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Drinking Out Loud

Rude or Righteous?

The vexing issue of what's right, wrong or just borderline in wine etiquette

Matt Kramer
Posted: March 6, 2012

So what would you do? Here was the situation: My wife and I were invited to a private dinner in the home of new acquaintances. This couple is very much interested in wine—indeed, they attend Wine Spectator's Wine Experience every year—and take pride in their wine collection.

Let me reiterate that we didn't know these people very well. I had met the husband just recently, and until this dinner had never met his wife. My wife, for her part, hadn't met either of them. So we’re not talking here about old friends whom one knows well.

The dinner party started smoothly and we all seemed to be enjoying ourselves. But when the first wine, which our hosts were quite proud of, appeared at the table it was unmistakably (to me, anyway) corked. But nobody said anything.

Here lies the dilemma: In such a situation, do you say something? Or, even though you are sure you're correct, do you keep your gob shut? (As you might imagine, I often have a problem keeping me gob shut.)

What if no one else at the table says anything, not even a discreet, diplomatic question along the lines of, "Is this the way this wine is supposed to taste?" I've used just that construction on other occasions, but since I was the acknowledged "expert" at this dinner, asking such a question would have seemed a little odd.

I decided that because our hosts were very interested in wine—and seemed to be reasonable sorts—I would suggest that the wine was corked. I said as much, trying to put it as mildly and gently as possible. The hosts retasted and agreed that something was not quite right. Then came a brief discussion about whether to find another bottle of the same wine, which would have taken some time. I urged them to instead move on to the next wine, knowing that they had many wines in reserve for dinner that evening.

Was I right to say something? Would you have said something? I frequently find these problems of what might be called "wine etiquette" to be perplexing, even vexing.

For example, I was surprised to read in Wine Spectator's anonymously-written Ask Dr. Vinny feature that "it’s considered rude to invert an empty bottle of sparkling wine in an ice bucket." Really? This was news to me. I've long inverted the empty Champagne bottle in an ice bucket in a restaurant. How else would the server know that we had finished the wine (and might want another bottle)?

According to Dr. Vinny, "There’s no particular reason other than that it’s just seen as improper. After all, we don’t flip over our dinner plates or upend our wineglasses when we’re finished."

Frankly, I don't see why it's rude or improper. Am I missing something here?

These issues of wine etiquette seem to be all around us. For example, if your host hands you the wine list at a restaurant and asks you to make the selection—this happens to me all the time and I'll bet anything it happens to you too—what's the etiquette in deciding how high-priced a wine to choose? I mean, can you really say to the person who's picking up the bill that evening, "So, Susie, how much do you want to spend on wine?" That seems to me to be inappropriate, to say nothing of putting the host on the spot.

On the other hand, as the person asked to choose the wine, you are on the spot. My approach, for what it's worth, is to look for wines that are inexpensive and preferably on the weird side. That way I can turn to the table and say, "I've chosen a couple of wines that you’ve probably never tasted or even heard of. They're not very expensive, but I think you'll enjoy how different they are."

I like to think that the person picking up the tab is silently grateful for my frugality. But for all I know, the host may have wanted a grand California Chardonnay that cost $100 on the list—and could care less about the expense—while I wrongly subjected everyone to a lively, if less dramatic, Spanish Albariño for $35.

Then there's the question of what to do with wines people bring when they arrive at your house for dinner. I often bring wines to other people's homes and make a firm point of declaring that these are gifts and that my host should not feel any obligation to open the wines that evening. That seems to me to be the polite thing to do. Yet my wife and I have had guests who’ve said no such thing, and I've often wondered whether they were disappointed—or worse—that I didn’t pour their wines that evening. Should I have asked if they wanted their wine served? Am I rude not to inquire?

Here's yet another example: What if, in a restaurant, you would like to try a wine in a differently shaped glass than the one in which it was served? I am a major offender (if that is the word) of this sort of thing. Maybe I've spent too much time with Georg Riedel, but I am deeply impressed with the difference the shape of the glass makes to the scent and taste of a wine.

Very often when we are dining at what I call a "wine serious" restaurant, I will ask for a different glass than the one I have been presented with. And yes, I will do this when other people besides my wife are present at the table. Is this wine geekery? Yes, I suppose it is. But is it rude or inappropriate?

My answer to that last question is that it depends upon who else is at the table. Believe me, I didn't do this when I went out to dinner with my parents. They had no interest in wine.

