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Knowing when to send it back

By Michael "Ty" Taiani

Picture this scenario. . . you’re sitting table-side at a top-notch restaurant. Along with you is your significant other in the company of another couple you’ve known for years. Being the wine aficionado that you are, the wine list and the responsibility to choose the perfect wine to satisfy everyone’s palate is placed in your hands—literally! As your eyes begin to glance through the vast list, the process begins . . . sparkling, white, rosé, red? Quickly you assume on red since everyone at the table has enjoyed many reds you’ve shared with them in the past.

“Uh-oh,” this list leans towards French wines – not good, considering how often wines from France are known to be ‘hit or miss’ due to many variables. Nevertheless you play it safe by choosing a wine from an area in southeast Bordeaux that is historically known to consistently produce fine Merlot-based reds—St. Emillion (sahnt–eh–meel–yon). The producer is unknown to you, however it’s a 2005 . . . an excellent vintage!  Stemware arrives along with the wine your instincts tell you will fair quite well. The waiter then uncorks it and places the cork onto a small plate for your discretion—so far, all is text book perfect. Cork looks and feels fine . . . firm; not dry; deep-purple staining at point of liquid contact; no ‘wine lines’ (a sure sign of cork failure).

The first sip is offered and thus you begin the “4S” ritual—swirl / sniff / sip / savor—and all eyes are on you! Color looks good. Earthy nose, but perhaps something musty is there. . . hmm? What is it? You feel pressured – time has run out to make any second-guesses, so you worriedly nod the “OK” and the wine is then poured around to the others. Two additional sips later and still this awful aftertaste. Your eyes glance over to your friend who knows his wine too. He sips and swallows and returns a discerning grin. Suddenly it hits you like a heavy champagne bottle—a bad barrel!! Yes indeed, the barrel used during this wine’s fermentation process was not prepped properly prior to fill and fermentation. Yet despite a winery’s best efforts, an oak barrel will require a chemical rinsing for stubborn tartrates or some slight “off” odors.

The waiter returns momentarily later and he asks you, “Is everything all right?”


This is it . . . the time to speak up is upon you now. If this opportunity to refuse the flawed wine is passed over, then you (and the others at the table) will forever share a haunting memory with that wine, which could last for years to come. And yes, it may cause a momentary stir, but its your dinner, money and memories. . . right?

So, before refusing a restaurant wine, ask yourself these questions to make a definite determination: What was the cork’s condition upon removal/presentation? Is the wine insipid? Does it mimic a vinegar? Does it have a foul taste/aftertaste? Is the color “off” for its varietal’s age (vintage). If you’re (still) unsure, ask the sommelier and/or a wine knowledgeable waiter to help make a determination. Remember, refusing a bad wine is warranted, regardless of the “fall-out.”


Michael Taiani Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW), aka Ty the Wine Guy, is a food and wine consultant and marketer. Assisting people with food and wine is his passion.

Hudson Valley Wine magazine Summer 2014 issue

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