We were the pioneers in recorking wine about 20 years ago,” said Eric de Rothschild, owner of Château Lafite Rothschild. “We sent our cellarmaster around the world to recork because I was getting very aggravated at our wines not being recorked at the right time…” No longer. Lafite Rothschild and most other Bordeaux first-growths, as well as Burgundy’s Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, now routinely refuse requests to recondition old bottles, which can include replacing the label, foil capsule and cork. It was often a thorny process.
– Wine Spectator, “The Perils of Recorking.” Posted July 25, 2005. http://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/The-Perils-of-Recorking_2639
Only one bottle in my cellar was ever re-corked, a 1927 Cockburn Vintage Port. The job was done by Whitwhams, a London merchant no longer in business. I recommend an expert for re-corking if the wine is old, delicious, fragile and/or valuable – and why would you do it if the wine did not meet at least three of the these criteria? It was Whitwhams’ policy to include the original cork (and capsule, if one existed) in a little plastic bag tied to the neck of the bottle. The original cork was pretty dessicated and fragile but, of course, I only saw it in its post-operative state. I am pleased to report the patient, after many drinker’s accolades beginning in the 1930s and the granting of legendary status by the world’s wine press, proved to be truly splendid and, dare I say, extremely unctious, when it received last rites from me in 1997.
I once thought about having my ‘82 Ch. Lafite Rothschild ‘reconditioned.’ The 1982 Bordeaux are often described as the first ‘modern’ vintage and I worry about this as changes in practice or design often include mistakes and problems. How many of us buy an automobile in the first year of dramatic model modification only to experience unforseen issues? Lafite’s cellarmaster formerly put in appearances every few years in the U.S. to re-cork and top-up bottles originating from his cellar. I decided against the job after trying one of my bottles and finding it, and its cork, sound. As in health care, why risk an operation unless it is really necessary?
Now I wonder if I shouldn’t have had those bottles re-corked when I had the chance. Most wineries in France now refuse to perform this service after a series of bad experiences. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that some enterprising swindler will try to ‘enhance’ a counterfeit wine by getting it reconditioned by the winery itself in order to pass off a fake. What better cachet than the stamp of approval by the real deal? Even if the cellarmaster tastes the wine he is re-corking issues are bound to arise. Who wants to tell the owner of expensive wine that his wine is not what he thought he bought?
If you decide to perform this delicate operation yourself read up on the procedure and have everything at hand when you do it. I would only consider home re-corking if I had half a case or more of the wine and the corks were obviously going. If the ullage, that is, the fill of the bottle, is significantly lower than when shipped I would sacrifice one bottle to ‘top off’ the others. (Sacrifice is hardly the correct word as I would drink the balance of the bottle!)
I have read of people putting glass pellets in the ullaged bottle to bring the fill up to a proper level – or even using a younger wine from the same producer, but this will certainly decrease the monetary value of the wine, if that matters to you. The primary thing to maintain, when re-corking, is wholly antiseptic conditions. When it comes to reconditioning bottles of wine, cleanliness is next to godliness!