When Should You Return Wine?

by Tim Elliott on July 15, 2010

From time to time everyone gets a bad bottle of wine. Most cases it’s due to faulty (natural) corks or high temperatures in shipping or storage. But there are also winemaking flaws that can make a wine undrinkable such as bacteria, wild yeast or reduction.

Recently I came across a bottle that appeared to be suffering from oxidation, excess volatile acidity (“VA”) and  brettanomyces (“brett”). Most times when I get a bottle like this I just set it aside to check the next day to confirm the verdict and then pour it out if it’s truly bad. But this wine was so messed up I thought the wine store and distributor should know so I returned it.

Like any good wine store, they immediately offered to replace it with another bottle or give me credit for something else but they also seemed to be mystified why I would bring the wine back. After smelling what I found as a clearly flawed wine the manager just shook his head and said he couldn’t tell the wine was bad as all. Since my practice is never to represent myself as anything other than just a normal consumer I stood firm and accepted the offered credit. Since this seemed more like a disaster at the winery, I selected another wine.

I think a lot of consumers have had similar experiences in wine stores but don’t trust their palate enough to return wine in stores or in restaurants. And I think that’s a shame as the store will get a credit back from their wholesaler and this cost will get passed upstream. Hopefully someone along the way gets the message I was trying to send by returning such a flawed wine.

You don’t have to be a wine geek to spot a bad wine. You’ll know it when you smell and taste it. My advice is to return it.

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  • Winegirlnc

    I agree in general with your comments, and in our shop, we encourage our customers to return corked or otherwise tainted wines or leaky bottles. Unfortunately, there are customers who will take unfair advantage of our good nature and simply return a wine because they opened it and decided they didn't like it after all. Then there was the guy who came in and bought a bottle of wine on a hot day, left it in his car for 3 hours, then returned it to us because the bottle had cracked. We try to remain gracious in all of these cases, but I can understand why your particular wine shop manager may have had his doubts.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/winecast winecast

      This is maybe the second bottle I have ever returned and the first one to this wine store. But I can see you point about people taking advantage of your policy for borderline wines. This one was obviously bad so I felt justified. Thanks for your perspective from the other side of the counter.

      • Tom

        when I go into a restaurant and order a bottle of wine, they come to the table, uncork it and have me try it. Of hundreds of wines over the many years I have returned two (2), and never a problem. I recently bought a Chardonay ($$$$) we have had in the passed from a local packy, we’ve gone here for 15 years. I went home and my wife and I both tried it, looked at each other and said: NAHHH!!. I brought it back the next day, the owner was indignent, tried it and said it was fine. Poor form man, I will do my shopping elsewher. He did let me get another brand, but should never had told me that I was wrong.

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