If you have ever ordered a bottle of wine at a worthwhile restaurant (note to poor people, watch an episode of Frasier and come right back) you have experienced the wine pouring ritual. It’s when your waitron or sommelier liberates a cork from your favorite vintage, presents it to you, then pours a small portion of into your glass.
Let us explain how you are doing this wrong.
First recall that this pomp and circumstance is a holdover from days of yore when every merchant was trying to rip you off, all the time, everywhere. To ensure that what you ordered was indeed what you received—and not a dearly-labelled bottle dunked into a bucket of Charles Shaw—a trustworthy establishment would open your bottle at the table as proof.
Then they would hand you the cork. These were often stamped with a vineyard’s brand, and thus represented another safeguard against wine fraud. But like other old-timey concerns like merkin maintenance and ether addiction, it’s not much of an issue anymore.
So when your probably-mustachioed server hands you a cork, you should be checking for cork taint. (Stop snickering.) If the cork is wet, mushy or crumbly, you’re in trouble. If the cork is dry, put it aside and taste the wine. You may also take the cork home for your personal collection, provided you are some kind of a simple idiot.
Third, and this is the part you’re doing wrong, is the tasting. Many diners will swirl the sample in their mouth cavity, furrow their brow, and offer to the sommelier (who hates you, you know) something like “Yes, mm, lovely!” He doesn’t care. This is not a taste test, it is an inspection. If your wine smells or tastes moldy, reminiscent of damp newspaper or a stack of three-day-old towels in a banya, it’s gone off. It should be easy to detect a “corked” bottle by smell alone, but tasting will certainly confirm it.
If a wine is corked you may send it back for another. If however, it tastes too buttery or oaky, you’re a boob who ordered Chardonnay like our perpetually stunned, be-necklaced aunt in Petaluma. You’re stuck with it and would do well to go with a Sauvie B next time.