>Yuk! Can I send back this wine ?

by Grape Stomper Todd on December 30, 2009

> Kendra, my wife, looked at me over her glass of champagne and said, “What’s wrong?” We were in an upscale hotel bar in San Francisco and I must have been contorting my face after my first sip of a Sonoma zinfandel.
“Do you want to send it back?” she asked?
“I’m afraid I can’t.” I said.

It was cold and raining outside. A perfect night for a zinfandel. I already had one unremarkable glass of zin at the bar and was looking for something with more oak and spice to warm me up. But this glass was beyond disappointing. There were no pepper, smoke, or even fruit aromas. It simply offered one bad odor.

But, the wine wasn’t corked or oxidized. It didn’t smell like wet newspapers, old dog, sherry, or vinegar, so technically I had no cause to send it back. However, the wine was flawed with a Brettanomyces infection (or “Brett” in hip wine speak).

What does Brett smell like? Brett can produce several compounds that produce different aromas. They are, and smell like:

– 4-ethylphenol: Band-aids, barnyard, horse stable, antiseptic
– 4-ethylguaiacol: Bacon, spice, cloves, smoky
– isovaleric acid: Sweaty saddle, cheese, rancidity

At low levels, some of these compounds can be quite pleasant (like spice, cloves, and smoke), however at high levels the wine can become undrinkable. The Sonoma zin I was served smelled like it was stored in a warm beach ball then tapped through an old garden hose into my glass.

Although possible, those aromas didn’t just happen in the bottle. The wine probably tasted like this while in the barrel. Why would the winery bottle this wine? Worse yet, why would the wine buyer for this hotel bar purchase at least a case of it? Did the buyer not taste this wine? Did the buyer get a great deal and thought the bar could pass it off to unsophisticated wine drinkers?


What was I to do? You’re not suppose to send back a wine you don’t like. You can, however, send back a wine you don’t like if it was recommended to you by the server/sommelier. But, alas, I adventured out on to this limb by myself.

I could have tried to pull rank as a wine maker and explained why the wine was so foul and demanded a different wine. But I did not. I did the only think I could do. I ordered the smokiest, single-malt Scotch on the menu and burned that band-aid taste out of my mouth!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Chef Tony December 30, 2009 at 10:58 pm

>As a restaranteur, my end result that I strive for is happy customers?? I taste the wines on our list, I taste the food I create, but bottom line, if you don't like it, I don't charge and I replace.

You obviously know your stuff, and if you even are educating the manager on duty, he or she can then go to supplier and get a refund there, hopefully this goes up the chain to bottler or grower, and someone gets the idea that this wine is not right!!

As peeves me when my guests don't bring up a problem, we can only fix those we know, and many are simply issues of particular taste or preference, but here, there was a clear issue.

That's my thought, I'm stickin to it!

Happy New Year!


Todd January 3, 2010 at 1:27 pm

>You are right, Chef Tony, I should have said something. The restaurant should know the situation so it can inform the broker/distributor, who can then inform the winery. That's the only way to start fixing the problem. I could have saved another patron from a bad glass of wine! Thanks for your thoughts. -Todd


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