Unpleasant Wine Tasting Anecdotes?

This is indirectly wine-related, so I posted it here. Please feel free to move it to a more proper forum if needs be.

As I mentioned in another thread in Cellar Rats, people in wine tastings who just have to make sure that everyone around them hears how much they know (think they know) about wine bother me to no end.

I thought, then, that it would be interesting to read about others’ pet peeves in wine tastings or other similar unpleasant wine tasting anecdotes.

I have a million of them, but this one comes to mind first:

At one tasting, I noted a big, flashily dressed South American fellow with his entire family (wife and teenaged daughters) at the booth I, and a few other tasters, were at. He spoke in Spanish, which I understand, basically “educating” his family about wine (just the basic Wine 101 stuff anyone who reads any beginner’s wine book would know).

He then tasted a glass, making a big show of it, swirling with flourish, etc., and then told his family that the wine was corked (which I didn’t at all think it was). He turns to the pourer (who happens to be the château owner) and, for some reason, switching to English, blared out that the wine was corked.

The owner looked stunned for a split second, and, in a heavy French accent, replied calmly: “Zees wine ees not yet bottled, so zer ees no cohk.” It was the big fellow’s turn to look flustered, so he roars out: “Well, then there’s something else wrong with the wine!!!” - and stomps off with his family in tow.


Funny thing is, a few of us nearby (myself included, as well as one from the US wine press and another from the UK press) immediately re-tasted from the same bottle that big fellow tasted from and started trading impressions. None of us could detect any defect, TCA or otherwise.

I found that quite amusing.

Well, this doesn’t involve people, but I’ve come to be convinced that stemware with soapy residue [or decanters with soapy residue] might ruin as many wines as does TCA itself.

For serious fine wine tasting [or, for the kinds of people who frequent boards like these - even for recreational wine quaffing], it is absolutely imperative that your stemware [and decanters] be washed [and dried] in a manner which leaves no soap stains.

PS: And as regards washing & drying stemware: Never, ever, ever stick any part of your hand within a Riedel - unless you’re prepared to lose a finger or two when the thing shatters.

Trust me, it is no fun whatsoever to have a Riedel explode/implode when your hand is inside it.

Entering a Napa tasting room, our young pourer enthusiastically greeted us and gave us a nice short “who we are and what we do” welcome speech. He was also apparently handling the few half-dozen other people in the room as well, although there were two other guys 40s-50s in an office or back room within sight. He proceeded to pour us the second of two whites from a half-empty bottle. Corked! I motioned him over and suggested he may wish to check the wine, as I thought it was corked. “Corked” may or may not have been a term he was familiar with, but he approached the two gentlemen in the back room with the bottle, to relate our conversation. One of the guys came unglued, berating him in a loud voice and reminding him that he’d been told to always check the bottles before pouring. The poor pourer slinked way to the other end of the room to wait on the other customers, while Mr. Loud came to wait on us. Mr. Loud did seem to know a bit more about wine, but this was more than hampered by his used car salesman approach to pushing their juice. Frankly, I wanted the other guy back.

These are great stories. Keep 'em coming! It’s true about inexperience wine pourers pouring corked wines. Sometimes they just don’t know! And when they’re new, it really isn’t their fault, however, I would hope a customer says something nice (like you did Eric) to let them know the bottle may be off. I always ask our TR folks “Well, how many bottles of that corked wine did you sell?” You’d be surprised at the response!!!

At UGC, two of the Sauternes poured were very lightly corked - clear TCA going on, though - musty, damp towel, the whole bit. I mentioned it to the respective pourers (different Chateau) and both dismissed it as bull. ‘No, this is not corked at all - it is perfect’.

Wow. Still holding on after all these years. The excuses made by the high end wines of the old world are part of what have kept TCA taint being a problem for so long. ‘No great wines just great bottles’, ‘this one is very rustic’, etc etc.

For me, a white wine can be more difficult - I think it’s a temperature thing. We found a corked Pauillac at the 2008 UGC. Winemaker was pouring, too. He sniffed it, looked at us quizzically and shruged a bit. He didn’t say we were wrong - but I didn’t see him pull the bottle either.

Hey, did you forget to tell them, “I am French!”