But if the other people at the table are interested in wine, then why not? I recognize that it's an added complication for the restaurant and the server, but a "wine serious" restaurant has just such a variety of glassware for just such an inquiry. But maybe such "geekery" is best saved for the privacy of your own home and shouldn't be pursued in a public space. You tell me.

Of course, there are all sorts of other minor wine etiquette matters, such as:

Decanting: I leave that up to the sommelier.

Smelling the cork: I never do it. You can no more tell the quality of a wine by smelling the cork than you can the quality of a shoe by smelling the sock.

Calculating the tip on a bill chockablock with expensive wines: If the service is good, I leave a tip of 25 percent on the food and then a generous pourboire—just the right word here I think—on top of that.

If you're the person handed the wine list, should you try to ensure that others at the table—especially the women, who often seem to be ignored at such moments—also be handed a wine list? Or at least each couple? I try to do this, but often restaurants simply don't have enough lists to go around.

All of these matters, and more, are part of modern wine life. Is there an invariable etiquette to dealing with these situations? Or is it strictly a case-by-case basis? Have you found yourself perplexed, flummoxed or embarrassed in situations such as I've described? Are you, like me, not quite sure what is or isn't rude? (I spent my formative years in New York, where "rude" is a relative notion.)

It might surprise you to know that even a so-called wine expert finds himself walking on what often feels like a social quicksand. What's a wine guy (or gal) to do?


See Also

Mississippi Sales Co
Jackson, MS, USA —  March 6, 2012 11:46am ET
I often smell the cork, but not to divine the quality of wine. It's normally to see if the cork is moldy or rotten. Last night I smelled one and before I brought it to my nose I realized that the entire bottom of the cork was COVERED in mold.

My rule: if it smells like wine, great! If not, I'm not drinking it. I think it's fair. What do you think?
William Towne
Bethel, CT —  March 6, 2012 12:36pm ET
Those are all good, and interesting points. As for the cork, frankly I smell it every single time. I do not expect that to tell me how good the wine is, or give me any perspective on the taste. However, 99 times out of a 100, if the cork smells corky, the wine is corked, and I use that as a confirmation.

I agree with you on the wine glasses in restaurants, especially if it's a generic glass with an expensive wine. I had this issue at a very well known restaurant in Berkeley, CA and a grand cru burgundy, served in a generic glass. When I asked if they had a more appropriate glass, I was informed they used this glass for all wines. Now, downstairs in their more formal dining room, appropriate stemware was used, but that wasn't for us upstairs! We haven't, nor would, go back.

There are too many points to answer each one here, but I will comment on one more, and that is a flawed wine. I don't believe it's rude to gently suggest that the wine may be off; it's really all in the approach. I am fairly sensitive to TCA, Brett and VA and consider all flaws in some regard (VA and Brett depending on the level), and believe bringing up the topic is a great way to have a conversation about wine. It's not to show off, but at least a couple good things can come of it. 1) The person who owns the bottle may be able to get it replaced, and thereby recoup their investment. I do not hesitate to contact the merchant or winery when I find a bad bottle, and almost always am treated well. 2) It's a good learning experience and who wants to drink a flawed bottle and assume that's "just the way the wine tastes."

Matt - Always enjoy reading your articles!
Homer Cox
Warrenton, VA —  March 6, 2012 1:33pm ET
Matt- You were right to say it was corked. If you personally were at my house having wine and I thought something was wrong with the wine and you didn't mention it I would start to question my taste for wine. There is a big difference in commenting on what is considered an average or great wine and a wine that is tainted.
Kimberly Richardson
Falls Church, VA —  March 6, 2012 1:38pm ET
Thank you for sharing these thoughts, MK!

I agree with William on the initial predicament in your piece; I think having a conversation about a flawed wine is a great way to open the dialog and an opportunity for your friends (who are clearly interested in learning more about wine) to recognize what a "corked" wine smells and tastes like. I would certainly want my guests to share that feedback with me, if I had not immediately picked up on the flaw myself.

The wine bottle inversion question is an interesting one. While I do not tend to invert empty bottles myself, I have been in numerous "wine serious" restaurants where that practice was employed by the server once the bottle was empty.

Finally, while I've never requested a glass change, I have often been dissatisfied with the given option in a restaurant. Perhaps you should invite me to your next session with Mr. Riedel, and I will be empowered to do so!

