Archive for May, 2009

Would you like some cheese with that wine?

Wine glass bubblingLast week I completed the second speech in the Toastmasters competent communicator series (8 more to go!). The second speech focuses on structuring your speech into an intro, body and conclusion – the old “say what you are going to say, say it, and then say what you just said”. My speech looked at when you can legitimately send a bottle of wine back in a restaurant, and here it is:


A few weeks ago I arrived for afternoon drinks with a client of mine. Now the client is a winemaker, and we were meeting the head of communications for Wines of South Africa – which promotes South African wine abroad. So far so good – I was just thinking how much I love my job – when they passed me the wine list to choose the wine. Choosing itself was not the problem, the problem was when the waitress returned and asked me to taste the wine before she poured. How embarrassing would it have been to have slurped the wine, nodded enthusiastically and then later realised there was something wrong with the wine that I had given the thumbs up to.

So this got me checking up on when you can legitimately send a bottle of wine back in a restaurant. What should you look out for so you don’t end up spending good money on an unpleasant drinking experience?

There are SIX main faults that could creep into your wine. Here’s how to spot them.

First, DAMP CARDBOARD or MUSTINESS usually points to the wine being CORKED. This doesn’t mean that the waiter has mangled getting the cork out the bottle, rather that a fungus called TCA has entered the wine from the cork and it is off. This is the cause of the move to using the dreaded screw cap recently.

A BARNYARD or ANTISEPTIC smell indicates the yeast has done something odd and a type of yeast called Brett or Brettanomyces has developed. This is a bit of a bugbear for South African wines, as our Pinotage naturally smells a bit barnyardy – so international judges get a bit confused and think our wine is contaminated with the stuff.

Next, still on smell – MATCHES or EGGS. Both are bad and both mean something went wrong with the sulphur that was added to the wine. Most wine has sulphur in it – it’s an anti-oxidant and an antibacterial. But too much smells of lit matches. Another way sulphur can spoil your wine is when hydrogen sulphide is released by the fermenting yeast. You’ll know about this when you get a whiff of rotting eggs. Neither of these will kill you – but it won’t be much fun drinking the wine.

Fourth, you’ve made it on to tasting the wine, but your red wine seems a bit FIZZY and tastes peculiar – the wine might have undergone a second fermentation in the bottle. This is normal, but not very nice, so most winemakers ensure this fermentation – called MALOLACTIC FERMENTATION – happens before they bottle. You won’t die, you just won’t have a very enjoyable bottle of wine – and what is the point of that?

And finally – in my book the two biggest no no’s because these can be avoided simply by restaurants knowing something about wine, and looking after the wine properly.

If your wine smells like SHERRY, it’s been open for too long or is passed its sell by date and has oxidised. This often happens when restaurants sell wine by the glass and have the bottle open for far too long.

The second mistake restaurants make is storing their wine badly, and especially in too warm conditions like next to the pizza oven. This can COOK the wine and make it smell a bit like caramel and look brownish around the edges. A dead giveaway is if the cork has started coming out of the bottle.

So there you have it. If any of the following things pop up in your wine you can confidently send it back as faulty:


Back to my client meeting – fortunately the De Grendel Sauvignon Blanc was crisp, fruity and delicious, had none of the problems we’ve been talking about, and everyone was happy.

So here’s to fault-free wine drinking.

Mr Toastmaster

Quite a fun speech in the end. Used a couple of cool props to illustrate each of the examples, and secretly also to help me remember the 6 faults.

The next speech in the series involves getting to the point. Am waiting to be struck by inspiration for a topic idea.


2 May, 2009 at 8:03 pm Leave a comment

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