Would you open $180,000 worth of wine?
That's the question a local wine collector has asked himself about his three bottles of 1951 Grange.
The winemakers at Penfolds dub it "The Crying Room" – the allocated space at their biennial Recorking Clinic where people might go to shed a tear, after learning that the collection they thought was worth thousands has been given a dreaded two-white-dot classification.
In chief winemaker Peter Gago's terms, the double white dot is winespeak for, "Don't drink this – it will make you ill. Don't even put it in your balsamic vinegar mix, or it will spoil that too."
Welcome to Penfolds Recorking Clinic, which takes place around Australian cities and overseas, every two years; after finishing in Melbourne on Thursday, it heads to Perth and Adelaide before going on to the USA and Canada. Owners of any Penfolds red wine that's at least 15 years old can come to the clinic for free (provided they have first registered), where their wine will be assessed and – if all goes well – recorked and certified.
This industry-recognised stamp of approval increases the saleability of the bottle, as collector Greg Kilner learned when he brought in his three bottles of 1951 Grange on Tuesday. Made as an experimental release that year – the first bottle of Grange would only be sold commercially in 1952 – it was "remarkably rare," says Gago, who's been working for Penfolds for 25 years.
Before it was recorked, value would have been at $30,000 to $50,000 per bottle, depending on the market. After the clinic – "one bottle had the most evocative perfume nose I've ever seen, the other was the best 1951 I've ever tasted," says Gago — a representative from wine auctioneer Langton's deemed each bottle to be worth around $60,000.
Provided that bottles haven't lost too much of their volume, wines are opened, a current vintage of the same wine is added as a top up ("it's about 15 ml, and we've done tests of recorked wines versus ones from our museums – no one can pick the difference"), and they are recorked.
It doesn't always go so well. One family, expecting a wine inheritance, once brought in a vast collection only to discover that the previous generation had stored coffee in the bottles, not wine.
Gago remembers a Brisbane collector arrive with what should have been thousands of dollars worth of wine, only to learn the wine had entirely passed. "I had to ask him, 'Is your cellar a hole in the sand on the beach?"'
Visitors to the clinic vary in both age and seriousness, the latter which can cause a few headaches. Gago remembers one Singapore gentleman arriving with his bodyguards in tow, while another cancelled at the last minute because he was fearful of others seeing the vastness of his collection.
It's not just a financial exercise, either. "For a lot of people, it's as much a drinking investment as a monetary one."
But a single white dot doesn't necessarily equal unhappiness.
"It's still a beautiful drink, just not what that particular bottle is meant to look like," Gago says.
"I tell people to share it with their family at Christmas or over that weekend, and they leave happy. This clinic encourages people to drink wine at the appropriate time.
"All wine ultimately falls away and goes into decline mode. Most people get the point of when to drink it wrong."
And is the crying room really necessary? "We did have a number of people cry in Sydney, but it was tears of joy."