When you order wine at most restaurants, the staff will open the bottle and pour a little for you to try. The objective of this is for you to check if the wine is faulty, not to see if you like the wine or not.
The most common wine fault is cork taint (TCA), where the mould has reacted with the chlorine solution that was used to bleach the cork when it was processed. Cork taint strips the wine of any fruit aromas; this could be from mild to severe. A very corked wine smells dull, damp and like wet cardboard. Some people may not spot a mild corked wine but instead may think that the wine is closed or lacking fruit. But if you taste the wine, corked wine has a mute palate and no finish. If this is the case, you can return the bottle and request to open a new one. However, if the wine is fine but you simply don’t like it, you should not send back the wine.
Unfortunately, most consumers and restaurant staff do not understand this. Consumers reject wine they don’t like or restaurant staff insist that the wine has no fault. If you know you are correct, you should stand firm and, politely and professionally, state your argument. The last thing you want is to create a big fuss at a restaurant that disturbs other diners. Yelling at the staff will not solve the problem; instead it will just undermine your character. Most restaurants will oblige. Otherwise they may lose a customer forever.
Having said that, a wine expert friend of mine went to a two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Hong Kong. The junior sommelier argued that the wine was not corked and refused to replace it. My friend was so angry that he said he would buy another bottle just to prove that the first one was indeed corked. Well, I would suggest you do this only when you are really sure – and don’t mind losing the argument. If you are unlucky, the second wine may be corked as well! This is exactly what happened to my friend. If your dining companion is knowledgeable about wine, let him or her order and check the wine.
Cork taint is the reason why wineries use screw caps instead of corks as closure. However, sometimes you may get a whiff of burnt matches or boiled cabbage in screw-cap wine and that is because of reduction. The smell should go away once the wine is exposed to air.
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