Priceless or Worthless? High Stakes Wine Sipping

"Wine is a living, breathing thing," Gago said, while explaining why two bottles from the same vintage tasted differently. "Too many people hold on to wine for too long."

The idea that the older the wine, the better, is not true. At some point, Gago said, a wine passes its prime and should be drunk.

The first thing that Gago and his team look at when evaluating a bottle is the level of the wine. If the wine is lower than it should be, it means that air is getting in and wine is evaporating. For some bottles, that's all the examination that's needed to tell it's still good.

But for most others, the cork is removed, the wine is smelled and tasted. After the winemakers evaluate the bottle, the owner gets to sample the wine before it is resealed and goes back into the owner's cellar.

Gago said there is very minimal risk of ruining a wine by opening and recorking it the way he and his staff do.

"Wines that were recorked 16 years ago we often taste alongside wines at our museum and quite often there is no difference," he said.

Karlitz, whose company produces food and wine festivals and corporate events, first heard about the recorking clinics while at a festival in Aspen. Colo. For him, it seemed like a natural fit. Karlitz loves wine and built a two-story wine cellar in his New Jersey home that opens into his dining room. The cellar's design preserves the wine but also provides a way to showcase it.

So how large of a collection does he have?

"A lot. More than I can ever drink," Karlitz said. "I sort of wince when people ask me. I always say it's quality over quantity."

But just for the record, it's more than 5,000 bottles.

His first recorking clinic was 2003. He came back this year to check up on another set of bottles.

"You taste the collection. You see how your collection has aged," Karlitz said. "It's a conversation piece. It's now having a story to have while serving the wine."

At one point, he took a glass of the 1976 Grange just opened from his collection and carefully held it up to his nose and took a deep whiff.

"I just want to smell it. I don't need to try it," Karlitz said.

But he did try it and was very pleased, and then urged those around him to sample the wine as he talked about its flavor and body.

"Wine drinkers, wine collectors for the most part are a very fun, good group of people," Karlitz said. "I think it stems from ... they like to share wine with people who appreciate it. It's just a nice experience to hang out with them."

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