Vino 101: What to do when a sommelier hands you the #wine cork

Darlings, Señorita Vino is happily swamped with work this week, so I’m reblogging a popular post from 2012 that answers the question, When I’m in a restaurant, what am I supposed to do with the wine cork when my server hands it to me? Enjoy!

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! 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. Some folks recommend smelling the cork to determine whether your wine is tainted with TCA, a chemical compound that can originate in cork and can ruin wine with a musty, “wet dog” 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? To make sure it’s intact and not disintegrating. A crumbly cork is  a dry cork, which can allow oxygen into your wine, causing off-aromas as the wine begins to break down. How’d the cork get dry in the first place? Most likely because the bottle was stored upright instead of on its side. 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.

If you see crystals clinging to the bottom of the cork, don’t panic – the wine is perfectly fine. Those are known as wine crystals, wine diamonds, or tartaric crystals. See my recent post, “What are those crystals doing at the bottom of my wine glass,” for the scoop on wine diamonds.

After bottling, Sorensen gathers friends for a "waxing party," where guests seal bottles with decorative red wax.

Last but not least, examining the cork was once an assurance that you weren’t getting a counterfeit bottle of wine. Most wineries print their logos on the cork, so making sure the cork matched the label was one way to make sure you weren’t getting fleeced.

This doesn’t apply much today, given the sophisticated skills of criminals like Rudy Kurniawan, the recently foiled Los Angeles wine counterfeiter who produced faux fine wine using fake labels, bottles and corks–and crappy wine. Also, it takes a trained expert in fine wines to recognize all the indicators that a wine is an elaborate knock-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.


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