Sending It Back

Out here in New York City it's been a bit unforgiveably cold.  Not so cold that the inside of your nose turns to ice, but cold enough for raw cheeks, chapped lips and general refusal to venture out of doors.  The only reasonable thing to do is stock up on red wine and tuck yourself under your covers at 7:30 pm.  But in case you're not as eager a homebody as me, you might be interested in ordering some cabernet in public (I'd highly recommend Il Buco for a wonderfully cozy night out at this time of year).

Now here's where the etiquette comes into play:

Have you ever ordered a bottle of wine and had to send it back?

When ordering a bottle of wine at a restaurant, one partakes in a little ritual in which the sommelier (or waiter) presents the bottle tableside, at which time the restaurant patron glances at the label to verify that it is the correct one.  Upon a confirming head nod, the server then opens the bottle and pours a taste for the host, or whomever the host designates.  The taster, making only the tiniest fuss (it isn't necessary to incorporate a grandiose wine swirl and nose dive into his or her glass), confirms that the wine is delicious and the server pours the wine for the guests, pouring the host last.  "Very good" or "Delicious" are, with rare exception, the only possible responses to the tasting.  If the restaurant guest orders an Australian Shiraz and then decides, upon his ritualistic tasting, that he hates New World wines altogether, he is quite out of luck.  The only proper reason to return a bottle of wine is in the event that it has gone off, which means that it is either 'corked' (a mildewy taste caused by a reaction with cleaning solvents present in the cork), 'oxidized' (a vinegary taste caused by oxygen exposure), 'maderized' (oversweetened caused by overheating during its storage), or refermented (fizziness caused by the refermentation of extant yeast remaining in the wine after production).  In very nice restaurants - Le Bernadin is one - a sommelier with a gold medallion around his neck will present the wine.  He will take the first taste of wine out of the medallion and then pour the host a taste.  This way, the restaurant avoids ever serving a bottle of wine that's gone off.

If you are being poured a taste of a wine by the glass, it is on the house and it is perfectly acceptable to decide you don't like it and ask for something else, provided you do so politely.


Image courtesy of the ever-fabulous Emily Thompson Flowers.