by Jennifer Cossey

“Why do some people smell the cork when they buy a bottle of wine in a restaurant?”- Doug (Portland)

People smell the cork because they think it’s a way to tell if a wine is good or bad; in other words, if it has any flaws. But most of the time, cork just smells like cork, so it’s not a good way to identify defects.

The best approach is to examine the cork, determining if the staining from the wine has saturated more than half an inch or if it has streaked down the sides, both signs that there may be a problem.

If there is question, give it a squeeze — the cork, not the waiter. It should still have some resistance to your pressure. If you can squeeze the cork in significantly, you should pay special attention when smelling the wine. This doesn’t mean the wine is bad; it’s just an alert that there may be a problem. Keep in mind: older wines will have more saturation and less strength, this is normal.

Next, smell it. Usually at this point, you will know if the wine is sound. There is no need to taste it, swish it around in your mouth and make a whole symphony of ungodly sounds, but, feel free to do just that if it is something you enjoy.

If the wine seems to be in good shape, give your server a sign that it is satisfactory, and he will begin pouring it. If, for some reason you detect a problem such as the smell of moldy cardboard or nail polish remover, which are considered flaws, tell your server that the wine seems off and to bring you a new bottle. Generally, it is not acceptable to send a sound, unflawed wine back simply because you do not like the way it tastes.

Good luck and happy dining!

I look forward to receiving more of your questions. E-mail me at to submit your questions, and I’ll see you next month! 

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