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Be cautious when ordering wine by the glass

I’ve never been a glass-half-empty kind of gal.

I just fill it up again!

Seriously, though, I’m more concerned when the bottle’s half empty!

Well, OK — I’m just goofing around is all.

But when it comes to wine in restaurants, I really am more of a bottle orderer than a glass orderer. If I have someone to share it with, that is. I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong idea.

But when a bottle is brought to the table, and opened in front of you, if it’s done right, you’re proffered a taste of the wine before it’s fully poured so you can determine if it’s OK or if it’s off.

With a glass, they pour it at the bar, which is not really a problem. However, you have NO idea how long the bottle has been open, or if it’s been vacuum-pumped to help it stay — well, fresh is the wrong word, but you get what I mean. Less or no oxygen in the bottle and the wine has a good chance of lasting for a reasonable length of time. I once did an experiment that I documented in this column about using a fabulous device called a VacuVin to suck the air out of an opened bottle and see how long it would last. And regardless of whether they’re red or white, I always keep already-opened bottles in the fridge to preserve their contents a little longer still.

Anyway, the good news is this particular experiment showed that the wine actually lasted, without being opened again in the meantime, a full two weeks in my fridge without going off.

But at a restaurant or bar, you have no idea again how long the bottle has been open and how what’s still in the bottle has been treated — whether it’s been vacuum-preserved or refrigerated — or not. And this is crucial, as I found out on holidays this year.

Wines that are popular and sell well and quickly by the glass are no problem. But wines that are left for some time in open bottles with the oxygen still in them can be a real problem for patrons, and more particularly, for restaurateurs.

We’d gone to one of our favourite spots near Bridgetown, Barbados — it’s called 39 Steps — and because they still had the same house-made chicken liver paté on the menu, I had to have a glass of red with that oh-so-sinful but oh-so-delicious appetizer. I ordered a glass of the Trivento Golden Syrah Reserve from Argentina ($19.99 per bottle here).

When the bartender brought it to me, it was icy cold, which initially thrilled me. I like my reds chilled — too much, many say, but it works for me. But that delight turned immediately to disappointment when I swirled and then smelled the wine.

It was off.

I always feel guilty in these circumstances, figuring that the folks who run the establishment will just think I’m a snob or whatever, but I also don’t like paying for a not just inferior product, but one that is legitimately rotten.

So I took the tiniest sip, just for my taste buds to confirm what my nose already had, and winced. This was really bad.

I took the glass back to the bartender, and said, ‘I’m sorry, but this is off. If you have another glass from a fresh bottle, I’d be happy to have it, but if not, I’ll make another selection.’

He was very elegant and took it from me, and a while later, brought out another glass, warm this time (more on that in a second), but very fruity and rich and velvety, just as it should be. I loved it with my paté, and the bartender and the owner stopped by to check that it was OK. They both did the same thing with the beautifully chilled glass of Oyster Bay Chardonnay from New Zealand ($17.99 a bottle in Manitoba) that I ordered to accompany my Margherita pizza.

We chatted with the proprietor when she came to the table after our lunch, and when I mentioned the VacuVin, she said she’d had all sorts of bottle-vacuum devices given to her by wine reps, but she didn’t know where they were and said she knew she should use them but never had. I said it would save her tons of money in the long run, because when the better part of a $20 bottle of wine gets poured down the drain, it’s obviously a big loss for a restaurant.

She agreed, and said she had no problem at all selling glasses of white wine without the wine going off in that tropical climate, but that not many people ordered reds in the heat. Which I completely understand. But it also made me realize that a by-the-glass option is a risk for the customer, too, because as I already mentioned, you don’t know how long the bottle’s been open or how it’s been treated.

Another point about the temperature of red wine: When we say red wine should be served at room temperature, that actually means ‘wine cellar temperature,’ which can range anywhere from 1618 C. Those folks who leave reds sitting on their counters or — heaven forbid, as I’ve seem in some restaurants, above dishwashers that release steam, or on any high shelf, since heat rises — are doing themselves and the wine a disservice. Reds shouldn’t be icy cold, but most of them should be 16 or 18 degrees in order for their flavours and aromas to really sing. I know there are some, but not too many people enjoy a glass of warm water. And a glass of warm red wine is not exactly ideal, either.

So be somewhat wary of those sold-by-the-glass wines in restaurants. And when it comes to red wine at home, chill — just a little.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 30, 2014

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I think this is a situation where the customer needs to find some assertiveness, and remember that its supposed to be the customer who is always right, not the restaurant. Any place that serves sour wine either has no quality control or somebody needs to be fired. I know its hard to make a scene, especially when you are on a vacation. But some things need to be done.

Apologies from restauranteurs are better than nothing but words are cheap. A place that serves you sour wine has no quality control and/ or somebody needs to be fired. The very least they should do is compensate you in an appropriate monetary fashion. And that is doubly true in a place like Barbados which depends so much on the tourist dollar. And yes, 39 Steps is normally a nice place to go.

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I’ve never been a glass-half-empty kind of gal.

I just fill it up again!

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I’ve never been a glass-half-empty kind of gal.

I just fill it up again!

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