Cheers!
Thomas Oliver
Los Angeles —  March 6, 2012 2:57pm ET
This is a great article and brought a few things to mind. My brother-in-law was very excited a few years ago when a client and self-professed collector gave him a 1982 Georges de Latour. He was nice enough to share it with me, and we even called BV for decanting advice. Unfortunately, nothing could have saved that awful bottle of wine and though we were terribly disappointed, better to agree on the obvious than make an idiot of yourself.

It is 100% appropriate to invert an empty bottle that has been placed in an ice bucket to signal to both the diner and the waiter staff that the bottle is empty. The amount of time the bottle and ice bucket remains tableside is the issue.

And finally, several years ago we took a bottle of Insignia with us to a new restaurant. The place was beautiful, the food was quite good, but their wasn't a decanter in the house and the wine glasses were horrible. We politely suggested to the manager that he ought to upgrade and he replied that we weren't the first to make similar comments. Two weeks later we went back with two new decanters and a bottle of Darioush Signature Cab wrapped as gifts for the manager. He loved it. He then went out and bought a case of nice stemware for his special clients to use, which we quickly became. No one was offended and we haven't paid a corking fee since!
Tony Aukett
Chicago, IL —  March 6, 2012 3:19pm ET
On the first point, if I were the host and had an acknowledged wine expert, that I didn't know very well, for dinner, I would probably not say anything if I thought the wine was not quite right, because, after all, I have an expert at the table, and if he is not saying anything, maybe that is how the wine is meant to taste.
Richard Gangel
San Francisco —  March 6, 2012 4:48pm ET
A few years ago my wife and I spent the weekend at the Sonoma home of friends whom we have known for thirty years. The husband, who considers himself an expert on wine(and happens to be a narcissist) opened a bottle, tasted it first, stating it was "good" and then poured it for the rest of us. I took the next taste and after smelling it realized that it was corked but sipped it anyway just to be certain and my suspicion was confirmed. I then said that I "thought" that it was corked, knowing the sensitivity of my host, and he proceeded to go wild, refusing to believe that it was corked. My wife tried it next and agreed with me but the host would not relent until his wife had the final say in the matter. It was funny, but also sad to see a grown man act like a child in such a situation.

As for the question of ordering a wine in a restaurant with another couple, I learned years ago not to presume that what was not too expensive for me was not always the case with our friends. I know it might be putting the other couple on the spot to mention the price before ordering, but I found that it's better to do so than be considered rude by not asking.
Lisa Andrews
CHATTANOOGA,TN 37402 —  March 6, 2012 5:35pm ET
wonderful comments as always and you could never be rude only humourous Lisa
Todd Bondy
Highlands Ranch, CO USA —  March 6, 2012 5:52pm ET
My neighbor and I frequently have one another over for dinner and have found myself in the position of being upset when we are subjected to his crappy wine all night while my fantastic cab sits on his shelf. After one of these such events, I suggested the idea that whoever is hosting, provides the wine. We do not exchange bottles. I have learned to live with his Brunellos and Barolos and he has learned to live with my Big Napa Valley Cabs. Everyone is happier now with no pressure to serve crappy wines with your special dinner and vice versa.
Bernard Futscher
the desert southwest, USA —  March 6, 2012 6:53pm ET
When I have gone to dinner parties and brought wine, I generally have tried to bring something that by my measure (and that of WS) is outstanding. A wine that is perhaps at the pricey end of my comfort zone and is not typically found on supermarket shelves or local wine shops. Indeed, something I would like to imbibe. I even hint to that end to the hosts. Much more often than not, the wine I brought is not served during the evening and I wind up disappointed. Last time that happened, I had brought my only bottle of 2006 JC CELLARS Syrah Haley Rockpile Vineyard. Didn’t even get to try it. Now we bring a small bouquet of flowers to the hosts as a gift. So, in my view, unless the guest specifically gives the host the wine for their collection, the hosts should seriously consider offering it up – or at least ask the guest. Of course, my experience has shown me that I seem to be in the minority on this point.
Alex Glick
Denver, CO —  March 6, 2012 7:53pm ET
The wine list solution is simple, talk about it with everyone who's interested. Why is it the guy holding the list gets/has to make the decision? This has brought new wines to my attention and also brought up intereting conversation as to where people have been and wineries they have visited.
Rob Stenhouse
NY, NY —  March 6, 2012 8:31pm ET
The corked bottle question is a great one. I was once with a group of friends at dinner, and we ordered a couple of bottles of the same wine to go around. I would say that I was the only one there with any kind of real interest in wine. Long story short, the first bottle opened was clearly corked, and the other was not. Yet people kept raving about the corked bottle. Rather than burst anyone's bubble, I kept my mouth shut. I think it ultimately depends on the situation and how serious your company is about wine.
Gregory G Peron
Scottsdale, Arizona —  March 6, 2012 8:34pm ET
I have been drinking Champagne consistingly without question since I was 18 years old. I am now 63 and consume at least 6 bottles a week. I have fliped more bottles over end in a restaurant or even at home to signify another is needed more times than I can count. Never a thought to be rude, just thirsty.
Blake Angove
Traverse City, Mi —  March 6, 2012 11:47pm ET
I would like to respond to the first two comments about smelling the cork and/or cork appearance. With regards to the cork covered with mold, mold, as you probably know, is a common occurrence in top of the cork and does not indicate a flawed wine. If that was the case, though, the server should have wiped the cork and bottle with a serviette prior to removing the cork. If there was mold elsewhere, then it could be a more serious issue.

