Steve Wildy runs all of the wine programs for the Vetri Family of restaurants in Philadelphia, which include a whole slew of respected Italian haunts like Vetri and Alla Spina. Naturally, wine lists skew Italian and focus on a myriad of varietals found through the country. Below, Wildy tackles the oft-considered question on the proper etiquette for sending back wine.
Q: Is it really ok to send back a bottle of wine just because you don’t like it, but it’s not actually corked?
Wildy: Short answer: Yes. The feel-like-a-guest-in-our-home trope that many establishments proclaim is one I love, and we try to embody this at all our restaurants, too. And just as you'd probably be happy to pop a different bottle when you're entertaining a guest who's not digging the Cabernet you opened, most restaurants will offer to do the same. But I would advise considering your surroundings before making the call. If you don't find the service to be warm in general, you could be signing yourself up for an awkward conversation. And to me, that type of awkward service interaction can be a way bigger dinner buzzkill than just drinking something you're just not so crazy about.
Also consider that if an eager sommelier spent 20 minutes with you to find exactly what you described and you still aren't crazy about it, feelings and general courtesy do come into play. But, chances are they're still willing to switch it out because they clearly care about your experience.
... honesty—while still being courteous—is really the best policy.
On the flipside of that scenario, if a somm steers you down the wrong path, or if the wine just doesn't taste as described, it may be easier to have a conversation about a replacement. I'd also suggest giving the wine a little breathing room before you sentence it to being guzzled by the staff at the end of their shift, a lot can happen in 10 minutes. So, long answer: maaaybe ...?
If a bottle seems corked or flawed in any way, the most polite way to handle it is to ask the somm or server if they wouldn't mind tasting it, as it doesn't seem quite right to you. Regardless of how they find it, this should give them the impression that there's something you've found displeasing about it and prompt them to suggest something else.
If you simply don't like it, honesty—while still being courteous—is really the best policy. And again the hope is that a more hospitality-minded establishment will be happy to switch to something you'll enjoy.