Cape Gazette
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Wine

Educate yourself to avoid becoming a victim of wine fraud

By John MacDonald | Jan 14, 2013

Rudy may be coming to trial soon. Rudy Kurniawan, an alleged wine fraud perpetrator, recently had his request to throw out evidence suggesting he produced rare, old, pricey, highly regarded French wine from less expensive lots, refused. It is alleged he produced wines by blending wine, including some from other countries and disparate components to achieve the correct profile, similar to the way nonvintage wine is produced, then rebottling in a lab in his home using old bottles, labels and corks. He lost the appeal back in November. I have been waiting to hear more before reporting on this, but recent rumors out of the wine industry indicate the fraud may go quite a bit deeper. In the past, I have tried to remind you folks to avoid buying very expensive old wine unless you were completely informed. Kurniawan’s case will prove again that it is possible for informed tasting “experts” to be fooled.

Kurniawan was not charged through expert panels of tasters but rather for careless research regarding production that he applied to forged labels and the bottling process. Initially he was uncovered by a very adept investigator named Maureen Downey. Downey was verbally thrashed by many well-known wine critics for her exposure of Kurniawan, before he slipped up with the labeling. She actually discovered this alleged fraud years before the labeling issue confirmed her charges. You can read her insightful work on the net by sourcing her name. I particularly enjoyed this quote: “High-end wine fraud is rampant, growing and it affects everyone. I hear there’s more ’82 Pétrus sold in Vegas every year than was ever produced. But it’s wrong to assume that wine fraud affects only the very wealthy. When a retailer gets burned, when there’s an increased risk involved, or they have to make refunds, they pass those expenses on. It’s a lot easier to charge a dollar more on a $9 bottle and sell 10,000 of those than it is to double the price on a $10,000 bottle.”

I realize most readers don’t play in this market, but most of my email comes from those who do. So, I am compelled to pass it along. I am curious if RP’s recent sale of a major stake in WA for $15 million last month has anything to do with this situation. More later as the facts unwind.

If you are dabbling in cellaring and buying old wine, please take time to read this article by Downey. She hits most of the bases in a succinct yet comprehensive fashion: http://www.wine-searcher.com/m/2012/12/caution-old-wines-fraud-downey.

In a tangential area, the 2009 Bordeaux is falling off a cliff in price. It looks like Robinson’s and Tanzer’s critiques were more accurate than many others. It is instructive that, in the face of Chinese buying, the prices have shed 25 percent of their auction excitement value. Perhaps it is due to the 2010s coming on market with equal brouhaha. I am not, by the way, backing off from my recommendation that it is nearly impossible to buy bad 2009 Bordeaux. Rather, I am reinforcing my recommendation to look way down into the price scheme to find wonderful wine that you can cellar and drink. Cellaring of 2009s is called for, and when those 2010s hit the street it will be time to buy. You will note that the carefully chosen 2008s are regaining value, as well. Check out the disparity from first label L’Eglise-Clinet 2009, RP 99, Tanzer 95, Robinson 17.5/20; $5,500 for a case of 12. McD did not waste the money, and second label La Petite Eglise 2009, I bought post release in December 2010 for $410/case. I rate it 89-92 points and think it will improve with a few years’ cobwebs. Folks, I am 100 percent sure you will get more than 13 times the enjoyment from 160 bottles consumed over 12 years than a bottle per year of the first label. Buying and drinking wine is about bang for the buck. High-end buyers often equate, in my world, with the guy who buys a Van Gogh, then locks it in a vault because he fears theft. Give me the dogs playing poker.

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