Wine Etiquette: Returning Bad Wine

updated May 13, 2022
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In Kathryn’s post last week on corked wine, she advised returning it to the store or refusing it at a restaurant.

The wine savvy among us might have no problem with this. But for those of us who feel timid at the prospect of returning an opened bottle of wine, here are a few notes on etiquette.

First of all, don’t return wine just because you don’t like the way it tastes or because it’s not as good as you were led to believe. If you think it’s too sweet, too tart, or too bland, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the wine has actually gone bad.

In these cases, chalk it up to experience, remember the name of the wine, and don’t buy it again! If most of the bottle is left over, there are plenty of other ways to use it up.

If you suspect that a wine is genuinely corked, get a second opinion.

Ask a friend for their thoughts and then bring the bottle with you to the store so that the seller can smell and taste it too. At a restaurant, you can ask the waiter or sommelier to taste it and give you their thoughts. If it is corked, they will replace it immediately.

Like our mamas said, be polite. You’re far more likely to get a positive response if you approach your interaction as a learning experience instead of a criminal offense.

Remember that wine can become corked for any number of reasons, none of which is usually the wine seller’s or the restaurant’s fault. There’s also no real way to tell that a bottle is corked before it’s opened, so no one is trying to pull a number on you by selling a corked wine.

A wine seller will usually be grateful to know that a bottle of their wine was corked. There could be other bottles from that vintage with the same problem or it might indicate a problem with the wine producer that the seller will want to address.

Have you ever returned a bottle of wine?

Related: Wine Picks for Spring

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