May 15, 2012

WHAT'S ESPECIALLY CLEAR...:

Château Sucker: Rare-wine collectors are savvy, competitive guys with a taste for impossible finds. The biggest hoax in history took place right under their noses. (Benjamin Wallace Published May 13, 2012, New York)

A score of Southern California's biggest grape nuts had gathered at the restaurant Melisse in Santa Monica that Friday for a $4,800-a-head vertical tasting of irresistible rarities provided by Kurniawan: Pétrus in a dozen vintages, reaching as far back as 1921, in magnums.

Although Pétrus is now among the most famous wines in the world, it gained its exalted status relatively recently; before World War II, it was virtually unheard of, and finding large-format bottles that had survived from the twenties bordered on miraculous. Paul Wasserman, the son of prominent Burgundy importer Becky Wasserman, is something like wine royalty, but before this event, the oldest Pétrus he had tasted was from 1975.

Nonetheless, two bottles left him scratching his head. The 1947 lacked the unctuousness of right-bank Bordeaux from that legendary vintage, and the 1961 struck him as "very young." He briefly entertained the idea of "possible fakes"--'61 Pétrus in magnum has fetched up to $28,440 at auction--and jotted, in his notes on the '47, "If there's one bottle I have serious doubts about tonight, this is it."

But in the rare-wine world, doubts are endemic; murkiness is built into a product that is concealed by tinted glass and banded wooden cases and opaque provenance and the fog of history. At the same time, the whole apparatus of the rare-wine market is about converting doubt into mystique. Most wealthy collectors want to spend big and drink famous labels, not necessarily ask questions or hear the answers. Guests at tastings don't want to bite the hand that quenches them. Auctioneers may not want to risk losing consignments by nitpicking ambiguous bottles. Winemakers don't like to talk about counterfeiting, for fear of the taint. Also, one thing not high on the FBI's list of investigative priorities: billionaires getting snowed by wine forgers. It's clear to everyone on this rarefied circuit that wine fraud is rampant. It's also clear not many insiders feel an urgency to do anything about it.


...is that, as blind taste tests have shown, one wine tastes just like another. Buy it by the box.

Posted by at May 15, 2012 4:40 AM
  

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