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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Hi, this will settle a bet. Why does a waiter hand you the cork when he/she opens a bottle of wine in a restaurant? What is the history of this tradition?

—Erik P., Greenlawn, N.Y.

Dear Erik,

It began because a long time ago, bottles didn't always have labels, and inspecting a cork for the stamp of the winery was one way to ensure authenticity. Today, you can do all kinds of things with a cork. You bought the wine, so it's yours, after all. You can sniff it (honest, you can) if you think you can learn something from that. Mostly, corks just smell like ... well, like cork. You can squeeze the end to see if it's damp, which might give you a sense if the wine was stored on its side, keeping the cork moist, so hopefully the wine won't be oxidized. But if you wait just a moment, you'll have a chance to actually taste the wine and find out for certain. Most wine drinkers see no value in playing with the cork, but it is a nice tradition, and makes a good souvenir.

—Dr. Vinny

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