Monday, September 6, 2010

Sending it Back: When you are NOT in the Right

I’ll never forget it: The elderly lady walked into the store I was working at 6 years ago with a look of complete horror on her face. “There is glass in my wine!” she exclaimed, with an accent that was distinctly Eastern European. “Glass! I may have cut my tongue!” And there I was, greenhorn with a few years of wine study under my belt, foolishly attempting to explain to her that it was not at all glass. I even had the nerve to smile about it - the wine nerd in me couldn’t wait to wrest the bottle from her possession so I could examine the phenomenon.

Tartrate crystals, also known as wine diamonds, but as far as she was concerned, they were NOT her friend! I did catch myself lest she try to swing the bottle or her little old lady handbag at me in defiance. I apologized and promptly refunded her money, but in truth, there was nothing wrong with the wine she was returning. Tartrate crystals will precipitate from time to time in white and red wines alike when the wine is not “cold stabilized” (chilled down to near freezing so crystals will form BEFORE bottling) at the winery. In the case of wines that were made by low intervention winemakers, you may find diamonds, darling!

Another chewy thing you might find is sediment. Oh boy, this could get technical (donning wine geek pocket protector and glasses with tape in nose bridge) The tannins - you know the stuff that we all seek for antioxidant properties, those molecules that make our tongue feel a bit dried out after a sip of red wine? Well, they start out life as monomers, but over time, they form chains - or polymers - by linking together into groups. Then they become little chunks. Once again, very natural. No reason whatsoever to send a bottle back! There are gadgets on the market created to help you remove the sediment from an older wine (polymers form over the passage of a few years normally), or you can simply decant it. The classic tradition of decanting is not only to give a wine breathing room, but also to very slowly pour the wine out, leaving any sediment behind, so none ends up in your glass. Although it is not a real “fault”, I’ll admit that finding a chunk of polymerized tannin in your mouth isn’t a pleasant sensation.

Now if the cork should be dried out and crumble a bit into your wine, and you find a bit or two of it floating in your wine glass, just get over it - fish it out, and drink your wine! That is definitely NOT a fault. If the wine still looks and tastes fine, it may just be that the bottle was stored standing up for most of its life, so the cork remained dry because no wine came in contact with it to moisten it up. See last week’s article to see what kind of a fault a cork can be the culprit of.

In these circumstances, it really isn’t right to expect a retailer or restaurant to take your return of an opened bottle of wine. Nonetheless, a good one will explain if you want to hear, empathize if you don’t, and do what it takes to make you a happy customer.