Would you have the confidence to return a faulty wine in a restaurant? Faulty wine: it happens to everyone.


Recently, my wife and I set out across London to try an Italian restaurant which had always received favourable reviews. Although not naturally inclined to believe the hype, we were certainly very excited.

As we were showed to our table and took the menu, sneaky glances at food on other tables showed some visually beautiful plates. My heart and stomach wanted to try everything.

So far, hype fulfilled. We chose glasses of the unusual and hard to find ‘Bollicine Rosé’ NV made by Serafini & Vidotto near Treviso to accompany the exceptional starters. When our mains arrived we plumped for a carafe of an equally hard to find Italian red.

The awkward moment

Unfortunately, the wine was corked. I tasted again to make sure, part hoping that I was mistaken, but the drying, wet cardboard, mouth-puckering finish confirmed our fears.

We were about to have that awkward conversation with the waiter.

‘I’m afraid this wine is corked; would you mind tasting it?’

The waiter, looking somewhat put out, took the carafe away and came back saying; ‘the wine is not corked, it’s just the style – it’s an organic wine’.

Slightly in shock, and to the relief of my wife, I held back from explaining organic winemaking.

I repeated that the wine was corked, which was again met with resistance, but at least the waiter said he would change it for another bottle – to his credit.

Keen to move on, we accepted the second bottle of the same wine. It was in perfect condition, and a country mile from the first.

Still a little incensed, I politely suggested that the establishment try the first carafe against this new bottle to taste the variation. The staff declined.

Would you have the confidence to send a wine back?

For remainder of the meal we discussed whether our food and wine-loving friends outside of the industry would have the confidence to fight their corner and return a faulty product? It’s no wonder many people find wine service in restaurants daunting.

What is corked wine?

Common misconceptions:

  • Cork floating in the wine
  • Oxidised
  • Not fruity and what you expected

Corked, is the contamination of the wine by the chemical compound 2,4,6-trichloroanisole or TCA, which is found on the cork, and very rarely the screw cap. This gives the wine the aromas or wet newspaper, cardboard, damp cloth or wet dog. The true aromas of the wine are masked or diminished. For example, a naturally fruit driven wine will suddenly have lack of fruit aromas. On the palate, the wine feels drier with pronounced tannin and a mouth puckering finish. Altogether, quite unpleasant.

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Don’t feel guilty

Do not feel guilty when sending a back wine; the restaurant is not incurring the cost of the bottle as their suppliers will usually change it. The restaurant will only have the hassle of processing a replacement. Wine producers will want you to taste their wines in the best possible condition.

When it next happens to you, which is will, have the confidence to talk to your waiter and send the wine back. Trust your palate – you are paying for what you are drinking. The waiter is there to help and should want to make your experience a pleasurable one. Banish that guilt, you are ultimately making wine better for everyone.


  • Charles

    I have had my fill of corked wines. Normally the piercing mushroom mustiness in the back of the throat from the bouquet is enough. The decapitated fruit just confirms.
    Interestingly I had a completely different experience in a really good rib house in Boston which listed a mature Chateau Musar, a wine that is hard to find this side of the Atlantic.
    I ordered a bottle only to have the waiter shred the cork. It turned out that this was the last bottle and was dismissed as corked and the wine list re-offered .
    In that the wine was already condemned I asked if they had a decanter and something similar to a fine sieve in order to decant, separating cork from wine . After a turned up eyebrow or two the request was carried out.
    What a magnificent wine rescued from the cooking wine bin to a table’s delight.

  • Bob Rossi

    I’ve sent back corked wines to restaurants a number of times, and to wine shops many many times. The only really bad experience was in the town of Chateauneuf du Pape, where I had a white CDP that my wife and I agreed was corked. I told the waiter, who called the owner over. The owner tried it and then said that it was fine; the Americans aren’t familiar with white CDP and don’t understand what it’s supposed to taste like (I do, and it’s not supposed to taste moldy, sort of like your organic wine). My French wasn’t good enough to have argued with him, so I had to let it drop. In fact, he almost had me convinced, until I tried it again.

  • Absolutely right. Send it back if it is corked. There’s enough margin in the restaurateur’s mark up even if its supplier doesn’t replace it, so don’t worry about it. In any event, any restaurateur worth his salt should know the value of customer relations if he wants them to come back – unless the customer is trying it on, of course. But that’s a different story!