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,

Who decides what a "pour" is when you order a glass of wine at a restaurant? Does the bartender eyeball the beaker like a chemist to make sure you don't get a 1/4 ounce over? What happened to bringing the bottle to the table (of course I trust that the $14 beaker of Pinot Noir is from the vintner/bottle I ordered)? At its best, a restaurant makes you feel as though you have been welcomed into a friend's home. Would you ever think of serving your guest from a measured beaker? Wow, so precious.

—John B., Menlo Park, Calif.

Dear John,

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you’ve recently been to a restaurant and ordered a $14 glass of Pinot Noir and felt like the pour was a little light? Most restaurants will decide how big serving sizes are on all of their products, and then the staff is held accountable via inventory counts to uphold that standard. So if a restaurant has told their staff that a glass of wine should be 5 ounces (and each bottle should thus yield about five glasses), management will compare the number of glasses ordered versus the bottles poured, and thus you get bartenders who either use beakers, or learn how to make very measured pours so they don’t get in trouble. Of course, there’s a chance that the first four glasses from that bottle were on the heavy side, and your last glass was unreasonably small, too.

I’m with you: I like it when I order a glass of wine and then I’m brought the bottle so I can see it, and I’m thrilled when I’m poured a taste of the wine before my glass is poured. Of course, service varies from restaurant to restaurant, and you often get what you pay for. So my expectations at a chain restaurant in an airport versus a restaurant that carries the Best of Award of Excellence from our restaurant wine list program are going to be different. I’d also like to publicly state that I really appreciate it when wines are offered in pours of various sizes—I like to try a lot of different wines and don’t always want to feel sleepy at the end of my meal, so I often go for the smaller glass when possible.

So what do you do if you feel like the pour wasn’t worth your money? If the sizes of the pours are listed on the wine list and you brought your own beaker, you can bring it up with the bartender. Otherwise, I think it’s OK to let the manager know that you feel like you were overcharged, as long as you do it politely. I’d vote against taking it out on your server or the bartender, as they might just be enforcing their employer’s policies.

—Dr. Vinny


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