You’ve ordered vino at a restaurant and your sommelier presents you with the cork after she’s opened the bottle. You: a) Give it a sniff b) Take a look at it c) Ignore it–you just want to try the wine d) Pop it into your purse or pocket for your wine cork bulletin board project.
If you chose b, you are correct-a-mundo! You need to eyeball the little guy.
Most of us may instinctively opt for taking a whiff. After all, wine is about aromas and flavors, no? And didn’t Mr. Howell sniff his wine corks on “Gilligan’s Island?” (NOTE TO YOUNGER READERS: “Gilligan’s Island” was a popular TV sitcom back when Señorita Vino was just a chiquita. NOTE TO AGELESS READERS: Ever wonder how the Howells managed to get wine delivered to a desert isle in the pre-Internet days?)
As I’ve always said, sometimes the wine world is full of contradicciones, and some wine folks say you should indeed sniff the cork. Completely contradicting what one of my wine instructors said, another wine teacher noted that you might be able to tell by smelling the cork whether your wine was tainted with TCA, a chemical compound that can originate in cork and can ruin wine with a musty aroma. This is what people mean when they say that a wine is “corked.”
A sommelier and trained server, however, can usually detect cork taint by smelling the wine, not the cork.
So why should you look at the cork? First, to make sure it’s intact and not disintegrating, and second – although not necessary in today’s highly regulated wine industry – to verify that the imprint or logo on the cork matches the bottle label (NOTE: Not all wineries put their logos on the cork, so don’t panic if it’s unadorned).
Back to the first reason, a crumbly cork is usually a dry cork, which could mean oxygen seeped through the cracks and into your wine, thereby causing off-aromas as it begins to break down. How’d the cork get dry in the first place? Primarily from storing the bottle upright. During prolonged storage, corks that have no contact with the wine eventually will dry out.
Oxidized wine will not kill you, nor will the dried-out cork particles that may be floating in your glass. Nor will TCA, for that matter. But you’re paying for the wine and you want it to taste right, so don’t be afraid to send it back if the cork is falling apart and your wine tastes a bit off.
So there you go, chicas y chicos. Señorita Vino just saved you from being the kook at table 4 with the sniffing fetish. De nada.
P.S. For those of you who answered d) take the cork with you, you are also correct! Señorita Vino tastes a lot of wine, natch. So I’m putting some of those corks to work in my kitchen as soon as I finish assembling my nifty wine cork trivet.
Do you have a wine cork project you’re especially proud of? Send me a photo and you may just see it on a future Señorita Vino post. Salud, and happy crafting!