The cork conundrum continues

Above: why don’t you just walk all over me? A zerbino (doormat) made out of corks by my friend Dana.

My post “Murder the Moonshine: Considerations on Corkiness” generated some interesting comments last week. I’ve made a selection below. Also, be sure to check out Brooklynguy’s excellent post on corkiness, where he speaks with candor uncommon in the world of wine blogging, and Craig Camp’s I’m-as-mad-as-hell frustration with cork taint in a favorite Chablis.

The bottom line? The issue of cork taint in “on-premise” (restaurant) sales remains a conundrum.* There’s no easy solution.


The practice of handing the recently disengorged cork to the customer is equally confusing, since no one seems to know what to do. Sniff it, squeeze it, taste it?


Many people will object to the sommelier tasting the wine first, especially at today’s prices. On whether the wine is corked, sensitivity to corkiness will vary among persons, if the sommelier isn’t especially sensitive to corkiness it presents a problem to a customer who is.


It would be nice to see some of the more ridiculous aspects of so-called wine etiquette erased from Western dining culture. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this problem only seems to occur in countries without a long wine tradition (e.g., the USA and the UK).


It always presents an odd situation when you are forced to determine, immediately after the bottle is open, while conversation at the table has stopped, to tell whether a bottle is flawed. Sometimes it’s immediately obvious, but many times not. I hate that feeling after I’ve “approved” a wine and then consumed 1/3 of the bottle only to have a serious flaw to appear with aeration. Of course knowledgeable wine staff will get it, but less experienced servers will undoubtedly be confused…

Tracie B.:

I say yes, isn’t this the job of the sommelier? BUT, in restaurants without one (read: most of the ones I patronize), I would certainly prefer to determine this myself. Waitstaff is typically sorely undereducated, much more than some of them seem to think.


I always feel like I am being asked to perform a slightly embarrassing role in this – I completely agree, anachronistic – ritual. The sommelier pours the wine, and I am expected to knowingly swirl, sniff, quaff, pretending to know what I am tasting for (I haven’t a clue) and the sommelier pretends to defer to my educated judgment (no doubt sniggering inwardly at my obvious confusion.) It is a useless exercise and I always imagine a laugh track somewhere in the background at my expense.


Bring back the classic tastevin!

* “At the time of the Enlightenment, the OED reports, the word gained a sense of ‘a riddle in the form of a question the answer to which involves a pun or play on words.’ In modern times, the punning sense of conundrum atrophied, unfortunately for wordplayers, leaving only the sense of helpless speculation. The meaning is now ‘a question whose answer can only be guessed at.’ Where in antiquity did Ben Jonson find the word? Lexicographers throw up their harmlessly drudging hands and say, ‘Origin obscure’; the etymology of conundrum can best be described by itself.”
— William Safire