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How To Be a Better Diner, Part 6: Know When And How To Send Back Wine

Welcome to our third guest blogger series written by Ella Lawrence, who works as both a freelance writer and a server at a popular restaurant in San Francisco. Lawrence has been published in Travel & Leisure, Time Out, and the San Francisco Chronicle and has her own blog, Restaurant Girl Speaks. This is part five of a six-part series in which she dishes out the tips on how to be a better diner, something about which she has a lot to say. Listen up.

What are the two legitimate reasons why you might send a wine back?

1. The wine is flawed. Wine is living and breathing. If there's something chemically wrong with it (being "corked" is the most common flaw, which can give the wine a musty or vinegary smell and taste, but wine can also have too much volatile acidity or bacteria that affects its flavor), the restaurant will send the bottle back to the producer, who wants to know what percentage of the wine they make is flawed. If you think your wine tastes off, ask to have someone check the bottle.

2. The wine is improperly described to you. A good waiter or sommelier will not (or should not) bull shit you on expensive wine. If you order a bottle and receive something that's nothing like what you expected, you can send it back. But it's your job to pay attention to the waiter or sommelier as they describe a wine to you. I've actually described a wine, brought it to the table and presented it, and after opening it and pouring it had the person who ordered it look up at me, startled, and say, "Wait, this is WHITE wine?" There are several steps during the wine-choosing process during which you can say, "Oh, sorry, that's not the wine I wanted," before the bottle is actually opened. If you weren't paying attention enough to know that the wine you ordered is white, that's not a good reason to send it back.

Don't be afraid to put your trust in someone at the restaurant. They've created a wine program specifically designed to pair with their cuisine, and allowing the sommelier (or a knowledgeable server) to help you really allows you to get the full experience of complementing flavors that the food and wine together will provide. The bottom line is that wine is meant to be enjoyed. If you're not enjoying the wine you ordered, you should ask to return it. Our job is to find a wine that matches your palate. If we haven't done that, we haven't done our job.

Looking for more wine etiquette? You'll find it right here.