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Dear Dr. Vinny,
When the waiter sets the cork on the table, what should you do with it?
—Eddie Stephens, Grand Rapids, Mich.
You paid for the wine; you can do whatever you wish. Some people just check to see that any writing on the cork matches the wine's label—if a cork marked in Italian comes out of a prize Bordeaux, you might have a problem. If you think you can learn something from smelling the cork, go ahead. Sometimes you can pick up the musty aromas of the contaminant TCA from a faulty cork. If you're suspicious about the way the wine was stored, you can touch the end of the cork to see if it's damp—this indicates the wine was stored on its side, which is a good thing (be careful not to stain your hand with any sediment, though). Most folks won't do much with the cork except appreciate the tradition or grab the free souvenir. By the time you run all the options through your head, there should be some wine waiting in your glass for you to taste.
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