I’ve found myself asking that questions many times, and I’m not afraid to do it when I’ve ordered a wine and it’s just lost that loving’ feelin.’
I was just reminded of this, and realized it’s a good wine blog topic, after having read my PS I Love You member Larry Schaffer on Facebook. Larry owns tercero wines (no capitalization, please).
I’ve asked Larry for permission to reprint here, because he’s raised such great points.
On Facebook, Larry wrote:
tercero wines tenet for the day – July 7, 2012
When in a tasting room or restaurant, ALWAYS ask how long the bottle that you’re trying has been open.
I’ve visited many a tasting room and had many a ‘by the glass’ wine at a restaurant that just did not ‘taste right’. In most cases at the restaurant, they were pouring a wine that had been open for awhile and had not been protected from oxidation. And oftentimes the same thing happens in tasting rooms.
You do have rights as a taster, you know. You can always ask about opening a new bottle and comparing/contrasting the two glasses to see for yourself the differences that may exist. Some places will not do this for you – in that case, my advice is to return the glass you do not like and order something different.
Likewise in a tasting room. A good place will explain the situation to you. For instance, in my tercero tasting room, I oftentimes pour the same wine on the second day after opening, especially my reds (if I have any left over from the previous day, of course). In this case, the wine, to me, is actually better – the aeration has ‘opened the wine up’ and allowed the aromatics to be more expressive. My wines are usually opened, decanted, and then put back to bottle to pour. At the end of the day, they are capped back up and put in the fridge to rest overnight before being brought back out the next day. In some cases, I have poured wines that have been ‘opened’ for up to 4 or 5 days that are still drinking beautifully . . . . seriously.
It’s just as important to know how long a wine has been open if you like it as if you don’t. If you try a wine that was just opened and you really dig it, you now know that you can usually ‘pop and pour’ at home and you’ll have a similar experience. Or, if the wine has been open for awhile, you may need to decant at home to have the same experience, or lay it down for awhile.
So how many of you have turned back ‘by the glass’ purchases at restaurants because the wine was ‘old’ or oxidized and what did the server do? And how many of you have questioned tasting room staff as to how long a wine has been opened – and if the wine was ‘not right’, asked them to open another?
Curious to hear your responses . . .
To answer Larry’s question of what I do, I wrote the following back to him.
By the way, whenever I’ve asked the question, I have always just had the glass taken away and a new one brought to me that was drastically different, with a new bottle having been opened.
On the other hand, when the wine is corked, I take that as a teaching tool. I know that my server is not a sommelier, so I politely (in a friendly way) say, “This wine is corked.” I always have seen their eyes glaze over, because now I’m a wine snob, but I continue. “I’m a wine educator and I’d like to have you learn about this one. Just sniff this wine, and then you’ll know what I’m talking about… and think a damp, New England basement.”
I always see their light bulbs go on. They learn and I get a wine I can enjoy.
This is a really important topic. My craziest experience happened in Santa Rosa years ago, at a high-end (now defunct) restaurant. I ordered a tasting flight of Spanish reds, and was impressed by all of them. Three nights later I took my friend (also a wine pro) there and ordered the same flight for him to taste. Of the four wines, my favorite from the previous occasion was stale and nutty.
Here’s where it got bizarre. I told the waiter that this wine was more than a bit oxidized, and asked if could he find out how long the bottle had been open. Minutes later, he returned and said, “I asked the sommelier, and he says that yours was the first pour – it was just opened.”
Hmm. I blamed myself for having a faulty memory and we finished our meal. But as I poured out the rest of the offending wine, I noticed a whole pile of tartrates my glass – it was the very last pour out of the bottle, and probably the same one I had drunk from three nights previously. And yes, they stored open bottles of red wine at room temperature.
The sommelier decided not to come over and apologize for his lie, leaving the waiter with the task of mumbling something about taking that glass (and that glass only) off the tab.
Too bad. For that, I never returned to that place, though it stayed open for several more years.
Because of the high turnover of the wait staff in most restaurants, it’s not unusual to have a waiter, male and femaie, who are opening a bottle at your table for the first time–or maybe the sixth. They are totally untrained. If you question them about a glass of wine your ordered, they become confused but always take it back. The blame goes to the bartender who poured to “old” wine and the management who cares less about customer satisfaction. It also irritates me to pay $10 for a 1/3 of a glass of wine! Should I ask them to “top it up”?
Completely agree with this article! I know many people who know wine feel that it is somehow wrong to send back a ‘by the glass’ wine but wouldn’t hesitate to send a corked bottle back. I do it all the time. I find that at least half of my by the glass orders are over oxidized (I think I am sensitive to it).
I’ve taken to ALWAYS asking in advance before I order a glass “how long has the bottle been opened.” I usually make them check for me. This makes the whole issue a lot easier to deal with and usually turns out well.
It just took time for everyone else to “get it,” Peter.
Lying about wine not being opened is ridiculous.
Last night I had a glass of wine that tast3ed really hot. I asked my server if my Viognier was tasting “hot” because it was high alcohol or a wine that had been opened for a while. She checked. I got the first glass from the bottle and the alcohol (for a Napa Viognier) was 14.7 percent. Being in the wine business, I knew that this wine was more like 15 percent alcohol (it can be fudged by a bit. The wine had no varietal characteristics left… like that great “floral” that comes from Viognier. What a shame. That one goes on my “unshopping list.”
I didn’t send it back – I was asked if I wanted to. I said, “No,” because high alcohol doesn’t fit on my list of flawed criteria and why I’d send a wine back. I now know, though, to not order that brand any more.
What a great idea, Paul. I know I’m oversensitive to it. I know I’m one of those super tasters, not a happy distinction for me, though. I have more taste buds than the average person, so everything is amplified.
The Tongue of a Supertaster
“When it comes to sweet tastes, supertasters find many sugary foods to be sickeningly sweet, while at the same time being hyper sensitive to bitterness, and to astringency in general, finding all sorts of vegetables overly bitter, especially brussel sprouts, cabbage brocolli and kale as well as other foods like coffee, grapefruit and dark chocolate.”
Larry, what a wonderful idea, to ask how long a bottle has been open even if I LOVE the wine. I hadn’t thought of that! That is how most consumers treat their wines sometimes … open it and drink it during the course of a couple of days, sometimes longer … and it’s good to know how well it can be expected to hold up.
Our tasting room/bistro is staffed by wine-savvy waiters, fortunately. Still, Paul DeLuca, I thought it was “just me” that so many of their by-the-pour glasses have tasted off — I’d say one-third. Sometimes I send it back, but sometimes I’m shy about it, because our favorite waiter there is SO generous with bringing us complimentary pours of some of his new faves, just because he loves to share his experiences.
If a wine is REALLY off, I’ll say to our waiter, “I’m not sure this wine is right. What do you think?” and allow him to swirl, sniff and taste. Usually the waiter agrees, and on the rare occasion when a waiter hasn’t, I don’t argue because I don’t want to be “that gal” — again, because they’ve been so generous, and I view it as a trade-off and relationship saver. 🙂
I am up to the challenge! Wine by the glass is always a crap shoot! When I advise my students or clients who are going wine tasting or ordering wine by the glass at a restaurant, this is what I tell them: Ask POLITELY to have a fresh bottle opened for you. You still may get a glass from an open bottle (especially if at a restaurant and you cannot see them opening and pouring) but you are on record as having asked. Then if the wine tastes stale/nasty/off/etc, you should say, “please taste this, I think it is “off.”
Excellent advice, Marlene.
Excellent answer, Carolyn… Politics can play into it. Not often thought of, but certainly one to consider in this instance or any like it.