If the cork breaks when I open a bottle, does that mean the wine is bad?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

My husband and I were recently at a highly rated restaurant in Colorado. We ordered a 2001 Joseph Drouhin that was at a solid cost, but meant more to our relationship than the price tag. I wanted nothing more than to add the cork to our collection. However, when the waiter opened the bottle, the cork broke in half. The waiter continued to serve the wine. My first question is, is there anything wrong with the situation, and was the injured cork a representation of the wine?

—Autumn H., Rapid City, S.D.

Dear Autumn,

There are a few reasons why a cork might break when opening a bottle, and believe me, it happens to the best of us. Most of the time, it's not that big of a deal. (Sorry about your collection.)

The cork may have started off fragile or dry, and this might mean the wine inside may be prematurely oxidized if the cork shriveled up enough to let some air inside the bottle. But not always.

Some corks are just more absorbent and pliable than others, and older corks tend to be more fragile. (Just like wine advice columnists.) This is why it's a good idea to store wine in humid conditions, while lying on its side so that the wine stays in contact with the cork to keep it nice and moist.

Maybe the cork started off in good shape, but your server was all thumbs. If he or she didn't screw the corkscrew in far enough (or centered well enough), the cork might break because of the way the pressure was applied. In your server's defense, some corks are extra long, and you just don't know when you have an extra-long cork. The corkscrew itself may have been flawed—I notice that thick, dull corkscrews break corks more than thin, pointy ones.

If your cork breaks when you're opening a bottle, try to attack the remaining cork from different angles. If all else fails, push the remaining cork into the bottle, and strain or decant the wine. This also happens to the best of us. Ahem.

—Dr. Vinny

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