When Your Wine by the Glass is Off…and How to Send it Back!

It happened again the other day. I was out for dinner with friends before a concert at a pub. The others were ordering beer (after all, it is a pub!), so a bottle of wine was out of the question. They had an okay Aussie Shiraz by the glass, so that’s what I went for.

And when it came…well, you can probably guess the punch line here from the title of the blog!

So what to do? Before that, though, the question is how to know if there is something wrong with your wine by the glass!

A little context first. Most establishments (whether pub, casual restaurant or fine dining establishment) do the same thing with the wine they serve by the glass. The bottle gets opened, and the cork put back in it. At the end of lunch service, it waits till dinner. At the end of the night, it either sits under the bar till the next day’s lunch, or gets put in the fridge (white wine goes there always, of course). Restaurants and bars need to do this in order to maximize revenue per bottle.

The problem for wine drinkers is that when air gets into a wine bottle, the wine starts to oxidize. Slowly at first for young wines, faster for older wines, fastest when it is hot out. The lunch to dinner time frame — if the bottle was opened at lunch — is usually okay for the wine, but overnight, particularly if the wine just sits behind the bar, can be a real problem.

What kind of problem?

Well, the first sign is on the nose. The impact ranges from a lack of aromas to a distinct tea/brown sugar smell. The latter is actually so recognizable that I almost don’t need to taste it to know it is oxidized!

But when I do, the result ranges from lack of fruit, woody/herbal flavours, and – in the worst case – a bitter, metallic aftertaste.

While wine in this condition can’t harm you, it is also not very enjoyable, especially if you are paying $12 – $15 a glass for it!

So what to do?

Well, in a nice restaurant (or even an average one serving good wine), I find the best thing to do is ask your server whether the wine has just been opened, or whether it has been sitting around for a while. He or she will usually take it back to the bar and quickly return with a new, freshly opened version (along with an apology).

This approach has always worked for me, with no one ever challenging my view that the wine is off. It can be a little uncomfortable to do — makes you look like a wine snob – but it’s better than drinking something that is off.

In a pub or more casual place, however, it can be tougher to do. Not because of the response to your question (which is inevitably the same), but because you may feel even more like a wine dweeb in the more casual environment. So it is up to you whether to put up with a poor glass of wine or the extra embarrassment!

There is a solution to all of this, albeit an expensive one. High end wine preservation systems are out there, and the fancy restaurants often have them, even using them to sell really expensive wine by the glass (one in town sells $100 Tignanello for $25 a glass!). So if you see one of those devices when you walk into the restaurant, you know it is safer — if more expensive — to order by the glass.

The other solution, at least in BC, is simpler — just order a bottle! Even if you just have two glasses, you can put the cork back in it and take it home with you. Assuming you get it in the fridge asap, it stands a good chance of being okay the next day (unless you finish it off later in the evening, of course!).

So there you go…some ideas for dealing with the issues around wine by the glass in restaurants. Remember…you don’t have to drink bad wine!




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