Admittedly on a "I seem to remember reading" basis, I thought this was done by wineries only after a minimum age of 20, and performed as a 'precautionary' measure. I know of no way to determine the expected 'life span' of a cork or where it is presently, within its' life span.
Penfolds will not do a recork on any wine less than 15 years old. Another article here (probably only available to subscribers of WS Online) discusses some chateaux, including Lafite and DRC, routinely refusing requests to recork. They seemed to be seeing a lot of questionable wines, and refused to give creedence to suspect bottles by reconditioning and recorking them.

As far as knowing the conditon or quality of the cork, that's tough. I would be willing to bet that most producers of wines that have a track history of ageability probably learned long ago that shortcutting on cork quality was not a wise business strategy. If you have bottles you're concerned about, the only way to get any idea would be to remove the capsule and check the cork visually.

PH
Lafite sends people from the winery to NYC every 5-10 years to recork their wines at no charge. They top off with wine of the same vintage if possible.

Latour recommends recorking every 25 years.

I've never had a wine recorked and have only had one First Growth that was ruined due to a cork failure- a 1961 Latour. First Growth corks, Latour in particular, seem to be a bit longer and hold up well. I have had a few madeirized older Bordeaux, 1929 Lafite unfortunately comes to mind, but the cork appeared intact, no leak was evident, and the fill was good.

Removing a capsule might give you an idea of how much time you have before the cork doesn't seal well anymore, something you might guage based on how far up the cork the discoloration extends. Other than that, you take your chances with older wines. I try to inspect my older wines periodically for any signs of potential cork failure, but it's inexact at best.
quote:
Originally posted by marcb7:
OK, but what would I look for? I am concerned if I buy something with 15-20 yrs of age on it, how the heck will i know if the cork will hold up until that "special" occassion.


Buying aged wines at retail or at auction is always a gamble. There are only three things that can give you any kind of peace of mind. Provenance, provenance and provenance. Even then, you risk dissapointment.

PH
quote:
Originally posted by Board-O:
Lafite sends people from the winery to NYC every 5-10 years to recork their wines at no charge. They top off with wine of the same vintage if possible.

Latour recommends recorking every 25 years.

I've never had a wine recorked and have only had one First Growth that was ruined due to a cork failure- a 1961 Latour. First Growth corks, Latour in particular, seem to be a bit longer and hold up well. I have had a few madeirized older Bordeaux, 1929 Lafite unfortunately comes to mind, but the cork appeared intact, no leak was evident, and the fill was good.

Removing a capsule might give you an idea of how much time you have before the cork doesn't seal well anymore, something you might guage based on how far up the cork the discoloration extends. Other than that, you take your chances with older wines. I try to inspect my older wines periodically for any signs of potential cork failure, but it's inexact at best.


Board-O, the further the discoloration extends the more chance of cork failure?

Do you or anyone else know if most bordeaux wines that can go the long haul, ie: 15+yrs use better quality corks in anticipation of full maturity? Is there anyway to find out what a particular chateau would recommend for the corks longevity?
quote:
Originally posted by marcb7:
Board-O, the further the discoloration extends the more chance of cork failure? Yes

Do you or anyone else know if most bordeaux wines that can go the long haul, ie: 15+yrs use better quality corks in anticipation of full maturity?
I believe so. The corks in the best Bordeaux are clearly longer than those in the lesser wines (in most cases).


Is there anyway to find out what a particular chateau would recommend for the corks longevity?
You can email them. I don't worry much about this, especially in wines I'm not planning on hoilding til they're 25 years old.
marcb7 - all wineries, whether in Europe or the US or Australia, can select their corks and those who expect their wines to last generally make an attempt to get better corks. After all, it's counterproductive for them to skimp on the cork if they aren't competing in the low-end market.

There are several indicators. One is the length of the cork. Also, the fewer lenticels, which are those small crevices and crannys, the better the cork. Because cork is bark, and as such is quite variable, the conditions in which the tree is grown will affect the product, much like the oak forest affects the barrels and within that, the individual trees are selected for their characteristics. So the salesman will have his corks available by grade and will offer different grades that the winery can select. It's not dissimilar from buying wood.

In addition to that, there are other tests - e.g. some winemakers will take a handful of corks and put them in a container of wine or water for a few days. If they then detect any off odors, they reject the entire lot.

So say you have a 2 inch cork that's top quality. It might cost you say, $1.50 and the cork salesman will suggest that it's good for at least 10 years. Alternatively, you can buy the 30 cent cork that he suggests for short-term keeping, or the 1 3/4 inch cork that's about ninety cents. Depending on your purchase volume, you pay a little more or less. But overall, as the wine gets more expensive, the cork price becomes increasingly insignificant. And in a gossipy place like Bordeaux, the guy using the cheap corks will be "outed" pretty quickly, so they all use decent corks.

Supposedly.

But it's interesting to ask them those questions - in CA I've heard people screaming about their competitors because they feel that crappy corks bring down the entire industry.

But as Bord-o said, it is an inexact science for sure. And because there is so much individual variability, there is almost no way to predict the lifespan of your bottle.

Personally, if a bottle is 15 yrs or so, I'm real careful with the cork. And I wouldn't trust a winery with giving me an honest life expectancy for their corks - I'm not sure that they really can. It would be interesting to talk to some cork sellers and see who bought the cheap ones, although it would probably kill their business if they told you.

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