The server opens the bottle and hands the cork to someone at the table. The recipient sniffs the cork and gives a tumbs up! How to look silly without really trying, after this!
It’s kind of like what you might do if you were suddenly face to face with the Pope… Do you bow? Curtsey? Oh, I know, kiss his ring. It’s fun to observe someone who has just been handed a cork that’s been freed from the bottle—and was caught off guard. I’m not sure why most people do it, but the temptation to sniff that cork seems to be the strongest instinct.
Unfortunately, the truth is, that whiff provides no information, unless perhaps you feel the need to verify that the beverage being served really is wine.
There are, however, two important things you CAN learn from examining the cork. First, the insignia on the cork serves as identification and authentication that the wine in the bottle is what it says on the label.
Second, the bottom of the cork should be moist and discolored by the wine, indicating that the bottle was stored horizontally. Doing so keeps the cork moist and swollen, preventing air from seeping in and oxidizing the wine.
None of this requires you to put your nose where it doesn’t belong. But I have to admit, I do love the smell of cork. Beats sniffing glue!