Many of us have been in this intimidating situation before: we’ve ordered wine at a restaurant and after the waiter opens the bottle, they present us with the cork and we have no idea what to do with it. Many people assume you’re supposed to smell the cork, a myth that has floated around the wine snob world for decades, but guess what: YOU DON’T NEED TO SMELL IT. You don’t actually learn all that much about a wine from smelling the cork, in fact, when you smell it, the cork usually just smells like cork.
So where did the tradition of smelling the cork come from? Glad you asked.
Being presented with the cork actually comes from the history of French wine in Bordeaux. Since Bordeaux is one of the most expensive regions of wine in the world, people used to counterfeit the bottles, faking the labels to look like the famous chateaus that sold their wines for hundreds and even thousands of dollars (think Canal street today with the fake Rolex watches and Gucci bags, same idea).
As the actual winemakers started to lose money to the counterfeiters, their solution was to create unique inscriptions on the corks inside the bottles of the legitimate chateaus. If you had consumed that chateau’s wine before, you were aware of its unique inscription, and by looking at the cork, you could confirm whether or not the wine was a real or a fake. So when a waiter presents you the cork, he or she is just honoring an old tradition of checking to see if the bottle you bought is the real deal.