What do you think of a wine store that questions a return?

I had two corked bottles in the last two weeks. They had been purchased at different stores, so I took time on Saturday to return them both. The first store took the bottle, set it aside and asked if I would like another bottle or a refund. That is what I expect. The associate at the second store pulled the cork, sniffed the wine and said, “How long ago did you open this?” and “this wine tends to be funky, are you sure?” Not to mention, they asked for a receipt before returning my money. I know that there is probably a little fraud going on and they need to be on the lookout but, 1) I know a corked wine and 2) I am a regular and good customer to this and other stores. I am tempted to stop going out of my way to buy at the second store. I am over reacting?

On the receipt part…yes you are. But otherwise no you are not.

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I’d say that the clerk should not have questioned you about the bottle… If you thought it was bad, he should have considered it corked as well. MANY retailers require a receipt (or knowledge of the purchase) for a refund. That’s not an unreasonable policy but he should have offered you a replacement bottle in exchange.


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Is it good business? no. especially if they know you as a regular. As someone who works in retail, I can say that probably 80% of the bottles that get returned to us were not faulty when they were opened. It’s frustrating. There are times when, if I don’t know the person, I will smell the wine before deciding what to do. Basically, we will always take the wine back, and I try to be up front about that so they don’t think I might turn them down, but I might want to know if there was really a problem or if they just didn’t like the wine for two reasons. One is that we do sometimes tell the person that we’ll take it back for any reason that time, but that we don’t want them making a habit of it. I know some retailers have a “we take anything back” policy, and I understand why, but personally I don’t like to encourage a practice that seems to me to be rude and selfish (on the part of certain consumers who think they shouldn’t have to pay for something that they did not enjoy). I am sure some will disagree with my sentiment and that is fine. The second and more important reason I want to know if the wine is genuinely faulty is that I don’t want to replace it with the same wine if they just didn’t like the wine. I will be happy to offer something else if that’s what I think happened. I try to be as nice as possible about the process, and I definitely start it off with the question “do you mean cork taint?”. If the answer is a confident “yes”, I don’t inspect the wine, but rather ask if the person wants the same bottle or something else of equal value, no further questions asked. I am sure there is a range of policies on this, and I can understand being upset at what sounds a little overboard and like something that I would never do, but I also understand the frustration shared by so many retailers for a problem to which there seems to be no perfect solution. Anyway, you probably caught some store employee on a bad day, maybe right after someone else returned a “bad”, perfectly sound, bottle, and that employee wasn’t as polite as they probably should have been. I get upset about that stuff as well, but I personally wouldn’t stop spending money there because of it.

Interesting and reasonable replies that seem consistent with how I am resolving this in my own mind. My wine “ego” was probably hurt - I drink a lot of wine and I know cork taint when I smell and taste it - and I took issue with being challenged. I do think, as a good business policy, he should have not questioned me openly (I am obviously not a college student trying to stretch the booze budget) but I am allowing for his being an employee who was not familiar with me. Frankly, I would never return a good wine because I didn’t like it. I consider that my problem and I feel for retailers having to walk that line. On the receipt thing, I can understand wanting one but what does one do about a wine they bought 2 or 3 years ago? Are we expected to keep all the receipts as long as we have the wine? Is there a statute of limitations on returning a wine in the retailer’s mind?

Returns after multiple years become tricky territory. I’ve never been faced with that. I don’t see why I wouldn’t take something back provided I got the wine from a distributor that was still in business, with which I still did business, and which still represented the wine in question, any of which might not be the case. Plus, if the wine’s not good but it’s not cork taint, how is anyone to know it’s not a storage issue? Either way, I think it would be very reasonable to require a receipt in such a situation. Personally, if I’ve had something for multiple years, I accept the fact that I’m taking the loss personally if the wine isn’t good. I know of many others who think the same way.

