ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

How do you send wine back without looking like a jerk? Let me preface this by saying I recently sent wine back for the first time ever. My girlfriend got a flight of four sparkling wines, three of which were completely flat. She asked to have the flight replaced with a glass of the still bubbly wine so they wouldn’t have to open more bottles. The bill came and they refused to take the flight off. I was polite, but did not relent until it was removed. It took five minutes of arguing and owner intervention. Was I in the wrong? The staff treated us like terrible people afterwards.

—Devon, Alexandria, Va.

Dear Devon,

Confrontations in restaurants are not my favorite thing, so I hear you. And I’ll assume from the get-go that you’re not a jerk, and not the problem that needs to be solved.

My biggest advice when dealing with a problem, mistake or miscommunication in a restaurant is to be clear about your expectations. Do you want a replacement? Or do you want it to be sent back and thus taken off of your bill? I rarely or never ask for both a replacement and not to charge me, though it’s nice when they offer to do both for the inconvenience. It sounds like there was room for confusion here, and perhaps the restaurant thought it did what you asked.

I always like to give a restaurant a chance to correct an error before raising a stink. In the situation you described, if I’m served flat bubbly, my first move would be to ask for it to be replaced with effervescent bubbly. If they can do that efficiently and politely, I’m fine from there on out. You mentioned not wanting the restaurant to have to open additional bottles, but I don’t think it’s selfish to expect a fresh glass of wine. If not for you, think of the next customer ordering that same wine after you.

Because confrontations can be so darned ... confrontational, sometimes no matter how gracious you are about the situation, the restaurant staff might still feel defensive. It’s unfortunate, but again I think the best thing you can do is to be clear about how you’d like them to correct the mistake or make it up to you. And when or if they meet your expectations, remain classy about it.

—Dr. Vinny


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