Smell the Cork … Or Not!

By / Magazine / September 6th, 2012 / 2

When I open a bottle of wine, or am served one at a restaurant, should I smell the cork? What should I do if it has a screw cap?

Hear that? It’s the sound of me biting my tongue. I’m giving you a bit of a break on this question because at its core, it is the wine world’s classic old wives’ tale and — like the career of Lindsay Lohan — it simply refuses to die.

Let me start by answering your question with a question, which I will then answer before your original question. Why in the name of whatever god you believe in would you smell a cork from a freshly opened bottle? The answer is, wait for it, there isn’t any answer that a person with an ounce of vino inteligencia should be buying into.

Corks smells like cork. That’s it. That’s all. There ain’t no more to the story.

If you have a concern about the wine you’re serving or being served, all will be revealed in the glass and not on the stopper. Think the wine’s oxidized? Smell the juice. Worried about TCA (i.e. 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole, a.k.a. cork taint)? Smell the juice.

Why sticking the cork to your schnoz became synonymous with wine analytics I’ll never know. My bet is that Hollywood is to blame. I mean, how better to illustrate the pompous wine ass than by having him one-up the on-screen sommelier by taking a snoot full of cork and giving his thumbs up or down on what his fine-tuned nasal passages apparently perceive.

Another theory could be that the average wine drinker of the last century lacked the knowledge or chutzpah to make a quality decision based on the liquid and had to rely on something solid to tell them what was what when it came to a wine.

My final answer is to look at the cork if you don’t trust the restaurant or wine shop you’re patronizing. Some wineries, but not all, brand their corks so you might be assured that what you bought is what was really bottled if you eyeball the cork. Other than that, toss it and stick your nose in the wine.

When it comes to caps, they just keep the wine fresh and in the bottle. Smell at your own risk. ’Nuff said.

Are there any foods that match with every wine?

I asked a few foodie friends to give me some help with this question and they all came back with popcorn. WTF? Popcorn? The only time I’ve ever eaten it is at a theatre, and who goes to theatres anymore?

In its defence, I jiffied myself up a bowl and what lightly salted and unbuttered popcorn lacks in personality it makes up for with its savoury side, which really does have an open mind when it comes to a wine match.

For the sake of argument I tried a few glasses of various mainstream single varietal reds and whites with a mouth full of popped kernels and they all married very well. Actually, sparkling wine was an even more impressive match with its mousey bubbles playing off the corn’s crunchy goodness.

That said, no one is eating popcorn as a main course.

For me, roast poultry is the ultimate food and wine combo. Chicken is lighter, turkey fuller; either way the bird is the word when it comes to liquid-friendly grub. Lighter whites, richer whites, fruitier reds, rustic reds: the pairing goes on and on and on.


Fresh, funny and down-to-earth, Peter Rockwell is the everyman's wine writer. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia he's worked in the liquor industry for over 30 years and has written about wine, spirits & beer since graduating from the School of Journalism at the University of King's College in 1986. His reviews and feature articles have been published in Tidings, Vines, Occasions, Where and on to name a few; he has been a weekly on-air wine feature columnist for both CBC-TV and Global Television and his wine column 'Liquid Assets' appeared weekly in two of Nova Scotia's daily newspapers, 'The Halifax Daily News' and 'The Cape Breton Post.' Today Peter's irreverent answer man column 'Bon Vivant' appears each month in Tidings Magazine and his weekly 'Liquid Assets' column is published across Canada in editions of the METRO newspaper. When not drinking at home, and at work, Peter travels the globe looking for something to fill his glass and put into words.

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