With regards to smelling the cork, if a cork smells corky means that a wine is probably tainted with TCA, then most wines would be corked. This is not the case. In my estimation, the cork should be observed for condition and saturation. Is it in good shape and not showing signs of the wine seeping through the top? Even so, these are just visual assessments of a cork and the wine should be evaluated on its own merits and smelling the cork prior to tasting can and does taint the tasters objectivity when it comes to the wine. I have had the opportunity to taste and then try to resell several perfectly sound wines at restaurants I have worked in through out the years because people had sworn the wine was flawed because of "premature cork impressions." I swear this never happens.

As far as wines from friends go, I have the best "cellar" of any of my friends right now and by most of WS readers standards it wouldn't even warrant discussion as any sort of collection. Though, it now sports a bottle of Charles Shaw Cab so if the poster who was complaining about the Barolos and Barbarescos that their friend was bringing over wants to send them somewhere else, let me know.
Don Rauba
Schaumburg, IL —  March 7, 2012 12:20am ET
Good questions, and I'm enjoying a lot of the responses (esp William Towne & Thomas Oliver). In general, I'd "go ahead" with any of them, being sure to remain friendly and doing it with kind words/a smile. If I smell TCA on the cork, I won't even allow a pour to the glass... so I don't have to wait for a new glass! And, when presenting a host with a bottle "Do you think there's room for this to be opened tonight? I'm dying to taste it with you" builds a sense of excitement about it... always a good thing. My general rule: As with so many things, it's not always about what you do/say so much has how you do it, a consideration you wove in well with the dinner party TCA bottle example in particular.
Paul Perivolaris
London, Canada —  March 7, 2012 10:44am ET
I've stopped hanging out with people that get offended...that's so boring. Be yourself, say what you wish and hopefully that isn't too offensive to lose ALL your friends. Just need a few you know.:)
Katherine Cole
Portland, OR, USA —  March 7, 2012 1:03pm ET
In the case of the corked wine, one could turn the situation into a fun dinner-party game. Pour the wine into a bowl with a ball of plastic wrap, decant, and re-taste. Save a glass of untreated corked wine to see if diners note a difference. Here's Jon Bonné's blog on this:
http://blog.sfgate.com/wine/2009/04/07/testing-a-fix-for-corked-wine/
Cheers!
Reed Birkenholz
Columbus —  March 7, 2012 1:44pm ET
HA! My dad would back hand me at the table if I asked for alternative stemware at a restaurant. In these settings I find myself more focused on the total experience, and how the food and wine fuse. Perhaps amongst fellow wine appreciators, where the wine was the focus would I suggest varital specific stem.
Wilson Daniels Ltd
St. Helena, CA —  March 7, 2012 2:22pm ET
I think it depends on the situation. I once was the guest of honor at a party among friends in NYC who were not wine knowledgeable. It was a very casual evening and we mostly sat around drinking from the case of Chardonany the host had purchased for the occasion. My second glass from a newly opened bottle was horribly corked. But, it was a fun occasion and I didn't want to be the wine snob from Napa, so I kept quiet. As a result, my glass kept getting refilled through the night always with a little residual corked wine still remaining so that I drank corked wine all night. It was at least memorable--although not as much as the meal and the company.
John Ogden
Santa Rosa, CA —  March 7, 2012 8:21pm ET
Great article and lots of interesting points and little dilemmas. My comment is about corked wines. There is still so much to be learned about cork taint (TCA) in general, it's much more prevalent in consumer goods than most people realize. It gets into beer, honey, peanut butter,soda and so many more things.

