Wine question...

Forgive me if this has been asked before. I have a question regarding the tasting of wine at a restaurant before it is served to all the dinner guests.
It is my understanding that this tasting is done simply to determine if the wine in question is in good condition and suitable to drink, not to determine whether or not the patron happens to like the selection. So if the wine is “off” due to cork rot or improper storage you could send it back, however, if you decide that Shiraz is a little bolder than you expected you are out if luck.

If this is indeed the case, should the waiter not than have you pre-taste each and every bottle of wine served with your meal even if you are only drinking multiple bottles of the same kind of wine?

I ask this as I have never been asked to taste from the second and third bottles and it has just dawned on me that I probably should have been.

Now I know that all my terminology is probably not “oneophile-ly” correct but I would love to hear the correct answer to this question.

Technically…yes. The chances of the second or third bottle being “corked” are the same as the first bottle, when you get right down to it.

You’re correct, the ritual of the pre-taste is to verify that the wine hasn’t gone “off,” not that it’s perfectly balanced with good legs and a nice finish that will complement your leg of lamb. From this point of view, really it takes just a sniff, not an actual sip.

And yes, you’re also correct, that were this rationale adhered to, one would expect to check each bottle as it arrives and is opened.

However, this is mostly just a ritual these days, done because “that’s the way it’s done” and not so much because it actually accomplishes anything. Wine production and storage has been pretty well refined over the years and it’s incredibly unlikely that a restaurant is going to pop the cork at the table and find a bottle of vinegared funk. In all the years I’ve been into wine, I have been given a bad bottle exactly once, and even that was a surprise.

Mostly the waiter (or sommelier) offers the tiny pour and lets people do the whole swirl-sniff-sip ritual because he’s humoring the diner, and the diner acts out the ritual not because he actually knows what he’s doing but because he assumes this is what he’s supposed to do.

As you have just discovered. :slight_smile:

Thanks for the quick replies! So as a follow up question can anyone recall being asked to taste from multiple bottles of the same kind of wine? I’ve been to some pretty nice places and I don’t recall it ever happening.

Never happened to me, and I’ve imbibed a lot of wine over the years.

Cervaise’s answer is not accurate. There is a valild reason for sampling wine before you drink it. There are any number of things that could be wrong with it, cork taint being number one. And as already noted, the chance of the second or third bottle being corked is the same as the first (and depending on who you ask anywhere from 5-10%, the cork industry claiming lower numbers, winemakers and sommeliers claiming higher.)

You absolutey should not return a wine if you simply don’t like it. A sommelier at a finer restaurant will most likely forgive one such send back, maybe more (the customer is always right, even when he’s wrong), but you’d be pushing it.

Some common wine flaws:

TCA/Cork taint - If the wine smells like old books, wet cardboard, musty newspaper, it’s ‘corked.’ Send it back.

VA(Volatie Acidity)- Vinegar or fingernail polish remover smell, depending on severity. Rare, but it most certainly does happen.

Sulfide flaws - There are several kinds, with different smells, burnt match, cabbage, rotten eggs are the common ones.

Oxidized/Madeirized - Cervaise’s point might be true here, there may be less of these nowadays, but they still occur. If the wine is an off color, smells like sherry (oxidized) or madeira (madeirized, or stored at a high temp.)

Brettanomyces - Some wines, especially EU wines, contain more Brett than others and it is considered a good thing, but too much is considered a flaw - Sweat, horse blanket, barnyard smells.

There are probably a few more, that’s all I can think of off the top of my head.
I can’t say for certain if we’ve been offered tastings of a second bottle of the same wine while eating out. Maybe. We are most certainly offered a tasting in a new glass if we order a bottle of something different, which we sometimes do.

For the last 6 months or so I’m averaging tasting about 25 wines a week. There usually are at* least* 2 or 3 bottles out of 25 that are off in one way or another, and it’s rare that all are in perfect condition.

I’ve got an email out to a Master, I’ll let you know what he says.

Just Wednesday I was asked to taste the second bottle of the same wine, as our host was otherwise disposed. So yes, it does happen, at least at good restaurants.

Yes, actually! At the same dinner I was burbling enthusiastically about in this thread. My brother-in-law ordered the wine, and because he suffers under the kind delusion that I actually know something about wines (HA!), indicated to the waiter that I should be poured the test “sip”. I followed the ritual as described in the Sacred Text and proclaimed it Fit To Drink. I thought I got away with it, too, until they brought the second bottle a bit later and I had to go through the motions all over again!

Luckily for my reputation, the wine was fantastic, and not a bit “off”.

And an official answer on the proper etiquette (from one of only 3 people in the *world *that hold both the MS and MW title, so I figure he knows what he’s talkin’ about.) :wink:

So, yes, you should sample the second bottle even if it is the same wine. Sample in a new glass, then drink from the old one. Unless it is a new wine, then new glasses for everyone.

My son lived with a winemaker in Santa Barbara. Apparently this guy got into a fight with the waiter and then manager of a restaraunt when they served him corked wine.

sinkid’s housemate: This wine is corked. I would like another.
waiter: No, sir. I have just removed the cork. Ecce cork.
sinkid’s housemate: You are the fool. A new bottle, if you please.
manager: Our wine is not corked. You will drink this one.
sinkid’s housemate: I make wine for a living. New wine. Now!

Something like that, anyway.


psycat90’s post is a perfect example of what makes The Straighdope such a fantastic community. A great answer, from an eminently qualified master of the subject, all in a matter of a couple of days. What more could you ask for? Thanks guys.