Ted Bauer, owner, The Oregon Grille
"Years ago, we had a guy come in, and it was a special occasion. He said he wanted a bottle of Champagne at the table, and he got there early to make sure things went smoothly. He said that he wanted to open the bottle of Champagne himself, and while he was waiting for his lady friend to arrive, he kept spinning the bottle in the wine cooler. When she came, as soon as he took the cage off the bottle, the cork went north, and the bottle went south. The foam went everywhere, but they were still able to drink it. At the end of the night, they left laughing, so I guess it was a success, but I'll bet he never asked to uncork another bottle of Champagne in a restaurant again."
Tony Foreman, sommelier/wine director/co-owner, Charleston, Cinghiale, Pazo, Petit Louis
"The most suspicious thing anyone can ever do is say, 'I want the best bottle of wine in the house.' We had the experience of a guest coming into Petit Louis, having a couple of strong drinks, and telling the sommelier he wanted the best bottle. I wasn't in the house at the time, but my sommelier called me and said, 'What should I do?' And I said, 'Give him something very good, that's not crazy or irreplaceable.' (We have a [six-liter bottle] of a 2001 Chateau de Beaucastel Homage à Jacques Perrin that's $3,900, for example.) Lo and behold, it turns out, this guy had taken some medication in addition to the strong drinks and the bottle of wine. It was like he was trying to kill himself at the table."
Christopher Spann, owner, The Wine Market
"When I was working as the wine buyer at Joy America [now closed], there was a gentleman who came in on a date, and he had brought a bottle of white Burgundy he had in a cellar along with him. It was definitely in the 200-dollar-plus range. He was very proud of this white Burgundy, and he clearly wanted to impress his girlfriend. I could tell the color was a little off, but I poured him a taste, and he tasted it proudly. He also offered me a taste. It turns out it was terribly oxidized, probably from improper storage. I thought, 'What should I do?' But he was very happy with it, and his date was delighted—I didn't have the heart to tell them."
Ryan Shacochis, general manager, The Wine Market
"I was bartending at Vespa [now closed] in Federal Hill and opening this nice bottle of Merlot for a guy, who was obviously on a first date. He was really nervous, and he ordered one of the most expensive wines on the list. Before he picked up the glass, he picked up the cork. I thought he was going to smell it—even though you are not supposed to because all you really smell is cork—but instead of smelling it, he licked it. It was hard to keep a straight face."
Rob Wecker, co-owner, The Iron Bridge Wine Company
"I was attending a tasting for an industry event in Ocean City, MD, several years ago, and there was a high-end Napa Valley Meritage. Everyone was going on and on, saying, 'It's so great. It's so delicious.' They were down to the dregs of the bottle, and I said, 'Let me taste it.' I tasted it, and I said, 'This is corked [tainted by a faulty cork].' The perception, even from people in the industry, was that because it was a $150 bottle of wine that it was amazing. People tasted this wine that tasted like wet dog and were saying how delicious they thought it was. In this industry, perception can sometimes be the reality."
Marcus Garner, assistant general manager, B&O American Brasserie
"My bartender, Eric Fooy, reminded me of a night where a man had discovered he got a promotion and was in such a good mood he bought three bottles of Rubicon [Estate] Cask Cabernet for his fellow bar patrons, so that they might toast with him. At one point, the man started drinking it straight from the bottle, only before trying to walk around the lounge area and pour this Cabernet for our guests into their water glasses! Needless to say, that's where I stepped in. Funny thing is this was only the first bottle opened. [Another thing my staff tells me] is that some newbies to wine tend to ask for the screw cap to sniff it after the bottle has been opened."
Lindsay Willey, sommelier, Cinghiale
"We actually taste every bottle that's opened prior to the guest tasting to see if it lays properly. If people are not familiar, they are a little confused about it. I have gotten a few looks from guests, and I have had to assure them that we are not just drinking their wine."
Perez Klebahn, sommelier, general managing partner, Mr. Rain's Fun House
"I had a gentlemen send a bottle back. He said it was corked, but the problem is, it was a screw cap. I let him know that it would be impossible for the wine to be corked. I took it back anyway. Another funny thing that has happened when people order wine—I have worked in places where the bin number is near the wine and people will mistake the bin number for the price. So bin number 20 actually costs $280."
Lesley Desautels, on-premise catering manager, Linwoods
"I have had women pour packets of sugar into their wine because they don't really like the taste, but they like the sophistication and chicness that goes with drinking it. I had a woman who ordered a glass of Merlot, and when she got to the bottom of the glass, she complained that there was sediment. I wanted to say, 'It's red wine!'"
John Vonnes, general manager, The Smokehouse, Antrim 1844
"The most difficult part of the job is when you have a guest who orders a very expensive, three or four hundred dollar bottle of wine, and then claims it's bad, and it's not. All I can do is say to them after tasting and smelling it that it's perfectly fine. Of course, if it's bad, we get a different bottle. If not, we will not let them off the hook. There is a difference between them not liking it and it being bad."
Jack Elsby, general manager, The Milton Inn
"People who don't speak Spanish or German or French might tell me the wine they want, and by the time they have pronounced the name of the wine, I have no idea what it is even though it's on our list because they have mispronounced it so badly. I usually have to then ask them for the bin number."