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Penfolds recorking clinic unearths secret Grange

Penfolds winemakers inspected 230 bottles of Penfolds in London yesterday, including one “secret” Grange, at the brand’s first recorking clinic in the UK since 2008.

Peter Gago and Steve Lienert flew into the capital for the clinic, which attracted as many as 30 collectors of Penfolds wines, primarily owners of the brand’s top labels: Grange, St Henri and Bin 707.

Speaking to the drinks business after the clinic had closed, Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago said that recorking customers’ collections always yielded interesting wines.

“There are surprises at every clinic,” he said, before producing a cork from a bottle of 1956 St Henri Shiraz, which had been recorked yesterday for a customer.

“The bottle was beautiful, and we got it just in time,” he added, explaining that the recorking process would arrest deterioration from leakage, although it wouldn’t give the wine an extra lease of life.

Meanwhile, fellow Penfolds winemaker Steve Lienert told db that his highlight of the day was a bottle of 1959 Grange – the last of three “hidden vintages” from Penfolds, so-called because they were made “in secret” by winemaker Max Shubert from 1957-59 when he was forbidden from making the range-topping blend.

Peter Gago at Penfold’s recorking clinic in London’s Berkeley hotel

Describing the bottle as “wonderful”, Lienert said that the wine would have been made without the use of new oak, as Schubert couldn’t order any barrels for the top end blend, which he wasn’t supposed to be making.

Continuing, he said the owner of the wine, who was British, had “stored it well”, adding, “We very rarely see anything from the 50s, so this was a real treat.”

Penfolds has been holding recorking clinics for 22 years, and, as previously reported by db, has recorked and certified around 120,000 bottles.

Any Penfolds wine over 15 years old is eligible for the free service, which sees bottles inspected for leakage or low ullage by Gago and his team of winemakers.

Where necessary, the wines are topped up with a more recent vintage of the same wine, recorked and then wrapped in tissue paper, and Gago stressed that the wines will only ever be recorked once.

If, however, the wine is not in good condition, it is given a “white dot”, and the Penfolds’ winemaking team advises the owner to consume it, or dispose of the wine.

Gago said that recorking clinics held in countries or areas with a cool climate generally yielded wines in better condition.

However, a recorking clinic in Singapore earlier this year featured as many as 450 bottles and, despite the city’s tropical climate, there were almost no rejections.

Gago explained, “In Singapore people either drink the wine the day they buy it, or cellar it properly.”

He also said that the recorking scheme could be called an “authenticity clinic” as it gave Penfolds the chance to discover poor or counterfeit bottles.

As an example, he said he had once assessed a 1964 Penfolds St Henri, which smelt like cold tea – and that’s because, he recalled, “it was cold tea”.

On the other hand, Gago added that he often finds himself persuading collectors not to re-cork their wines because the bottles are in perfect condition.

Next year, Penfolds plan to host recorking clinics in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US, while Gago said he would also like to hold one in Mongolia.

“We haven’t done one in Mongolia yet, but Leighton Holdings and Rio Tinto are there and the people who work for them go there with their wine.”

In total, 230 bottles were recorked, including a rare 1956 St Henri worth AU$7000

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