What do to about a faulty wine
  We are fortunate in Australia to have the Trade Practices Act (TPA) which provides for refund or replacement of faulty goods.  The provisions extend to wine which exhibits a manufacturing fault that renders it not fit for the purpose intended, i.e. drinking.  You can get the refund/replacement from the merchant you bought the wine from or from the producer.

The protection applies only to goods bought new, but in some circumstances (such as cork taint) you may be able to get a replacement from the producer for wines bought at auction etc.  The protection is in addition to any "Refund if not satisfied" offer made by various merchants.  Merchant terms and conditions cannot over-ride these statutory rights.

The following describes what you can do to ensure you get a satisfactory outcome when you strike a wine with a "manufacturing fault" that renders it undrinkable.  It does not describe the symptoms/characteristics of the particular faults in any detail, that's up to you to recognise and describe in your claim.


Firstly it is important that you preserve the evidence.  You should keep the bottle, closure (cork or other) and as much of the wine as possible.  If the wine has been poured or decanted, pour it back into the bottle, re-seal it and place it in the refrigerator asap.  There isn't too much point trying to get a replacement for a bottle that is only 20-25% full.

It is also a good idea to keep receipts/invoices for wine purchases.  It's not always necessary, but can make the process a lot simpler.  I've procured a replacement for a corked wine from Dan Murphy's where I was able to produce the receipt from several years before.

What faults trigger a replacement entitlement?
The entitlement is restricted to faults inherent in the production process.  It does not include faults appearing after production due to age, poor storage etc.  The major faults you can claim for are:

  1. TCA (cork) taint: The most obvious and probably most common fault and you can claim against this fault for older wines as well as young ones, within reasonable limits.  It might be difficult to claim for cork taint in a 20 yo wine when it was clearly intended to be cellared for only 10 years or less.

  2. Premature oxidation:  This applies mostly to youngish wines, where there is a pronounced amount of oxidation evident far in advance to that expected or apparent in other examples of the same wine.

  3. Excessive reduction:  If the sulphur-based offensive aromas (and maybe flavours) don't breathe off in a reasonable time and the wine is not drinkable due to this, then you can seek a refund.

  4. Brett (Brettanomyces):  This is a contentious one as different people have different sensitivities to this and some other characters in some wines can mistakenly be regarded as due to brett.  I've successfully had refunds for wines with what I regarded as excessive brett-derived characters that rendered the wine undrinkable to me.

  5. Other winemaking faults: There are a number of relatively uncommon faults that can be classed as manufacturing faults.  These include secondary fermentation (spritz in a still wine), excessive volatility (eg "nail polish remover" aromas), bacterial spoilage other than brett (eg mouldy smells, sour milk taste, sludgy deposits).

  6. Heat damage:  I try to avoid purchasing wines for delivery in very hot weather and many merchants/wineries will hold deliveries during such periods, but you don't necessarily know how it was treated on the way to the merchant.  Unless there is clear evidence (e.g. weeping corks) this one only really works for recent purchases and relies on the integrity of the merchant or winery you bought from rather than having legislative support.

Requesting the Replacement/Refund
A refund may be appropriate for some faults where you might anticipate other bottles of the same wine to have the same fault or it may be more convenient for the merchant as well as yourself.  You can't expect a refund from other than the place you bought the wine.

Replacement is the usual means of settling the issue and you may have to settle for a current vintage replacement of an older wine.  I usually find this acceptable and some wineries add a bonus bottle of some kind when replacing an older vintage with a current vintage.

The actual procedure depends on where and when you bought the wine.  For recent purchases you should approach the place you bought the wine.  Some merchants insist on proof of purchase, hence the requirement to keep receipts.  If you can't get a replacement via the merchant, you can still try the producer.  This is where a good personal relationship with a merchant may come in handy, especially if (like me) you buy a lot of wine from merchants in other states, including pure e-tailers.

For older wines it is usually easiest to go directly to the producer.

The simplest process is where you bought the wine at a local merchant and have the receipt.  Simply take the offending bottle back, describe the fault, show your receipt and request a refund/replacement.  If they decline, ask for the manager and repeat the process.  This normally solves the problem, but if the merchant denies the wine has the fault you claim you may have to either press the argument (in front of other customers sometimes helps wear down resistance).  If they deny any responsibility for the agreed faulty bottle, mention of the TPA and your State equivalent of the Fair Trading Office or Small Claims Court is sometimes successful.   If unsuccessful, report your experience on your favourite wine forum and boycott the merchant, or if an expensive bottle, follow through on the Office of Fair Trading threat.

If you bought from an interstate e-tailer or winery, then the process depends on your relationship with the vendor and their own preferred procedure.  With my favourite merchant (Boccaccio in Melbourne) I simply email with details of the problem, indicate I have the bottle/contents/cork to send back if necessary and request a replacement or credit on my next order.  That's all it takes and usually the bottle isn't required.

Other merchants and wineries may require the bottle to be returned (at their expense), the big companies usually do.  So I have documentation of the process I usually start with an email, but (especially if they have a toll-free number) you may prefer to deal with the issue by telephone.    Whichever means you choose, the key items to be clear on are:

  • The complete details of the wine, name, vintage, sometimes cork markings, laser batch code etc.  Purchasing and storage information can be included where relevant.

  • The details of the fault, as concisely and precisely as you can.

  • Statement that you have the bottle, seal and xx% of the contents and are happy to return it at their expense.

  • Indication of what result you are seeking - refund, credit, replacement with same vintage, replacement with current vintage etc.

  • Your address and phone number.

Often the situation can be resolved in a return email or phone call if they consider your explanation for the fault to be sufficiently specific and accurate (and if you are a regular customer).  The big companies like Fosters have a consumer relations group that implements their procedure, which usually involves them sending you a reply-paid pack for the bottle and can take up to 4 weeks to complete.  Others may  arrange courier pick-up of the bottle or send you a reply-paid sticker leaving you to package the wine and send it.

If your Request is Ignored or Refused
This doesn't happen too often these days, but there are still occasional examples of merchants or wineries (or importers) who ignore the provisions of the TPA and either ignore your request or refuse to replace the faulty wine.  There is also the possibility that when you return the bottle the merchant/winery may disagree with your identification of a fault.  The passage of time may make some faults difficult to identify when the bottle is returned and assessed a week or more later.

If the merchant/producer/importer denies you claim or denies the fault exists, it's up to you to decide how far you want to take the issue.  If it is a reasonably expensive bottle and you are sure of the fault you should re-iterate your claims to the producer and re-state your understanding of your rights and their obligation under the TPA.

If that fails, then you have some other options, including boycotting the supplier, the Fair Trading Office (or equivalent) and publicising the issue on one or more wine forums or your own blog, Twitter etc.  Be aware that going public may leave you open to legal threats/action by the supplier if you get too carried away with emotive terminology or bend the facts, so be careful with this avenue and make sure you have clear documentation of the whole process.