Finely aged wine is one of life’s great pleasures. As with anything elderly, it has to be treated with proper care and respect. Many casual drinkers believe that you can just cellar the stuff and let time take care of the rest. But that sort of handling takes for granted a vital component of the aging process: the cork. The most traditional of wine enclosures can actually be quite an undependable variable. In the worst of cases they can dry out or decompose allowing the liquid within to be overly-oxidized and effectively ruined.
Even if the cork is up to snuff, some vintages just don’t stand up to the test of time as well as initially intended. You won’t really know until you open the bottle and pour. That is, unless that bottle is a premium offering from Penfolds.
Since 1991, the legendary winery out of South Australia has afforded a roving re-corking program to its fans across the globe. The unique service acts as a complimentary health check: bring in any Penfolds and their team of experts will delicately remove the stopper, organoleptically evaluate the contents, cap it in inert gas to fend off oxygen, and reapply a new enclosure before sending you on your way.
In the 32 years since the program was launched, over 130,000 bottles have been evaluated by their nomadic team of oenophiles, across four continents. Peter Gago has been chief winemaker for the brand for majority of those years. And when he’s not busy crafting the juice in Adelaide, he makes it his duty to hop around the globe, leading these so-called “Recorking Clinics.” He sat down with Forbes at a recent one in Los Angeles, California, to discuss the endeavor.
Tell us more about the Recorking Clinic.
Peter Gago: “Recorking Clinics are the ultimate luxury aftercare service to assess and ‘repair’ Penfolds red wines aged 15 years or older, and provide an educational element around provenance and cellaring. The experience allows wine owners a holistic and engaging experience with the winemaker and their prized bottle of wine. Indeed, every bottle tells a story, and there are many stories to be told !”
How do collectors know when they’re being offered?
PG: “We recommend joining our mailing list on the Penfolds website to be notified when the next Clinics is scheduled in your closest city. Collectors are invited to sign up for the Clinic via personalized one-on-one appointments to meet with Penfolds winemakers.”
What happens during these appointments?
PG: “Wines are visually inspected, opened, quality assessed, topped, certified, and re-capsuled. Prized bottles are ‘cliniced’, arresting any further deterioration due to leakage or low levels. In order to properly preserve the opened bottle, the team uses inert gas protection and a 300-pound stet-of-the-art recorking machine that has been shipped from Australia. This process also offers our valued and loyal wine collectors signed certification, allowing their wines to be appraised onsite.”
What makes this program so unique?
PG: “Penfolds has the distinction of being the only winery to offer this service in situ, and it remains complimentary to wine lovers right around the world. After almost a third of a century of global Recorking Clinics Penfolds still advocates that great wines are to be enjoyed at their best – whether that be at a primary, secondary, tertiary phase of bottle development. Resultingly this program advises collectors when to actually—or optimally—drink the bottles of wine physically presented at the Clinic – ideally to not let them sit and ultimately decline in the cellar.”
Beyond the recorking itself, what else can fans expect from the experience?
PG: “It’s much more than a health-check for your wine. This global program allows collectors a personal opportunity to meet the winemaker, recount the wine’s history, discuss drinking-windows, cellaring tips, and so much more. These Clinics are an opportunity to engage first-hand with almost 180 years of continuous Penfolds winemaking learnings & endeavor.”
Where are they most commonly hosted?
PG: “Penfolds Recorking Clinics are offered globally in major cities, including Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei, Singapore, Stockholm, London, Munich, Miami, Houston, NYC, LA, SF, Toronto, Montreal & Vancouver. However, the number of Clinics offered is very limited. We urge enthusiasts interested in attending to not miss out the next time a Recorking Clinic is being hosted nearby.”