Wednesday, February 8, 2012

On the Impending Sale of Likely Counterfeit Wines (plus the best sub $10 wine in the world)

Two orders of business today:

1) Talk about the wine that is, in my not so humble opinion, the best sub-$10 wine in the world.
2) Talk about a current firestorm in the world of fine-wine collecting (seriously, this is messy).

One of my favorite categories of wine is the <$10 range.  This is for two reasons.  First, the quality available in this price range has absolutely exploded in the last five years or so.  As wine from increasingly far-reaching places has become mainstream, this price range has become not only drinkable, but occasionally exciting.  In my mind there are several regions that offer extremely good value in this price range:
  • The Rhone Valley in France (specifically basic Cotes du Rhone wines, both white and red)
  • The Languedoc/Rousillon region in France (tons of cheap, well made reds, specifically from Corbieres and Minervois, and roses from Provence)
  • Spanish Garnacha (Grenache) from anywhere in Spain.
  • German Riesling
  • Portuguese Red wines, specifically from the Douro Valley
 Today's wine hits on our second bullet point, though it does so somewhat obliquely.

The 2005 Earl Domaine de la Patience Vin de Pays des Coteaux du Pont du Gard Merlot is both extremely delicious and has a completely inscrutable and intimidating name.  As we've talked about on WOS before, the French wine system is broken down into tiers of increasing quality.  There's Vin de Table, which is the lowest, and the AOC system, which is the highest.  Each of these categories has different levels of governmental regulation.  The AOC system regulates both where a wine comes from and which grape varieties are permitted.  The Vin de Table system merely insists that what is in the bottle is wine that was grown and produced in France.  Somewhere between those two is the VdP, or Vin de Pays, or Country Wine classification.  Basically, this classification allows for wines that are grown outside the geographic boundaries of the AOC system, or which are made with different grape varieties.

This wine is made within the boundaries of the AOC Languedoc in the south of France near Montpellier and Carcassonne.  However, it is made from Merlot, which is not among the varieties permitted in wines to be labeled with the various AOCs of the Languedoc.  Therefore, it must label itself as VdP.  Anyway, enough mindless pontification, let's talk about the wine.

Merlot, as I have mentioned many times previous, is pretty unpopular among those who consider themselves educated about wine.  Basically, overpriced, overoaked, overextracted Cali Merlot from the 90s made it super uncool to drink it.  But, most people forgot that many of the world's most expensive wines are made primarily from Merlot.

This wine punches so far above its $10 price point, it's not even funny.  The nose is completely old-world with plums, leather, and blackberry.  There's an herbal, or garrigue, component of lavender and sage that I often find in wines from the Languedoc.  This is a wine that is good on its own, but is even better with red meat.  Screw buying a $20 cabernet to go with your next steak, seek this one out.  Every time I buy this I wish I had bought a case.  It's one of the only wines that I buy repeatedly.  For those in the area, it's available at Brookline Liquor Mart, and I have no idea where else.  But seriously, drink this wine.  It also benefits from having 7 years of age on it, of which at least 5 have been in bottle.  The tannins are nicely integrated, but the wine is still alive and very much in its prime.

On to the second order of business: major wine fraud about to go down in London.

Recently there has been increasing unrest in the world of fine wine collecting over wine fraud and counterfeiting of bottles.  While this might seem silly, just imagine that some bottles (like a magnum of 1961 Chateau Petrus, for example) can sell for upwards of $50,000 per bottle, and it starts to make some sense.  One of the most documented accounts of this is given in the book The Billionaire's Vinegar which recounts the sale of the world's most expensive bottle of wine (1787 Chateau Lafite allegedly belonging to Thomas Jefferson that sold for $156,000) that turned out to be a fake.  This all traced back to a guy named Hardy Rodenstock who had either made, or sold many bottles of counterfeit wine at auction, duping many leading critics along the way.

So, it was with interest that I've watched this thread develop on WineBerserkers.  Don Cornwell, a Burgundy expert was examining the catalog of an upcoming Auction in London which included many lots of extremely rare vintages of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti.  For frame of reference, we're talking wines that carry price tags north of $10,000 per bottle.  He noticed some discrepancies in the minute details of the labels (for instance, the typeface on a single 4 being wrong) and quickly contacted the auction house to let them know.  He learned that the consignor behind the wines was acting as an agent for a man named Rudy Kurniawan.  Kurniawan had a history of passing counterfeit wines at auction (most notably lots of Ponsot burgundy that purported to come from vintages that Ponsot never produced).  Long story short, even when confronted with all of this, the auction house has refused to stop the sale.  They have pulled some of the most egregious lots, but it's my opinion that once the provenance of one of these lots is called into question, any lots from this consignor must be removed.  Most likely, the auction house paid a substantial advance to the consignor and now has to recoup money from the auction in order to pay off creditors.  Regardless, it will be interesting to watch this develop, as the sale is today.

Happy drinking!