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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

LETTER FROM VLADIVOSTOK: Refunds for Bad Wine Are Won by Whining




One day last year, I was delighted to find a scarce bottle of a decent Chilean cabernet in a market near my place.


I forked over half a day's wages and brought it home, prepared to savor the wine and muse about bullfights, Latin women and the tragedy of the Pinochet regime. But by the time I opened the bottle, I had a funny feeling about it.


Was it the label from an Argentine vineyard on the back of the bottle? The rubbery cork that appeared to be cut out of somebody's sandals? Or the fact that the wine had the bright hue and liverish nose of a dish of alcohol into which a pathologist has been plopping bullets extracted from a gunshot victim?


I had been here long enough to know that in Russia the customer is always wrong: There was no returning this grape juice and vodka mix. Besides, I had no pride. I gagged down a glass, watched the sun set over the frozen sea, and thought, as I so often do, Ah. at last I am in Russia.


I am usually more careful these days, but on Sunday, after I bought the second bad bottle in a row from a market near my office, I had had it. I had thoughtlessly dumped the offending Georgian white, but on Tuesday I returned and picked up another bottle. Back at work, I selected four qualified judges by shouting down the hall, "Anybody want some free wine?" Then our webmaster shoved the stopper into the bottle with his finger.


Two of our panelists thought the beverage was fine, apart from a faint taste of finger. Two drained a glass, declared it awful, and then drank another. And our deputy editor, who has a hypersensitive nose, ruled it undrinkable after one whiff. The nays had it.


I checked with the local wine cops. Olga Myzhinkova, with the Committee for the Protection of Consumer Rights, suggested, "Go to the store and demand your money back." If they won't comply, check the purchase papers. Write down all the important stuff. Then fink to local officials, who are qualified to determine whether the blackouts you are experiencing are related to that faux Moldavian red you just drank.


When I returned, the store manager was wounded to learn the results of our taste test. She produced documents proving the wine was real. Perhaps, she said, I was simply unused to dry wines. "I'm from California," I said. "We also drink dry wine."


After phoning her distributor to blame him, the manager did something unexpected. She reimbursed me.


The sausage is gray at that store. You sometimes see cockroaches on the bread. But with that kind of attitude, they have won a loyal customer. Except, that is, for the wine - I hear there's this other store with a great Argentinean red.