Friday, August 27, 2010

Sending it Back - When you are right to do so!

**I must preface this by saying that although I have renamed this blog "wineLIFE Almost Weekly" and have struggled to at least post monthly in these last few turns, I am back with lots of thoughts and new knowledge to share, and I will be posting with a vengeance!**

And now: Sending it Back!

So far since we’ve been open, we have had only one customer come back to us and say that they thought that something wasn’t quite right with the wine they purchased from our store. We asked them for the bottle back, but they had done away with the wine already.
They weren’t pressed about getting a refund, but they did feel compelled to inform us.

The more unsettling thing was that she was the only person who has come forward. I’ve had just a few people say they were not wild about one wine or another, but the overwhelming response has been positive to the wines we’ve been working with. Not that we want anyone to be unhappy. Nonetheless, we’ve theorized about this, and come up with a list of possibilities that also serves as a list of good reasons why someone should feel very free to send a wine back.

SEND IT BACK! There are indeed some cases in which you are right to either bring an opened but unconsumed wine back to your retailer for a refund, or send an ordered bottle of whatever back to the sommelier after you’ve been poured a taste and determined it is NOT IN SALEABLE CONDITION. There are two important things to remember in this formula:

A. If you are asking your retailer to refund or replace a bottle - BRING THE BOTTLE BACK! Think about it: if you wanted to return a garment to a clothing store because of a defect, you would need to bring it back and show the defect to the staff, correct? Same goes for wine. We would pour a bit into a glass and verify your claim. Just as in the retail store, we wine shop owners can return defective merchandise to our distributors and recover our money.
B. Unlike the clothing store return, it really isn’t OK to return a wine just because you “don’t like it”. Do you not like it because it is in bad condition, or because it simply is not your bag? If its the latter, then neither the retailer or restauranteur would feel compelled to take the return. Our reasoning is that you had an opportunity to get with something you’d like - that’s the importance of shopping in a good wine retail shop or ordering wine at a restaurant where the waiters know the wine list or where you can consult a sommelier. You are encouraged to tell us what your style is and then its our job to help you find something in our inventory that’s right for you. But in plain business terms, we are hard pressed simply take a return if you just plain don’t like it because once a bottle is opened, it is no longer saleable - we wouldn’t ask our distributors to refund us on these.

OK, on to our list:
1. WHAT HAPPENED: Cork Taint - When you open a bottle of wine and pour your first glass, the aromas should be alive and it should take less than a minute or two for them to arrive at the entrance to your nostrils and entice you. If this doesn’t happen, if the wine smells flat - either moldy like your basement or attic, or it actually has the dead smell of the very cork you pulled from the bottle, then your wine is probably corked. It helps if you’ve had the wine before and remember what it tasted like the previous time. HOW DID IT HAPPEN: This is a condition that occurs when a chemical known as TCA finds its way into your natural cork. Oddly, this happens during the process used to clean the tree bark into which the corks are made with a kind of bleach. Your odds of cork taint are between 5-10% - pretty high! WHY HAVE WE SEEN SO LITTLE at wineLIFE? It turns out (not on purpose) that a majority of our wines have either screw tops or synthetic corks in them. No cork, no cork taint!

2. WHAT HAPPENED: Vinegar - Wine is just one step away from Vinegar anyway. Look at the word: Vinegar - VIN - Egar. The French word is Vinaigre, which literally means sour (aigre) wine (vin). HOW DID IT HAPPEN: All it takes is the presence of enough Acetobacter, the bacteria who’s job it is to turn wine into vinegar, and the deed is done. Most of the winemaker’s responsibility lies in protecting the wine from such ugly scenarios, but some are less inclined to intervene in the winemaking process than others - they’d rather let it do what it do, and as such, if they have not fought off the baddies with sulphur dioxide, the winery’s all purpose friend, then acetobacter may find a home in your bottle. WHY HAVE WE SEEN SO LITTLE at wineLIFE: Our inventory is largely under $20.00 a bottle. While we do have organic wines, sulphur dioxide is allowed in organic wine making (its a natural by-product of the fermentation process anyway, and SO2 is itself organic) At this price level, most winemakers don’t take chances! We carry wines of commerce - recent vintages, made, like 98% of the wines on the world market, to be consumed young.

3. WHAT HAPPENED: Madirization - the wine oxidized in the bottle. It might smell like sherry. Caution: some wines smell like that ON PURPOSE. Once again, you are encouraged to talk to the good folks at your neighborhood wine store or restaurant for advice. For the most part, though if you open a bottle and it smells sort of like eggs or feet, it is not a good thing. White wines may actually take on a brownish hue, as well. HOW DID IT HAPPEN: Usually this is a symptom of pour storage. Wine that is stored in a warm place can fall victim. A good wine retailer or restauranteur will buy from distributors who are careful about their warehousing, and will consider the temperature of their own storage place very thoughtfully. WHY WE HAVE SEEN SO LITTLE at wineLIFE: We work with very good, mostly small companies who really love their wines and take great pains to make sure you enjoy the magic as well. We are all wine people. We care.

4. WHAT HAPPENED: Reduction - Sometimes, wine will suddenly feel painfully shy, and the flavors will retreat into some unknown place, leaving very little in the glass for you to love. In some cases, you’ll only have rotten eggs! HOW DID IT HAPPEN: The jury is still out, but most experts agree that it can be prevented to a degree in the winemaking process. WHY WE HAVE SEEN SO LITTLE at wineLIFE: Good wine makers understand and can prevent this in their wine before bottling it. Also, quite simply, this condition can be very subtle and most people don’t spot it. They may simply decide that they weren’t wild about that wine and that they’ll try something else next time they shop.

In any of these scenarios, you are right to send it back and have it replaced, pick something else out or simply get your money back. But remember, if its from a store you’ve gotta bring the bottle back. Next week, I will cover other “wine faults” that are not eligible for a refund.

Hint: Girl’s Best Friend.