Four hipster twenty-something couples with $300 jeans waltzed into the tasting room at a lavish Oregon winery that had a big - and I mean BIG) whiteboard out front listing the wines being tasted: Two chardonnays, four pinots and a syrah. Elbowing his way to the tasting bar, the “spokesman” for the group loudly asked if they had any merlot or ice wine.

Of course, there’s always some person who wants to know how the winemaker gets the cherry/strawberry/blackberry flavors into the wine.

A shit you not story…

Kristi and I went in a wine bar in Fort Worth that is actually very nice in both selection and price. Place offers flights in several categories and price points. We were enjoying a red flight of some sorts and a group of 'necks came in the place. All the guys had frisbee sized belt buckles & cowboy hats…the ladies had blonde hair and enough Aquanet to stop an airplane midair. The leader of the posse ambles up to the bar and as loud as possible so that everyone could hear him asked “Y’all got any Silver Oak in here?” Bar matron answered no, and off they went.

I actually had something like this happen…only the exact Opposite.

My wife and I went to a Bordeux dinner/tasting about a month ago. It was a big dinner and we were sitting next to the winemaker of one of the wines. He gets up and leaves for a second and comes back right before we are about to get into his wine. He leans in and tells us the wine is corked and not to drink it. He has someone take our glasses away and replaces it with a new bottle that wasn’t corked. He then had someone go to every other table to casually check if the wine was good or not. Great guy.

Bill, this is hillarious to me. Mostly because I first huffed Aquanet as a child while under my mother’s tutelage however learned quickly to run from ‘frisbee sized belt buckles.’ Since moving from the Texas I have continued to see bizarre behavior indeed.

I hate mostly the stereotyping and the belittling that I’ve witnessed. I have actually overheard pourers speak the following…“Oh, you’re young so you naturally only like sweet whites”…“Your tastes have obviously not evolved enough to appreciate this wine”…“Whatever you’re comparing this too was wrong and you believed it”…etc…

I recall going to visit my dear sister and brother-in-law in Texas. George does not drink wine but he is KING of the grill. In honor of my visit he rolled out the combo smoker-grill-thing (think side of the highway beast that could easily prepare two sides of any creature on earth). There were only six of us but we had briscuit, chicken, steak, and more. George bought me a bottle of wine for the occassion. On the label it read ‘Texas Wine.’ I have no idea what it was but I can tell you that under any other circumstance I wouldn’t have swallowed. However, when I took my first sip and looked into his eyes, and he so lovingly asked with anticipation “ya like it?”, I couldn’t help but fall in love with him and the wine too.

Moral: Pour with love. Although it can’t remove TCA, it makes a difference.

One thing you have to say in support of Tejas … nobody ever mistakes the place for France.


[quote="Shawnda H] I recall going to visit my dear sister and brother-in-law in Texas… However, when I took my first sip and looked into his eyes, and he so lovingly asked with anticipation “ya like it?”, I couldn’t help but fall in love with him and the wine too.


So did you tell your sister you fell in love with her husband?


<Expletives inserted here!!!> In a gracious, sister-in-law-sort-of-way!

This could go in several different threads…

Unpleasant wine tasting anecdotes.
Most embarassing wine moment.
Uneducated tasting staff.

We recently joined the Napa Vintners and one of our first experiences with the general membership was the NVV Holiday Party. It’s a big party with sort of a who’s who in Napa Valley wineries in attendance. Everybody brings a bottle or two to share. The bottles are opened by the caterers or host’s staff and then folks just stop by the tables and pick something to have poured in their glass. I took a Butterdragon and a Baconbrook. I had opened and tasted the Butterdragon in advance and figured if opportunity presented itself, I’d add the Baconbrook. Anyway, there was plenty of space to add the Baconbrook so I did.

Not much later, I see that they’ve opened the Baconbrook and I went over to the table to get a taste. The server poured me a taste, then saw my nametag identifying the winery and said that someone earlier had tried the wine and said it was corked but the server didn’t agree so had continued to pour. I tasted the wine. It was corked. [cray.gif]

Lesson to me, and which I should have known better, is no matter whether convenient or not and no matter how rare a corked wine is for us, check the bottles. Lesson to the server, if a member of the Napa Valley Vintners tells you that a bottle is corked, you should probably take their word for it.