I’ve never tried to return a wine I bought years earlier. Somehow that just doesn’t seem plausible, although I can probably tell you where I bought most of the bottles I have, and cork taint has nothing to do with storage.

But putting myself in the retailer’s position - if you came in with a wine you claimed to have purchased several years earlier, I’d probably look at you like you were from the moon. He didn’t know, he has no way to recoup his investment, and how does he really know that you purchased that particular bottle at his store?

To me it’s one of those situations that can only be explained by understanding that life is unfair. Someone gets hosed in that situation and I’m not happy when it’s me, but I don’t push the issue either.

We try to do right by our customers when they come across corked or bad bottles. Most of our suppliers and wineries are quick to replace the wine. All I ask is don’t bring in a bottle with less than one glass left in it and say its corked. I will give you the same questioning look that I get from the suppliers, unless it is 17% + alcohol, then I understand. [wink.gif]

What is the cost of a single bottle vs. what a satisfied and loyal customer will spend with you in their lifetime?

and yes, I am ITB.

I think we are. I personally don’t…but that is my flaw. I think if we buy wine that we plan on holding for some time, just keep a little envelope in the desk drawer labeled “wine receipts”. Like I said, i need to take my own advice, but I don’t fault a store for wanting proof they sold it.

Other than that, there shouldn’t be any questions asked.

Agreed on keeping receipt on wines that is meant to be cellared. At the same time as well, my attitude is to purchased those wine (to be cellared) from a reputable/established merchant, and not just any corner shop. Speaking from experience, when I cracked open few bottles of DP 1996, out of a case, purchased on released, and corked each bottle. Storage is perfect. Brought the whole case to the merchant with receipt, tasted the wines and refunds, no questions asked.( Mind you, I’ve spent quite a bit of time and money with the merchant-- so relationship is important, make sure the merhant knows how you store your wines as well).


PLCB typically takes wine back without many questions. They have internal forms, if they can find them. Haven’t tried an empty or half full bottle. There are various rules with respect to within 90 days, receipt or no, store credit or cash back, etc. That’s no guarantee that the return process will be quick (expect 15 minutes minimum) or not involve 2, 3 or possibly every employee in the store. Apparently there’s an obscure clause in PLCB’s deal with their suppliers that a refund for the return must be honored by their supplier…even 10+ years after PLCB’s original purchase.

At a store located in the real world, I’d fully expect to be asked for a receipt. I might expect a little flexibility on the receipt if I were a very regular customer and the bottle was purchased in the last few days. I also would expect to explain the reason for the return. As Doug mentions above, it’s no surprise that most returned wine is unflawed and more about not meeting the customer’s expectations.



There is a local shop that has lost my business for precisely this issue. Unfortunatly it’s got a good selection of wines but they cut off their nose to spite face. So I’ve taken lots of dollars elsewhere. And told many others of my experiences.

The beauty of today is that customer-retailer relationships now have to work both ways due to the ability for customers to convey feedback (twitter, sites like WB, yelp, etc). In the old days it was pretty tough to share customer experiences. Sure some of it is off base and genuinely unfair, but customers who read this stuff online take it with a grain of salt. However I’ve found the feedback usually does turn up trends and truths. Lots of retailers hate this, you see it even on WB, but those are the ones whose lunches are getting eaten by those who do ‘get it’…

HOWEVER… let’s say you get a clerk who’s newer and doesn’t know you as a good, longtime customer. They don’t know you at all, so they don’t know if you’re the guy who really gets the various wine flaws out there or some newb who got a wine that’s usually a bit funky and decided that they didn’t like it - and will never be back in any event. So they pour a small taste to see - because the retailer shouldn’t be on the hook if you just don’t like something. Is that rude? Over the top?

No, it’s not. People always assume that everyone should know that they shop a lot at some place… but not every employee will. The part=time guy who helps on Saturdays isn’t going to know the people who usually shop after work during the week and vice versa… the weekday help won’t know you if you always come in on Saturday but are returning something after work during the week.

