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Same Wine, New Bottle: Is That Right?

There are few nicer ways to celebrate the holidays than an indulgent solo lunch in a classy restaurant. Unless, of course, the meal ends with a nasty customer-manager spat.

That's what happened today to a City of Ate reader who sidled up to the bar of an uptown steakhouse and ordered an $18 glass of La Crema Pinot Noir. Much to the reader's surprise, the bartender poured what was left in an already-opened bottle, and then topped it off with new wine.

The reader didn't say anything to the bartender, but protested to the manager on her way out. According to the reader, he dismissed her complaint with a joke.

"It was terrible," she says. "They should have made it right."

But were they wrong in the first place? I put that question to James Tidwell, beverage manager at the Four Seasons in Las Colinas and co-founder of the Texas Sommelier Association. Tidwell, a master sommelier, strongly supports a customer's right to question anything a bartender does, but concedes it's not unusual for old and new wines to commingle in by-the-glass pours.

"It's not the most elegant form of service, but it's not uncommon," Tidwell says. "It's maybe not the best service, but it's not wrong per se."

If the bartender is sure the wines he's pouring are consistent, using two bottles to fill one glass is perfectly acceptable, Tidwell says. He points out that when a table orders a second bottle of wine, "it is correct service to only bring a tasting glass for the person who ordered." Unless dealing with an aged wine, which could show variance between bottles, a sommelier should pour the newly opened wine directly atop the wine already in drinkers' glasses.

The practice becomes problematic only if the wines aren't consistent, Tidwell says.

"If this bottle had been opened a few days, they shouldn't have been pouring it," says Tidwell. (Our discussion was purely hypothetical: I never named the restaurant where the incident occurred.)

But if bars utilize 4- or 6-ounce wine pours, there's a bit of wine left in every bottle. Cost-sensitive restaurants can't habitually throw away a few ounces of valuable wine, so it typically ends up in customers' glasses.

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"That's why I like to use 5-ounce pours," Tidwell says. He's not a fan of pouring one glass from two bottles.

"It's not unusual, but I'm not going to say it's right," he says.

Our wine-drinking reader clearly didn't appreciate being on the receiving end of the restaurant's waste reduction techniques.

"If you take yourself somewhere to treat yourself, you just expect a different level of service," she says.

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