Old wine is fascinating. Bottles with some age are like singular little time capsules, message in a bottle from a specific place and time. So what happens to these sleeping beauties when you have to replace old corks with new closures?
This “refurbishing” is very common with older wines- the bottles are opened and topped off with wine from the same vintage, then re-sealed with new corks to further protect the ageing process. There is always a lot of discussion around what this process does to the wine. I found it all very interesting, but didn’t have much of any opinion until I had the chance to taste the difference between a bottle with a refurbished cork, and on without.
I tasted a bottle of 1964 Borgono Barolo in Seattle with a clearly refurbished cork. The wine was surprisingly bright, totally clear and almost without sediment. There were beautiful dusty dried rose petal notes you’d expect from an older Barolo, as well as those earthy undertones common in old-world Nebbiolo. The fruit had begun to fall out, but the acidity was still piercing and delightful.
On the other hand, When I had the chance to taste a bottle of 1961 Borgogno with an original cork, the wine just about stopped my heart. Initially when we opened the wine the scent of dried shitake mushrooms and truffles almost filled the room. These aromatics eventually gave way to classic tones of violets and sotto bosco (forest floor). Acidity was delightful, and plenty of fruit remained. Is the difference in the cork?
The answer is, I don’t really know. It is a tough comparison to make- these wines were not tasted side by side, and they were not even from the same vintage. There are a myriad reasons why the 1961 showed better than the 1964, and only one of them is the potential effect of “original versus refurbished” cork. However it certainly does make me think.
This is another example of wine’s great mysterious pleasures. Intellect melding with pure sensation. You can never understand it all, and you’ll always be curious for more.