“Every bottle tells its own story, and you literally never know what you have until you pour a sample,” said Peter Gago, chief winemaker for Penfolds.
Gago’s Australian twang may have been conversational as he conducted a recorking clinic for Jay Ducharme and his family, which I wrote about in today’s column, but over the course of 20 minutes, Gago conducted a mini-clinic that would have fascinated wine geeks. He touched on the importance of proper storage and provenance for keepsake wines, whether you want to drink them at a special occasion 20 years from now or sell them at auction.
After the foil capsule was torn off Ducharme’s 1996 Grange, Gago noticed streaks of red showing through the cork, still in the bottle. Those “travel lines” could be a potential problem, he said. “People blame the cork for everything ... the cork is the barometer, showing the symptoms.
“Fixed volume, 750 mil; increase the temperature, increase the internal pressure,” Gago said, holding the bottle sideways as though it were stored on a wine rack and motioning up and down with his free hand. “Oscillate the temperature, and you end up with a piston pump on the cork, and guess what? The cork starts to leak, and everyone blames the cork. It’s the provenance. It’s the cellaring.”
After the recorking of Ducharme’s 1996 Grange, I asked Gago about the current state of Australian wine. The country is supposedly in a vino-crisis, with overproduction and corporate consolidation hurting Australia’s market share in the United States (other than Yellow Tail, of course).
Gago was steadfastly optimistic, chalking up Australia’s wine woes to market cycles, nothing more. After all, he was scheduled to → about 150 bottles a few days later in New Orleans.
Australian wine today, he told me, is seeking out new growing regions in colder climates, such as Margaret River and Tasmania, the source for most of Penfolds’s Yattarna chardonnay. He offered me a taste — it was bracingly mineral, with some of the tropical fruit flavors that have come to define Australian chardonnay, and yet the structure kept that fruitiness in check. It was a sit-up-and-take-notice type of wine. At more than $100 a bottle, it won’t make Recession Busters anytime soon.
While the recorking clinic focused on older Penfolds reds, Gago was optimistic about Australia’s wine future.
“Australia’s Montrachet vineyard may still be out there and isn’t planted yet,” he said, a gleam of excitement in his eye.