What they can do is be polite and professional. I see nothing wrong with someone who doesn’t know me pouring a small taste and checking while saying something like “I try returns so I can get a feel if there’s a widespread issue…”

Far too many customers go beyond wanting good, professional service into the “One mistake in how you kiss my ass and I’m outta here…” It’s a bit sad, really.

I see absolutely no need to do this in front of the customer as an interruption to the return transaction unless you intend to make a decision to not honor the return. That is the only conclusion I would reach if a staffer pulled that on me, regardless of what was said…unless I had a good personal relationship with the staffer already (in which case, they wouldn’t bother with the check unless their motive were to engage a conversation with me over it).

If you take returns, take them. If you have conditions, state them. One of those conditions might be “requires verification” but since cork taint thresholds for detection vary, it seems foolish, from a good business practice standpoint, to have such a condition.

On receipts, my local go-to shop has all my purchases in a database. I’ve never needed a receipt, but I always take back the affected bottle for them to push back up the chain. If their database went south, I bet they’d take my CT record as adequate evidence. If really pushed, I likely do have the receipt around, but it’s in a vast, loosely-organized box.

With wineries I buy direct from, I’ve never been asked to return a corked bottle - the logistics are silly or impossible to overcome to actually make the customer whole. I like the fact that I’ve been universally extended trust in the return in those instances (there have been three - Kistler, Dehlinger, and Phelps…called out for their excellent handling of me as a customer).


I’m curious about stores that require you to bring the wine back to the shop to get a refund for a flawed bottle. I understand stores want to do this as a protection against both fraud and people who don’t know what cork taint or oxidation really is. But there are lots of situations where it’s totally impractical to do this. I brought a bottle to a restaurant once, where it was decanted and then served to four or five people. It was lightly corked, not enough to make it totally undrinkable, but enough to the point where it wasn’t what it should have been (I’d had the wine multiple times before). By the time I figured out it was corked, the rest of the group (not wine geeks) were already well on their way to finishing the bottle. Was I supposed to have everyone pour their glasses back in the decanter, then have the restaurant decant the wine back into the bottle, then carry around the bottle for the rest of the night if we didn’t go directly home from the restaurant?

And what if you can’t get back to the wine shop the same day or the next day after opening the corked bottle? What good is a sample if it’s been sitting on the counter for a week? And that’s assuming I live near the shop. What if I bought the wine from a shop in California but I opened the wine in New York? Etc.

You’re talking about edge cases and, frankly, in those cases you should probably eat the cost. Think about it - you want someone to trust that you opened a bottle and it was bad without any evidence? REALLY? How many retailers will give you a replacement or refund without you even bringing the product in? Now, if you’re a known and good customer of a shop, they might… but expecting this for everyone is a bit much. taking returns is one thing… taking them without the product actually being returned? That’s a different thing.

And yes, in the first case, people should have poured the wine back and yes, you should have carried it around. Inconvenient perhaps, but if it’s not worth it to you to do that is it really that important to you to get your money back?

IN the second… That’s a harder case in the era of online sales. But I’d expect you to be able to ship the wine back to the shop if they ask. Again, do you REALLY expect to be able to call them up, tell them you bought a wine from them and they’ll just send a new bottle out? They may well do this as good service, but we need to recognize that for what it is - good service.

And what you outline is probably what I’d actually do as a retailer if I were ITB, but my point was that I, as the customer, wouldn’t be offended and outraged if a staffer decided to check a bottle and was polite about it.

Rick, of course most retailers won’t give you a refund without bringing the product in, but most retailers aren’t selling products that are both perishable and consumable, and whose flaws can only be discovered by consuming the product. Wine is different.

