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Earlier this week, a piece by Tyler Colman (a.k.a. Dr. Vino) provoked a bit of controversy on Twitter with the assertion that there's no point in sniffing a wine's cork when it's presented in a restaurant. Among those who took issue were Aldo Sohm (superstar sommelier at New York's Le Bernardin) and Jordan Salcito (beverage director for Momofuku). We followed up with Sohm, who offered his view that the cork should be sniffed, at least by sommeliers. Sohm's opinion is that the practice shouldn't be ignored as a technique for detecting 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (a.k.a. TCA), the wine-ruining compound that's responsible for a distinctive musty "corked" smell. "If you have a problem, you always go to the source," says Sohm, "and 90% of the time the source is the cork" (TCA can also affect a wine before bottling, but it's comparatively rare). Won't the wine also smell like TCA? Usually, but sometimes a wine will be affected only slightly, and the cork can offer valuable confirmation that something is wrong. "We had a bunch of sommeliers together for a lunch, and one said he thought the wine was corked," says Sohm. "A very prominent American sommelier grabbed immediately for the cork and smelled it."
Sohm does note that as a person selling wine, not just drinking it, he has a different incentive for catching a corked bottle at the earliest possible moment. But it's still useful to know: Somms trust the cork.