bottles, taste the wine to determine its
state of evolution and optimal drinking
window, and certify exemplary bottles for
Consumers are invited to submit Penfolds
red bottles that are at least 15 years old. The
re-corking team, led by Chief Winemaker
Peter Gago, then removes and tastes a tiny
amount of each wine.
Bottles that have suffered no damage
over the years from heat, faulty storage,
premature oxidation or any other mishap
are topped with 15 cubic centiliters of the
current vintage of the same wine. (“No more
than that,” says DLynn Proctor, Penfolds
winemaking ambassador for the Americas,
“or you’ll change the wine’s DNA.”) They’re
re-corked and certified as sound.
Those that don’t pass the taste test are re-corked, but receive no certification. Instead,
they’re marked with a dreaded white dot.
A Tough Standard
Gago has suffered through afternoons during which he rejected more than half of the
bottles he inspected, festooning dots like
Jackson Pollock. “We hate to do it, but what
we’re doing is improving the gene pool of
existing Penfolds wine,” he says.
Re-corking clinics tend to be emotional
events. It isn’t just that bottles certified as
sound spike higher in investment value
while those blemished with dots become
close to worthless. Wine that has been saved
for years typically carries great personal significance. “Every bottle is a story,” Gago says.
“At these clinics, we hear all the stories.”
This clinic was especially crucial to
De Bellevue, who’d been waiting for it for
years. Since first tasting Grange during a visit
to Australia in 1978, he has purchased two
12-bottle cases of it annually.
Penfolds holds at least two clinics in North
America almost every year, but these tend to
be in large cities with concentrations of collec-
tors. De Bellevue had attended clinics in New
York and Dallas, but only had a single bottle
of wine re-corked as a trial run. “It’s just too
hard to get the wine anywhere,” he said. “Even
to drive it somewhere close, like Houston, is
nearly impossible. I can’t fit it in my car, so I’d
need to rent a truck. What if it broke down?”
The vision of his wine sitting for hours by
the side of the road in searing heat made him
shudder. “I can’t have that happen,” he said.
Now Gago and his team finally had agreed
to come to New Orleans, which meant that
De Bellevue had the opportunity to get his
bottles appraised and resealed. In the coming months, the Penfolds staff would confirm
that his was the largest single cache of bottles
that had ever been brought to a clinic in
America. Decades of painstakingly curating
his collection were on the line.
But there was another reason De Bellevue
felt apprehensive. Five years earlier, his entire
1,000-bottle stash was abandoned for three
weeks when Hurricane Katrina hit New
Orleans. Day after day, the outside tempera-
ture hit 90 degrees. And even a brief expo-
sure to heat can ruin wine.
“I’d tried some bottles in the years since
Katrina and hadn’t encountered problems,
but you never know for sure,” he said. “I was
concerned, especially for the older ones.”
He stood inside the hotel ballroom try-
ing not to show his nerves. “We expected
the worst,” Gago recalls.
The oldest bottles came first, Gago’s
usual procedure. De Bellevue had brought
in a rare bottling. It was a 1967 Penfolds
Bin 7 Cabernet-Shiraz blend he’d picked up
on the secondary market. That bottle was
so obviously sound, it didn’t even need to
be opened. “It was in pristine condition,”
Gago says. “That was a great sign.”
Few others looked as good. But as Gago
worked his way through the collection, the
vast majority of De Bellevue’s wines reached
at least the minimum standard for certifica-
tion. De Bellevue’s sigh of relief probably
could have been heard in Baton Rouge.
“You do get occasional bottles that just
aren’t up to par,” De Bellevue says. “Two of
mine were like that, a ’ 75 and a ’ 77.”
But even a flawed Grange can still be a de-
licious bottle of wine. Gago advises owners
of bottles with white dots to drink them as
soon as possible, before they can deteriorate
further. De Bellevue took the advice to heart.
“I brought them to my favorite restaurant
that weekend and drank them, just like they
told me to,” he says. “They were fabulous.”
De Bellevue buys more Grange each year
than he drinks, but he has no intention of
cutting back. He’s already planning on his
next wave of bottles to be re-corked. In five
years, he estimates, he’ll have at least 100
more bottles that meet the age requirement.
“I told Peter,” he says, “that he’ll have to
come back.” [
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IS IT TIME?
To find out if there will be a re-corking event near you, visit
penfolds.com for a schedule of locations. The JWM Wine Club®
was created in partnership with Treasury Wine Estates to
complement our guests’ passion for wine with an in-home
wine-tasting experience. Visit JWMWineClub.com for details.