What Are You Supposed To Do When a Wine Steward Hands You the Cork In a Fancy Restaurant?

There are several pitfalls of ordering a bottle of wine in a restaurant.

First of all, trying to figure out whether to go with red, white, or Blue Nun, and then what type, label, year, and price.

Just when you think you’re home free, the sommelier arrives, opens the bottle, and hands you the cork.

What are you to do, lick it? Pass it around the table? Put it in your pocket for the next time you go to the ol’ fishin’ hole?

Nope. And for heaven’s sake, don’t sniff it!

What you’re supposed to do is simple: read it and feel it.

“Say what?” you ask. First some background: A hundred years or so ago, it was a common trick for restaurants to refill wine bottles that had impressive labels with mediocre wine and recork them, or to take cheap wine and glue an expensive label on it.

To counteract the practice, wineries began printing their names on their corks and sealing the ends with foil, wire, or wax. By bringing the bottle to the table unsealed and opening it in front of your eyes, the restaurant is assuring you that the bottle has not been tampered with.

Your job is to check the label, then read the cork when it comes out of the bottle. The information on both should match what you ordered.

Why do you fondle the cork at the same time? You’re checking that the end of it is wet. If bottles are not stored on their sides, corks can dry out and let air in, spoiling the wine. If your cork is dry and brittle looking, the next step becomes more critical.

The next step is also a potential pitfall: The waiter pours a splash of wine into your glass and waits expectantly. It’s his little trap, just when you think you’re out of the woods.

Unless you want him and others in the restaurant to think you’re an ignorant boob, don’t drink it. That would be rude, to be drinking before your guests.

Instead, swirl the wine around in the bottom of your glass, bring it up to your nose, and take one long, dramatic sniff. Pause for a moment to build suspense. Unless it smells like vinegar, which happens, though rarely, you exhale, look the server in the eye, and nod once with a significant air.

The server will then go around the table, pouring wine into the glasses of all. Then and only then do you sip.

What do you do if the wine does smell like vinegar?

Discreetly tell your server, “I believe this wine has ‘turned.’ ” The server will apologize profusely, whisk it away, and bring another bottle, beginning the process all over again.