The cork is actually for examining.
If you have the good fortune to sit down in a restaurant with a wine steward, you’re not going to make a great impression by sniffing the cork when he hands it to you.
In truth, he’s presenting you the cork to examine. Check to see if it’s all in one piece; a fragmented or moldy cork might mean a lower quality wine. With the best wines, the cork will display the date and other information, as well. Its smell will actually tell you nothing.
The presenting of the cork actually comes with a bit of history. Hundreds of years ago, wines weren’t always stored with the best care. Bottles were often stacked and the labels on those bottles were often damaged or simply became warn in the process. What was not damaged was the cork. The corks contained information about that bottle of wine such maker, varietal, and vintage.The story goes that the cork was presented to simply confirm you were getting the bottle you intended.
Someone, at some point, decided to take a sniffy sniff and the damage was done. So next time, don’t actually smell the cork. But do look at it for identification or imperfections.
You’ll have the wine steward/sommelier thinking you’re a pro!
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