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A (re-)corking good time for wines

In the wine auction world, provenance has become paramount in recent years. Worried that that pricey bottle may not contain what it says on the label? Concerned that the expensive vintage will still taste superb? A re-corking clinic could be the answer.
/ Source: Reuters

Worried that that pricey bottle of wine may not actually contain what it says on the label? Concerned that the expensive vintage will still taste superb? A re-corking clinic could be the answer.

Re-corking and certification of a fine bottle of wine by experts can also add value to it.

“I wanted to see what I had,” said New York advertising executive Jerry Roberts who took a bottle of '69 Penfolds Grange and an '81 Grange to a re-corking clinic in New York.

After testing both bottles, Penfolds' chief winemaker Peter Gago told him he should drink the '69 Grange, which could have fetched more than $500 at auction if it had not been tested, for Christmas or New Year's.

But the 1981 Grange, a powerful, purplish wine that last sold at auction for $400 a bottle, could easily handle another 15 years and was certified.

In the wine auction world, a bottle's provenance has become paramount in recent years.

Gago held the wine re-corking clinic in New York where customers brought their bottles to be assessed and certified — but only it they met the standards of Gago's palette.

“We have two ulterior motives for doing this,” said Gago who had just returned from Europe.

“First, it takes bad wines out of the system, and second we get to meet our customers and they get a chance to taste what it is they have,” he explained.

Since 1991 he had tasted some 95,000 bottles of Grange, which people collect but also drink.

During the free, appointment-only service, he carefully extracted the corks from Roberts' bottles with a specially made double corkscrew. After no more than 15 milliliters (0.5 ounces) is poured he immediately shoots inert gas into the bottle's neck to drive out any oxygen — wine's enemy - and puts a stopper in place while the sample is tasted.

Gago tasted more than 200 bottles during the eight-hour session.

“While the '69 is a fine wine, it's just not quite at the level we look for. It's just past. You really should have that with a nice meal fairly soonish. Perhaps Christmas or Boxing Day or New Year's,” he told Roberts.

“But this '81 is just fine. It's everything it should be and I will gladly certify that one,” he added while entering Roberts' name and the bottle's number into a notebook that will be entered into a data base at the winery.

Gago's assistant topped up both bottles with the current Grange vintage while he reassured Roberts that the '69 will be a fine accompaniment to dinner.

Other winemakers offer re-corking to their clients, but only Penfolds brings the clinic to its customers in cities around the world. Each bottle of wine can only be certified once.

“From a purist's perspective, yes, you can't deny the fact that you've put in 15 ml or less. But what would you prefer? Leakage, seepage, or great wine that should go another 20 or 30 years?”

As he spoke, his assistant injected the '81 bottle again with inert gas, quickly fitted a cork with the Penfolds mark on it and with the help of a specially made machine inserted it in the bottle. Another machine put the foil, or capsule, on the neck before it was wrapped and presented to Roberts.

His '69 was also re-corked but not with the Penfolds mark or foil.

Was he disappointed with the decision for the "69 bottle?

“I've just been told,” he said with a wry smile, “that I'm going to have to have this lovely bottle for dinner soon. I don't feel too bad about that.”