When to Send Back the Wine: Advice From Those in the Know

Is it ever okay to send back a wine, because you don't like it?

Sending back a steak is simple. If it's burned, send it back. "I ordered rare, and this resembles something that should be stitched to the bottom of a wingtip." Send it back. Simple. But what about wine? The rules might seem obvious, but then again, they seem just as obvious to someone whose thinking is the exact opposite of yours.

Is it ever okay to send back a wine, because you don't like it? "People do it," a staffer at Orso on Restaurant Row demurred. But then you spit in their food, right? "Well, I've always been told, you're taking a chance if you order a grape you've never heard of."

The counter-argument goes something like this: I might have been unfamiliar with wines on the list; I've told the server or steward my tastes and taken his advice on the selection of wines offered and if he steered me wrong the restaurant should make good. This would be along the lines of "the customer is always right."

Waiters, of course, don't agree. "Look, if a guy doesn't like a Chardonnay grape, it's not my fault," said a server at a busy Washington Square spot frequented by celeb-seeking tourists. But the treatment diners get can tie back in to how they treat the staff in the first place. "This couple had been running me around since they sat down," said the server. "When they didn't like the Merlot they ordered the boyfriend sent it back," he continued. "I put my nose deep in the glass and inhaled, took a sip, and told him there's nothing wrong with the wine. When he insisted, I pointed out that he had ordered 'our most modestly priced option.' Then I took it back to the kitchen and drank it."

The generally accepted consensus is that when you are offered that first taste of the bottle, it's to check to see if it's been corked. If you ordered a wine you don't enjoy, well, better luck next time. There are plenty of low-cost wine education courses and tastings offered around the city, such as those at Bottle Rocket in Manhattan or UVA in Williamsburg.

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