Not unpleasant, but amusing:

  1. At a wine shop/bar in Beaune (just off Place Carnot), I was looking around the wine shop area right next to the bar (lots of good makers and old vintages). A very tall fellow (American from his accent) sidles up to the bar and booms: You have any pinot noir here? I’d like some pinot noir!"

The stunned look on the server’s face was priceless. He served the fellow without comment. To his credit, I tried to listen in if he’d say anything about it to his nearby colleagues, but he didn’t.

  1. Restaurant related:

In Paris, my wife and I went over to one of our usual bistros (so I was casually dressed in a golf shirt, black denims and a leather jacket) for dinner and discovered it was closed for the evening. We went a few doors down the street to another restaurant we also frequent and were given the only available table in the house, next to that of a well-dressed American couple (the lady was a bit over the top with jewelry). As I removed my jacket, she said in a voice loud enough to be heard 3 tables away: "I really think they should dress up more when they go to nice restaurants.

Since the waiters were speaking to me in French, she obviously assumed I don’t speak English. I immediately switched to my native language and Spanish speaking to my wife so I could continue to hear what she’d have to say.

I ordered our meal and wine - a nice bottle of aged Clos des Epeneaux by Comte Armand - and proceeded with our meal. They kept openly staring at us, our food and our bottle for some reason, and making comments.

My second course was a dish of duck done four ways. When I tasted one of the preparations that was not as good as I expected, I must have made a face revealing my displeasure and she piped up: “Oh, he didn’t like that one!”

I then turned to her and said: “No, Madam, it was not at all very good.” Her eyes went wide and her jaw dropped. Precious. That kept her quiet until my meal ended. She must have been re-running all the things she had been saying about me through her head.

After dessert, I let her off the hook by chatting them up and giving them a glass from my bottle. In fairness, they turned out to be nice enough and, their being from New Orleans (a city I love), we had lot to chat about.

Not unpleasant, but amusing:

I prefer to focus on the positive and amusing experiences. Or maybe I just block out the unpleasant ones.

In any case, mine is a work story. After completing a difficult project which concluded on a Sunday evening, I took about a dozen co-workers to the only restaurant still open in the area (the Cleveland suburbs): a casual shrimp-and-steak sort of place. Although most folks ordered beer, there were enough wine drinkers at the table that we also ordered a bottle of some sort of inoffensive Cali cab. The waitress, who seemed comfortable enough dealing with a table of frazzled techno types, seemed inordinately baffled by our wine order. Despite several repetitions, she seemed unfamiliar with the wine, so we finally pointed it out to her and referred to it by its bin number.

She re-appeared a few minutes later with a tray full of beers and sodas. Then she headed back to the bar and re-emerged, proudly and ceremoniously bearing a sweating, totally chilled, bottle of cabernet in an ice bucket. To her credit, she acknowledged the looks of utter confoundment on our faces and admitted that she brought the bottle chilled because she was under the impression that it was “fancier” that way.

We all shared a good laugh about the whole thing and worked our way through the bottle. By the end of the dinner it was approaching drinkability.

I suppose we could have refused the bottle and ordered something different. Instead, we chose to laugh it off - given the context of the dinner, it was easier to do so. And although our server was embarrassed that evening, she wasn’t humiliated, and learned a useful lesson about serving wine. Everybody won.

We were at Wild Ginger up in Seattle, and I ordered a Dönnhoff Kabinett. Our waiter looked at me like I’d farted, and asked me to repeat my order. The Dönnhoff Kabinett, I repeated. He still looked nonplussed, but he thanked me for my order and went to get the wine.

He returned, empty handed, and apologized. “We don’t have the wine you ordered”, he said. Then he continued, with a strong emphasis on pronunciation for my benefit “We have no Cab-ber-NAY by that name”. After a few seconds of confusion, Steve and I realized what had happened, and then pointed to the wine on the list.

Was the waiter somehow at fault for his unfamiliarity with the German Pradikat? Nah. Were we somehow at fault for speaking in shorthand and not pointing to the Riesling on the list or trying to order by bin number? Nah. As with Noel’s and Steve’s stories above, I think that the vast majority of the time, “negative” experiences can turn out just fine with good communication and a gracious attitude.