There was a great deal of twitter and wine forum hoo-har last week surrounding an auction. You can read the hoo-har here. It essentially revolves around the authenticity of a number of bottles, notably from the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, and the possible consignor of said bottles. It’s all rather interesting if only because the suggestion of a bit of murky trading always is. And it’s all been covered comprehensively enough as far as I’m concerned.
Journalists always like to ask about faked wines – it’s a story, and it’s why this auction has got so much attention. Though the truth is that the noise that surrounds the discovery of some counterfeit bottles tends to distort the size of the problem, at least here in the UK. In fifteen or so years, yes, I’ve seen a couple of fakes and I’ve seen plenty of pictures of fakes but – really – is there a problem? I don’t really think so.
So – what gets faked? I like cars and watches and the two things that spring to mind are AC Cobras and Rolexes. I’ve never even sat in one of the former though understand that they are to be bought with extreme caution and attention to detail. But I have owned both fake and genuine of the latter and, if you’ve ever had a genuine Roller on your wrist you know that spotting a fake one is relatively easy, as is spotting a fake bottle of wine. A lot of it is about “feel”.
You might say that “feel” is pretty flimsy but I bought my Rolex from Mappin & Webb as opposed to ebay, which I figured was a fairly simple way of establishing the authenticity of what I was putting on my wrist. This is not rocket science. Which is why I find the whole shebang about fake wines a little too noisy. If you want to buy some DRC and you are the remotest bit worried about it being the real deal the answer is simple – call Corney & Barrow, the UK agents. Or buy from a merchant who guarantees the quality, provenance, authenticity, etc, of what it sells (I’m fairly certain that I am in a very small gang in that I have refunded an allegedly corked bottle of DRC).
Likewise, when offered double magnums of 1961 Pomerol, the answer is simply “no”, though occasionally preceded by a request for photographs of the bottles in question, just for a bit of education or amusement.
The issue isn’t just UK based though. One can’t talk about the fine wine market for more than thirty seconds without either saying or hearing the word “China”. And the Chinese are rather good at faking stuff, to the extent that it’s a major part of their economy and to the point where “faking” is perhaps accepted as “hommage” and pride is taken the skill of the replicator. This is where things start to get very tricky but again there is no shortage of reliable suppliers – is there a single UK wine merchant without an HK arm? Do DRC not have an HK agent?
The star bottle from the auction that started this was this bottle of 1978 Romanee-Conti itself (Conti-Conti is what it’s termed as in the trade) whose neck label proclaims shipment by the then UK importers, Percy Fox, with their address as “Sackvilee Street”. Quite a howler, but, when I sent this picture to a friend of mine who knows much, much more than I do (about most things actually, but certainly wine) his response was: “Ha ha – there was one vintage when they put the importer’s name down as “Percy Foy”. And if you ever see a bottle of 1953 Petrus bottled by Avery’s of Bristol…..they spelt the word “Chateau” wrongly.”
And I can vouch for a case of Burgundy from one of the region’s more eccentric producers whose neck labels, proclaiming the vintage, were simply stuck on top of a previous set of neck labels, proclaiming another. The customer understandably went bananas, but a couple of phone calls and a few faxes later the producer concerned confirmed that the bottles were genuine and that some sort of error had taken place, and that he had simply stuck the correct labels on top of the incorrect ones.
Now I’m fairly certain of what I think about the bottles that started all this. And I’m fairly certain about what I think about the sellers. But I do think there’s a bit too much noise. My wife likes perfume from Floris. So I buy it from Floris rather than Shepherd’s Bush Market.