’m going to use it to my advantage, and if a bottle isn’t right, I will be damn well (very politely, if it’s not too much trouble) sending it back.

Read the original article on The Drinks Business website here today for more information.