Are you confused about the ritual of the cork? Many people are; we have all seen people grab, fondle, and sniff and even sometimes chew that often mouldy, discoloured, tartarised cork, looking for good or bad smells, dry or moist corks, and other indications that the wine is acceptable. Perhaps they are trying to impress those seated immediately around the table, or they really believe they can read the wine by examining the cork.
It has become a tradition in many restaurants for the sommelier or server to present the cork, the presentation is part of the show, but the necessity for this tradition is negligible.
You can never be sure of the quality of wine by simply checking the cork and those in the know don’t bother with the cork. They prefer to establish the quality by clarity, smell and taste of the wine, which is the best test for quality.
So what is the presentation of the cork all about? Well it actually all goes back to the last century, when a dreaded root louse, Phylloxera, wreaked havoc upon the vineyards of Europe. Wine production fell drastically and many turned to distilled spirits.
The few winemakers who remained afloat were often faced with difficulty in marketing their wine because of unscrupulous competition of lesser know wine makers who would often labelled their wines unethically, using respected labels belonging to other producers.
This created many problems, especially in France, leaving consumers wondering if they were getting the real deal; in order to verify this, the key point was to view the cork. The better, reputable makers burned their vineyard names onto the cork.
The ‘pirates’ forgot this extra touch of class and left their corks devoid of a name. If Chateau Laffite Rothschild was burned into the cork, you knew you had the greatest of wines. Today, many of the best wineries still imprint their names on the cork.
Next time you’re faced with the decision of reaching for the cork or not, hopefully you will remember this snippet and simply taste the wine. After all, that’s what you’re paying your money for.