How to Reject a Bad Wine

The Drink Geek addresses the proper etiquette for sending back inadequate wine

Dear Drink Geek,

I ordered an expensive glass of wine at a bar the other day, and what I was served tasted like cheap, "corked" Cabernet. (Not that there's anything wrong with Cabernet in general, it's just not what I ordered.) I didn't say anything because I was there with friends and didn't want to be "that guy." Is there proper etiquette for bringing up this issue with the bartender or server that doesn't sound snobby?


Wine Woes,

Tsk, tsk. In a situation like this you have to be "that guy." You're paying for a product. This is your glass of wine (correction: this is your expensive glass of wine), you should be getting what you want. Period. As for not wanting to sound snobby — it's a non-issue. Be polite, of course, this is not a table-flipping offense. As long as you're sincere and certain about your concern regarding the quality of the wine, addressing the issue should not be misconstrued as obnoxious.

Now, this does raise the matter of accountability on your part. If you're going to reject a wine for being "bad," be sure of your convictions — or at least have an idea what you're talking about. It helps to be familiar with the characteristic red flags of "corked" or oxidized wine. Have the server taste the defective glass or bottle (they won't take it personally), any professional worth their salt will be honest about finding a fault in the wine if there is one. It happens — after all, wine is a living, ever-evolving product.

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As a former bartender of many years, I always appreciated when a customer brought to my attention a potentially "off" wine, when it was done politely and discreetly. A happy, satisfied customer usually meant a better tip and the opportunity to develop repeat business and referrals. Plus, a customer who alerted me to that situation politely and discreetly spared me from the likelihood that another customer would do so by making a huge public scene to prove his "wine superiority" -- and there's little so tiresome as that. So speak up!

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