When it comes to wine, here is the truth and the reality. We all drink corked wine all the time but don't know it. Wine is not either corked or not corked, it's not an absolute but people talk about it like it is. There is a sliding scale and my guess is that 80% to 90% of corked wines are not obviously corked. Rather, in most cases the amount of TCA (cork taint) is below sensory threshold for most people. It masks the good stuff or most of it but doesn't show as obviously flawed. As a winemaker, that's my bigger concern. I'll happily replce any corked bottle a customer returns. But when a consumer tastes my wine and it tastes okay, not flawed, not good but okay then they are not tasting the wine I made. And they will never buy it again, not because it was bad but because it wasn't showing the good stuff due to low level TCA.

The second aspect of this is that IMHO it is always good to ask someone else (i.e.the host) about the wine being corked. Have a discussion, learn about it, share opinions. No one should be defensive about that question because it could never be their fault or responsibility. We put a lot of effort into buying the best corks we can find for our wines but it's a natural product and while great strides have been made by the cork industry, cork taint can never be completely eliminated, only reduced to a bare minimum.
The Odom Corporation
oregon —  March 7, 2012 9:58pm ET
I was recently at a high end steak house in Portland Oregon and brought an 86 Ch. Latour for dinner with the family. The Sommelier attempted to open the wine with a standard waiters cork screw and promptly broke it in half. After removing the bottom half of the cork he examined the wine with his chemoreceptors and proclaimed it sound. He then asked if I would like it decanted? I said that would be fine at which point he disappeared for a few minutes with the bottle and then returned with the decanter and the bottle and poured it off. He then offered me the requisite taste. After pouring it into an unimpressive standard red wine glass I gave it a whiff and bingo, corked..... Since I brought the wine with me I could not send it back, but I also brought a backup just in case and the 94 Leoville Barton was sound. But I have to question the skills of sommelier err server.
Dori Kelner
Fairfax, VA —  March 7, 2012 10:15pm ET
Very enjoyable post.

Regarding the gifting of wine, some of my friends don't really know anything about wine. So if they are inviting us over for dinner I will offer to pair and bring the wine. Then I know it will be opened. Otherwise, I consider it a gift and let the host know they can save it for another time. I have friends who bring their own wine to my home and immediately ask me to open it. That's okay; that's what friends are for!

What really perplexes me is when people who say they know nothing about wine smell the cork and then pass it to me and tell me to smell it. I feel odd, as I never smell the cork. But I politely sniff!
Ryan Pease
Paso Robles, CA —  March 8, 2012 12:08am ET
Smelling the cork is very important for me, that is where the TCA starts and is overwhelmingly detectable when the wine is corked. No reason to pour a corked wine into hand polished glasses and make more work for the staff.
Adam Wallstein
Spokane, WA —  March 8, 2012 2:05am ET
Ryan is right about smelling the cork as a potential indicator for TCA contamination.
David Boxall
Singapore —  March 8, 2012 5:21am ET
I'm not sure whether this is rude or righteous but to solve the glass problem, I often take my own Riedel O glasses. I use the cab merlot glass as an all-rounder and put it in a plastic tight-fitting fruit container for safe travels. You can take your glass anywhere and I can pretty much guarantee it won't get broken in transit (not even by airline baggage handlers). One of the upsides is that by bringing out your own glass, you're instantly considered an expert (if that Is an upside!). I have no hesitation in doing this at a restaurant that doesn't provide good glasses and I've never been shunned by the establishment. I sell these in Singapore (have a look at www.tiger-wines.com) but I'm sure you can replicate the idea in the US. You just have to find the right container.
Glenn Keeler
OC, CA —  March 8, 2012 1:04pm ET
The cork can be misleading so you should always taste the wine. I have smelled corky corks and the wine tasted fine to even great and I’m actually pretty sensitive to TCA. I have smelled corks that don’t smell like anything, but the wine is horribly corked.
Morewine Bishar
Del Mar, California —  March 8, 2012 5:45pm ET
Rude? Dr. Vinny, puuleeese!

Pathetic.

David Clark
for The Wine Connection
David Biggar
Napa, CA —  March 8, 2012 8:11pm ET
I think you were right to mention the corked wine. if friendly conversation followed where someone mentioned they have never had a corked wine, i would have suggested opening a second bottle to compare... As it would be education and the hosts would know the fault in the wine was the cork, and not the wine or hosts' tastes.

on the glassware question, i have asked for better glassware, for the point you mention. Often a restaurant has limited high end glassware, and if you don't ask, you might end up with cheaper glassware.

on wine lists--i think anyone with an interest in wine that wants to see the list--should. i often keep it at the table after ordering the first bottle to review other potential candidates.
Eric Hall
Healdsburg, CA —  March 9, 2012 12:58pm ET
Absolutely, smelling the cork (sideways) is the first indicator of a corked wine.

