French experts recork precious wine collection

25th May 2005, Comments 0 comments

MACAU, May 25 (AFP) - French wine experts recorked the last of a million-dollar batch of more than 500 bottles of a rare Bordeaux at a Macau hotel Wednesday, wrapping up the largest restoration exercise of its kind.

MACAU, May 25 (AFP) - French wine experts recorked the last of a million-dollar batch of more than 500 bottles of a rare Bordeaux at a Macau hotel Wednesday, wrapping up the largest restoration exercise of its kind.  

Two technicians from the venerable Chateau Palmer in south-western France spent three days painstakingly replacing the aged stoppers from the trove, the world's largest known collection of the estate's vaunted 1961 vintage.  

The bottles are kept at the Chinese enclave's Hotel Lisboa, owned by casino tycoon Stanley Ho. His nephew Alan Ho is the general manager and, as one of the world's great wine connoisseurs, in charge of the cellar.  

His batch of Chateau Palmer Bordeaux is thought to represent a large proportion of the remaining bottles of the estate's 44-year-old vintage, only 35,000 bottles of which were ever produced.  

"This collection is a treasure," said Bernard de Laage de Meux, the chateau director accompanying two of its wine experts in Macau. "We were delighted to find such a large collection. It is magnificent."  

The procedure is being carried out to ensure the corks, which deteriorate after around 40 years, do not contaminate the wine, which at auction fetches up to USD 2,000 a bottle.  

"This will prolong the life of the wine and allow future generations to enjoy its wonderful flavour," said De Laage.  

Over three days of meticulous work, the experts carefully removed the ageing stoppers with regular corkscrews and replaced them with newly minted ones bearing the words "Rebouché en 2005" (Recorked in 2005).  

The technicians worked in a specially converted room kept at a constant 16 degrees Celcius, which was filled with the age-dusted bottles, curious ancient corking equipment and the detritus of hundreds of already renovated wines.  

All but a handful of the old corks disintegrated on removal, and the tiny fragments that fell into the luxury tipple had to be removed using tiny strainers inserted into the bottle's neck.  

Each bottle's contents had to be tasted to ensure the wine had not oxidised or corked, souring the smooth wine. New foils were also placed on the bottles.  

De Laage said he had expected some five percent of the batch, or 25 bottles, to have soured. However, by the end of the exercise, just five had to be discarded.  

"That's a rate of 1 percent - a fantastic rate, thanks to the great care with which they have been cellared," said De Laage.  

Another 16 bottles of perfect wine had to be sacrificed, however, to top up the other bottles after samples had been removed. In all, 485 bottles made the cut.  

Chateau Palmer carries out the work free of charge - as a "customer service", says De Laage - and usually perform the task in the chateau at Margaux, in the heart of France's Medoc region.   

But because of the large size of the Macau collection, the estate decided to carry out the work in situ.  

"It has taken us a year to arrange this," said De Laage. "Getting the equipment over, moving the wine from the cellar and getting staff ready. It's a big effort."   

Thomas Duroux, who is both the chateau's general manager and one of the wine technicians, put the scale of the restoration into perspective.  

"We would usually recork no more than 200 bottles of any of our vintages in any year," he said. "Of those, maybe 12 to 24 would be the 1961. So you can see, this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing for us."  

The Hotel Lisboa is an unlikely home for such a sophisticated wine.   

A gaudy confection of yellow stucco and crenulations welded to a neon-lit casino, it sits very much out of place among the territory's shining skyscrapers and Portuguese colonial era villas.  

However, Allen Ho is a man with a passion for wines, who has personally put together the hotel's cellar of more than 2,700 varieties.  

"I wasn't sure about the 1961 for a while because it didn't seem to be drinking well," Ho said, referring to a wine's changeability depending on its maturity.   

"And the last few I tried were not very good. They hadn't been kept well. But then these came up on auction with great provenance and I bought them. I'm glad I did."  

Ho wouldn't reveal how much he paid for them and proclaims to have no idea what they are worth now. The last large sale of the chateau's 1961 vintage, however, fetched USD 24,000 for a case of 12 sold in New York.  

De Laage said the chateau has decided it would recork no more of the 1961 vintage this year as a way of marking the historic Macau recorking.  

"Whenever future generations find the 2005 cork they will know it was recorked here and only here," he said.


Subject: French News





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