Stop chas­ing tro­phy bot­tles on the cheap

The Weekend Australian - Life - - FOOD & WINE -


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.

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