Stop chasing trophy bottles on the cheap
I FORGED a wine once. Back in the early 1990s I was working at a bottle shop with a small selection of posh booze. A few old Granges, a couple of expensive First Growths from Bordeaux: Margaux, Mouton, that kind of thing.
It wasn’t the busiest shop. Most of the clientele were more interested in discount offers on cheap fizz. So we had plenty of time to think up ways to pass the time.
Which is why one day I found myself soaking the label off a $5 bottle of cabernet and replacing it with — even if I do say so myself — a remarkably good copy of a 1961 Latour.
After all, I figured, if you’re going to go to the trouble of faking a wine label — even if you are only doing it with a 4B pencil and a red biro — you might as well fake a classic vintage from a top chateau.
I rolled the bottle around in dust to give it that well-cellared look, placed it on the top shelf with the real clarets, and put a twenty-buck price sticker on it.
It was just a bit of fun, I thought. Nobody would possibly be fooled by my little game.
But you’d be amazed how many people — particularly older, more knowledgeable customers who should’ve known better — would spot the fake Latour as they were browsing and do a double take.
It was just a bit of fun, I thought. Nobody would possibly be fooled by my little game
They’d carefully take the bottle from the shelf and cradle it longingly in their palm.
You could almost hear them thinking: “But — that’s the famous 61! I’ve read about that in Parker ... And it’s only 20 bucks ... I can’t believe my luck ...” — despite the fact that the capsule was clearly the wrong colour, the bottle was clearly too light, too cheap, and the vintage date clearly looked like it had been written in red biro.
It always surprised me how long it would take for people to reluctantly put the bottle back on the shelf. They so badly wanted the wine to be a bargain ’61 Latour, they were prepared to ignore their nagging doubts to convince themselves it was. (And they often looked so crestfallen when they finally admitted to themselves it wasn’t, so I soon put a halt to the game.)
I remembered this episode when I was writing an article for last week ( The Australian’s Personal Oz on Tuesday, August 26) about master forger Rudy Kurniawan, recently sentenced in the US to 10 years in jail for selling millions of dollars worth of fake wines.
Rudy’s forgeries, unlike my amateur effort, were very good: he would go to great lengths to fool his clients.
But, as is so often the case, he made some stupid mistakes and doubts about the authenticity of the wines began to emerge.
The thing is, those doubts emerged as early as 2007 — but Rudy wasn’t arrested until 2012.
In the meantime, ultra-rich collectors of ultrafine wine so badly wanted Rudy’s trophy bottles to be real that they continued to ignore the clear and obvious warning signs. And lost millions of dollars as a result.