Cork Sniffing

What the hell is the deal with sniffing the cork you ask?

Can you really tell if a wine is good or bad by sniffing the cork?

Well Cork sniffing is a common myth in the wine drinking game. But you have seen it happen time after time and have probably even sniffed a cork or two.

The restaurant waiter opens the wine and hands the cork to you expecting you to put it to your nose and sniff it. Often the waiter stands there until you sniff the damn thing and look it over.

The wine snobs of course are going to take a big whiff of that smelly thing and make a big production of looking the cork over.

Us wine slobs are just going to drop the damn thing on the table and then ask the waiter what he is waiting for, pour the wine please. Why are we not going to sniff the cork? Because it smells like a dogs butt.

 Ok maybe not that bad and it not only tells you little about the wine but it also tends to smell less than appealing.

First and foremost, when you smell the cork, the most prominent aroma will be that of the cork itself. Some believe that sniffing the cork will give you an indication of any presence of moldiness or taint, that is, it will tell you if the wine is "corked". The term describes wines contaminated by trichloroanisole (TCA) a chemical compound produced by the interaction of mold infecting in the cork and cleaning agents used in production of wine corks. The consequences of this contamination is that tainted wines have a foul ,musty mushroomy  aroma and flavor reminiscent of wet rags making the wine undrinkable. To be clear, TCA is harmless and if you don't detect it (regardless of its concentration) and drink the wine, there will be no harm. Statistically, approximately 5% of bottles produced are corked. This is the main reason for some producers opting for screw caps or synthetic corks.

If the cork tends to smell like cork, it is not likely that anyone will be able to discern a flaw by sniffing it. The ability to detect trichloroanisole is often debated and some experiments have demonstrated the inability of expert wine tasters (read snobs) to consistently and reproducibly identify its presence in wine.

Do however take the time to look at the cork if it is a real cork. You look for signs of mold, evidence of drying or cracks or breaks. (A crumbling cork does not necessarily the wine is bad). You can also look for tracks of wine up the side of the cork which may suggest the wine was subjected to heat. (The heat causes the wine to expand and push against the cork, sometimes seeping around it). This may also happen when the bottle was too full during bottling.

So what can you do to ensure the wine is good? Well, you are given a small sample of the wine in your glass.  The server will wait while you sniff and taste and give your sign of approval or disapproval. It is up to you and your style, then, to deal with any eventual haughty disdain for your passing over the sniffing of the cork.   

P.S. proper etiquette dictates that you accept the wine unless it is truly bad, not that you just don't like it or that you are trying to impress your date.

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