How to Send a Bottle Back

How to Send a Bottle Back

How to Send a Bottle Back


You've studied the list, consulted with the sommelier, checked with your dinner companions, verified the dinner orders and selected the perfect bottle of wine. Your server brings it to your table, ceremoniously opens it and proffers the cork for your inspection, pours a small taste into your wine glass or personalized wine glasses, and waits for your reaction. Now what?

About the cork.


Don't bother sniffing it. It will smell like, well, cork. You should, however, take a quick glance and make sure it isn't shriveled, soaked or covered with mold. These could indicate a problem with the wine itself.

About the aroma.

Sommeliers swirl then sniff their wine for a very specific reason, not because they want to be pretentious. Swirling the wine in the glass releases esters (compounds formed by the reaction of organic acids with alcohols) and other natural organic compounds found in wine, enhancing the aroma.

Take a nice sniff. Depending on the varietal, the region and the wine, typical aromas will be fruity, floral or spicy, even slightly gamy, herbaceous or leathery. Here are some aromas you don't want to smell:


  • A musty odor means that the cork has contaminated the wine with a compound called TCA; that the wine is "corked". Not harmful; but definitely unpleasant. A clear indication to send the bottle back.

Rotten eggs
  • Sulphur dioxide (SO2) is used in winemaking as a preservative and to encourage a rapid and clean fermentation. However, its aroma can be quite unpleasant even at low concentrations to some sensitive tasters.

  • Indicates the presence of high levels of acetic acid, which in small amounts is a common by-product of normal fermentation. An excessively vinegary odor means the wine has been exposed to both oxygen and a group of bacteria known as acetobacter. Send it back.


If you have the slightest misgiving about the wine, don't hesitate to ask your server or sommelier to sniff and taste it for him or herself. They will be able to verify your suspicion and replace the bottle as you desire.

About the taste.

You've smelled it, and it seems fine. But when you taste the wine you've selected, you realize that it isn't quite what you had in mind. There's nothing really wrong with it, other than you hate it. What to do?

First of all, you're not alone. Most sommeliers will tell you that about 90% of the bottles sent back have no discernible flaws. The customer just didn't like the style. A restaurant should readily take a bottle back and offer you another selection if you courteously and respectfully explain that it does not meet your expectations. Don't forget that a brief discussion with the server or sommelier about your particular likes and dislikes, what you're ordering for dinner, and which wines you've enjoyed in the past can often alleviate such disappointments. And don't worry about the opened bottle. It will go to the back of the house to use for training (or in tomorrow's special!)

Which comes first: the wine or the food?

A good strategy for food and wine success is to pick one, and then the other to insure that the style of wine and the style of food will complement each other, not compete. Your favorite big, buttery, oaky Chardonnay may shock you if you pair it with that equally-tantalizing Asian-inspired special! So select your wine, and ask your server to steer you towards several appropriate food choices. Or pick a meal, and ask for a wine recommendation. Note: don't be afraid to ask for a low, mid and high option, or to say "I want to spend around $30. That way you'll be sure to get some choices at a price that's comfortable.

There's really no trauma to choosing wine. Your enjoyment is paramount: when you enjoy your wine, you enjoy your meal. As with so much in life, communication is the key!