From my perspective, a return policy that requires me to bring the mostly-full bottle back the next day so that the staff can taste it and decide if it’s corked is a policy hardly worth the paper it’s printed on. This is especially true for the internet mail-order scenario – I have to ship the bottle overnight, at my cost, to the store, so they can then decide if I’m right? The overnight shipping probably costs more than the bottle is worth. Maybe they’ll refund the shipping if I’m right, but what if they disagree with me? We’ve all been involved in long discussions about whether a particular wine is corked or not. They might as well just be honest and tell me they don’t refund corked bottles.

Now, a store is perfectly entitled to have whatever policy they want. But I’m also entitled to point out if those policies are not friendly to the consumer.

Do you think if you mail-ordered high-end steaks, say, and the meat turned up spoiled, Flannery or Lobels or whoever would require you to ship the meat back to them first before giving you a refund?

Perishability isn’t the issue though - if you misstore a wine for 15 years, that’s not the retailer’s issue. Consumabiility - if you drink most of the bottle I think it’s kind of hard to make the argument that it sucked. In situations like yours, there might be an exception, but in general, yeah, you should bring a mostly full bottle back reasonably soon after it was opened (not necessarily the next day, but again if it’s been a month, how important was getting a refund to you?).

This is especially true for the internet mail-order scenario – I have to ship the bottle overnight, at my cost, to the store, so they can then decide if I’m right? The overnight shipping probably costs more than the bottle is worth. Maybe they’ll refund the shipping if I’m right, but what if they disagree with me? We’ve all been involved in long discussions about whether a particular wine is corked or not. They might as well just be honest and tell me they don’t refund corked bottles.

Do you think if you mail-ordered high-end steaks, say, and the meat turned up spoiled, Flannery or Lobels or whoever would require you to ship the meat back to them first before giving you a refund?

As I noted, this is more of an edge case and I tend to agree with you. It would depend, for me, on the value of the wine. In general, if I were the retailer, I’d just ship you a new bottle… but if it were a $400 wine? I might well ask you to ship the bad one back and pay for the cost so I can take it up the chain.

A word about your example - spoiled meat is pretty obvious. However if you’ve spent any time around wine you’ve seen people call a wine flawed when it’s not. They just don’t like it. So in wine it’s often not as cut and dried as “this meat was rotting when I got it”.

If I were in retail I’d err on the side of customer service - but I’d reserve the right to question you if the wine were mostly consumed or if you had a history of returning a lot of bottles. There’s customer service and there’s being a patsy…

Let me give some examples so we’re clear and not talking past one another:

You’re a newish or occasional customer. You come in with a mostly full bottle and tell me it’s bad.
Action: I give you a same value bottle of the same wine as replacement.
Reason: Hey, goodwill, smart service.

You’re an occasional customer who’s brought back a very high percentage of what you buy. I’ve tasted the wines you’re returning and they’re not flawed.
Action: If the value of giving you replacements is outweighed by the stuff you keep I’ll probably keep taking the wines back. If it’s not or if you bring back pricey stuff and keep cheap stuff, we might have to have a talk.
Reason: I still want you as a customer, but I’ve verified that you’re not returning wines that are really flawed by tasting several bottles after you’ve left. I might try guiding you to wine you’re more likely to like.

You’re a regular customer who buys a lot. You do’t have a bottle for some good reason, you dont regularly ask to get a replacement in cases like this.
Action: I’ll give you a replacement
Reason: Duh…

You’re a regular customer who buys a lot. You don’t have a bottle and are asking for a replacement… again. This is becoming a regular thing.
Action: I’m going to start insisting on the bottle.
Reason: Edge cases are just that - exceptions. The wine was poured, bottle taken by waiter, then you realized the wine was bad… OK. But that doesn’t happen a lot to anyone.

It’s 20 years later and you bring a wine back. It’s heat damaged.
Action: Um… how do I know where this has been??
Reason: At some point you own the wine.

PS: Note that I’ve been heavily burned by premoxed white Burg. I’m certainly sympathetic to the idea that retailers and the supply chain in general should do the right thing.