Wine & sympathyThe winemaker will see you now
By Christopher Waters, QMI Agency
Penfolds is the rare producer where the job description for its winemakers includes playing therapist for its customers. Since 1991, the famous Australian winery has traveled the world and recorked nearly 100,000 bottles of its wines.
These free clinics are open to anyone with Penfolds wines that are 15 years or older. Currently the team is evaluating wines from the 1995 vintage and beyond.
Bottles brought to the clinic are examined and, possibly, tasted. If found to be in perfect condition, they are topped up with the most recent vintage of the same wine, recorked and given a special sticker of authenticity signed by chief winemaker Peter Gago. The sticker carries a unique number that goes into a registry monitored by Penfolds.
If the wine is faulted, the bottle is marked with a white dot and recorked with an unbranded cork. No matter how rare or expensive, the wine's value nosedives.
Penfolds most recent recorking clinic took place September 24 at the Windsor Arms Hotel in downtown Toronto. Collectors and restaurateurs brought in more than 235 bottles to be assessed by Gago and his winemaking team.
The day-long session proved to be a pleasurable experience for most who received a clean bill of health for their treasured bottles and got a chance to taste the new lineup of Penfolds' top wines.
Gago, who praised the wine cellars of the Canadian participants, said there had been a very low strike rate. The wines were in very good condition. Over the years, he admitted, he has experienced all sorts of reactions from anxious consumers.
At a recent recorking clinic in Melbourne, Australia, Gago met with a 26 year old who had flown across the country to bring two treasured bottles of Penfolds' top wine, Grange. One was from his birth year, 1984. The other was a family heirloom handed down to him by his grandfather, a bottle of the 1955 Grange, which has been hailed as one of the greatest wines of the 20th century by Wine Spectator magazine.
Gago didn't like the look of the 1955 bottle. The level was low, down the shoulder of the bottle. "I wasn't overly optimistic about it," Gago recalled. "So, we did the 1984 first."
Thankfully, that bottle proved to be in good shape. Gago heaved a sigh of relief. "That's good news, I thought. At least, his flight was worth it for that bottle."
He opened the 1955 and poured some of the brownish liquid into a glass and braced for the worst.
But when he brought the glass up to his nose, the wine was a perfect expression of the 1955 Grange, with characteristic chocolate and fig notes.
"You can't always tell by a wine's colour," Gago said. "This was one of the very best bottles of the 1955 I had ever encountered.
"At the end of our session, he didn't walk out of the room as much as he hovercrafted out. He was floating off of the floor."
Wine of the Week:
Penfolds 2008 Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet
BC $16.99 | AB MB $15.99 | ON $16.55 (285544)
Penfolds is justifiably famous for its luxury wines and premium collection of so-called Bin wines, such as the $35-plus Bin 389 Shiraz Cabernet. The winery's entry-level Koonunga Hill Shiraz-Cabernet is equally of interest under winemaker Peter Gago's watch. This well-made, concentrated red offers much the same joy as Penfolds' pricier offerings.