Ask anyone who works in a tasting room, they open more wine than anyone!

Eric Hall-
Roadhouse Winery
James Laube
Napa, CA —  March 9, 2012 1:21pm ET
Matt, I too am surprised by your anti-sniffing stance. We should use whatever evidence is available about a wine's condition before tasting. Since Dr. Vinny's practice is near my office, we've discussed this many times; often our tasting coordinators smell cork taint the instant the cork is removed. Years ago smelling a cork was a wine ritual in many circles. Then it fell out of favor. Now I always smell before tasting. Advising your company that a wine is corked is the right thing to do. It's part of wine education, as uncomfortable as that sometimes can be.
Matt Kramer
Portland, OR —  March 9, 2012 1:50pm ET
Hi Everyone,

Thanks for all of your wonderful (and very kind) comments. It's good to know that I'm not alone in these matters--or considered rude, either!

In response to some of your comments:

To James Laube: Jim, the reason that I don't bother to sniff the cork is really very simple: Why sniff the cork when you've got the wine right in front of you? As I'm sure you and many others have noticed, sometimes a cork smells tainted, yet there's no taint in the wine. The cork can mislead (and provide a misleading impression) while the wine doesn't lie, as it were.

To Eric Hall: Mr. Hall, I never thought about sniffing the SIDE of the cork before. That's a new one for me. Maybe I've been missing something all these years, although I still think that there's no substitute for smelling the wine. The cork is a distraction, I think--and sometimes a misleading one, too, as I said above.

To Ryan Pease: Mr. Pease, you write "Smelling the cork is very important for me, that is where the TCA starts and is overwhelmingly detectable when the wine is corked."

Actually, it's important to remember that the cork isn't always the source of TCA or "corkiness". It can come from tainted barrels as well. One of the weirdest experiences you can have is smelling a corked wine--from a screw cap bottle! It can happen. That said, it does seem that the majority of cork taint is indeed from the cork.

To Gregory Peron: Mr. Peron, I'm so glad to hear that someone such as yourself, with a vast experience, has been inverting empty Champagne bottles in restaurants. Never mind anybody quoting me. From now on, I'm going to quote YOU. Many thanks!

Dennis D Bishop
Shelby Twp., MI, USA —  March 10, 2012 4:49am ET
Corked wines - if you feel it is corked, tell the world

I open (good) gift wines and expect others to do so too - esp. if the wine compliments the dinner.

Have never asked for a different glass at a restaurant

I turn all (chilled) empty bottles upside down when empty, but only if I want more wine.

All reds should be decanted - at great restaurants, I will call ahead and request the wine to be decanted 2 hrs. prior to our arrival - multiple bottles for a large party.

I do not care to smell corks -

20% of the food, 15% of the wine is my tip calculation

I enjoy an open wine selection discussion with the Sommelier at the table - a learning experience for all- esp. me!

I am considered a wine geek by my friends and family, though I feel I am 90% short of knowing what I should about wine, and 95% short on wine etiquette







ERIC COWPERTHWAITE
Maple Valley, WA —  March 14, 2012 5:49pm ET
Thought I'd comment on two points myself.

I always smell the cork. Not because I think smelling it tells me anything about the quality of the wine. I just like the smell of a cork that was freshly pulled! So, I smell it and enjoy it. I don't overdo it or anything.

When people bring a bottle of wine to my house, whether they say I don't need to open it that night, or not, I put it in my wine racks and don't bring it out. I usually have wine picked out for the evening, anyhow. If my guest asks about opening it, then I do. But otherwise, I assume this is a gift they are bringing because they are my guest.
Rf Zielinksi
Philadelphia, PA —  March 14, 2012 5:57pm ET
As it relates to corked or spoiled wines, I have always felt that honestly mixed with a touch of humor (especially among friends) is the best policy. I have even been known to use the Searle inspired gem "Uh-oh, I think your horse has diabetes" to signal the problem. In terms of decanting, it depends on the wine but what seems to happen with disappointing frequency is that I have begun encountering unmistakable odor dish washing fluid residue when being presented with the sample taste. I have now started asking to have fresh wine glasses brought to the table before pouring or decanting so I can check the glass for off odors.

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