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Rudy Kurniawan (Zhen Wang Huang) - The Wine World's Bernie Madoff


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Perhaps I shouldn't have bought that rare bottle of "Reserve Estate Bottled Single Barrel 2009 Cupcake Pinot Noir" I paid $300 for. Was that a mistake? The guy seemed so genuine!

Seriously, though, what kind of dumbass sells counterfeit bottles of a vintage that can easily be proven to be fraudulent? At least fake a bottle that was actually produced!

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Perhaps I shouldn't have bought that rare bottle of "Reserve Estate Bottled Single Barrel 2009 Cupcake Pinot Noir" I paid $300 for. Was that a mistake? The guy seemed so genuine!

Seriously, though, what kind of dumbass sells counterfeit bottles of a vintage that can easily be proven to be fraudulent? At least fake a bottle that was actually produced!

He was doing it for years and duping everybody.

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I saw Rudy a few years ago at La Paulée de New York. This is a gala dinner for three hundred wine collectors, wine makers and their friends. Everyone brings wine. Rudy brought a 6 liter bottle of 1979 Romanée Conti which carried the number 001. I thought it was the wine of the night.

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I saw Rudy a few years ago at La Paulée de New York. This is a gala dinner for three hundred wine collectors, wine makers and their friends. Everyone brings wine. Rudy brought a 6 liter bottle of 1979 Romanée Conti which carried the number 001. I thought it was the wine of the night.

Mark, serious question: do you think there's a chance that bottle was a fake (I couldn't tell if you were trying to imply that by relating the story)? If it was fake, what does that mean for your interpretation of it's quality? I've said it before, but I find the intersection of perception and reality in wine quality to be fascinating.

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Mark, serious question: do you think there's a chance that bottle was a fake (I couldn't tell if you were trying to imply that by relating the story)? If it was fake, what does that mean for your interpretation of it's quality? I've said it before, but I find the intersection of perception and reality in wine quality to be fascinating.

Ted, in the context of the event that I encountered this bottle at, it never occured to me that it might be a fake. La Paulée brings out the big guns in the collecting world. There was so much wine from the Domaine de la Romanée Conti from so many different vintages in so many different sized bottles that my head was spinning. There was plenty of Burgundy from other producers, as well, in vintages going back to the 1920's. DRC has a unique flavor and aroma profile. I, as well as many others there, tasted a lot of it that night. There is no doubt in my mind that the glass of wine Rudy gave me was incredibly profound and delicious. The fact that the bottle he had in front of him was worth several hundred thousand dollars could have easily influenced perceptions. I remember thinking that bottle #001 was a pretty outrageous find.

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Interesting profile of rare wine authenticator/consultant Maureen Downey.

(I don't know her, but we do share an alma mater)

He's now known as "Kurniawan," but ten years ago, everyone called him "Rudy."

April 25, 2008: Kurniawan's Barbarossa.

Don Cornwell should be considered a hero <-- don't click on that link unless you have nothing to do for the next five years.

(Interesting side note: Although they probably don't even remember it, I was the one who made the original John Kapon - Allen Meadows connection.)

(The Don Rockwell - Don Cornwell connection)

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"Boo Hoo, Rudy Kurniawan Doesn't Like Jail" on vinography.com

Does anyone remember this Facebook update from me? It turns out that was the only counterfeit bottle I ever bought from Rudy Kurniawan. The wine - which was a risky purchase in the best of circumstances - fascinated me because it was (supposedly) made during the occupation. It was plonk.

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Rudy Kurniawan has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

If you want the 3-paragraph summary, just Google Kurniawan - it's all over the internet.

Me, I'm going to where the insiders go: the discussion thread on Wine Berserkers.

(I suggest skipping to page 194 unless you have the rest of 2014 to spend on this.)

With respect and thanks to Don Cornwall (post #1 in that thread) for singlehandedly unmasking this situation. Essentially, it is because of post #1 in this very thread that the entire situation occurred.

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"Fools And Their Money: Thoughts On Wine Fakery & The Rudy Kurniawan Case" by Robert Joseph on thejosephreport.blogspot.com

I think people need to lay off Bill Koch. Yes, he's a billionaire who got swindled (really easy to make fun of, right?), but what does that have to do with anything? Had he not pushed forward with these lawsuits, nothing would have been resolved. I say *kudos* to Bill Koch for standing up for himself and being driven by the fundamental principle of not wanting to be taken advantage of by a petty con artist. He's worth almost $4 billion - do you think recouping these damages (or not) has any effect on his lifestyle in the least? Absolutely not. There have been several times in my life when I've gone to great lengths to prevent myself from being taken advantage of by someone who had leverage on me and was trying to swindle me. In each instance, it was absolutely *not* worth it from a financial point of view; yet, how do you sleep at night if you allow malevolent criminals to walk all over you?

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I don't even know who he is, but I suppose you don't get to be worth $4 billion without doing *something*.

Well, that gives one some insight into how the Koch brothers have gotten away with essentially destroying the governance of our country.

Note, however, that the main bastards are Charles and David, and they are the two who are typically referred to as the "Koch brothers."  Bill, the other brother, is no saint, but at least his financial support of extreme right wing groups has been reasonably muted.  He also is obviously wine-challenged, but doesn't appreciate being made the fool, and has plenty of money to redeem himself, at least in his own eyes.  Hell hath no fury as a woman, or very rich man, scorned.

Maybe we should be thankful he spent his money on fraudulent wines and not buying elections wholesale like his brothers.

BTW, the "something" he did to get his money was, like his brothers, to inherit it.  The old-fashioned and certainly the preferable way to get rich.

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I was forgetting, actually, that there were more than two Koch brothers. There are actually four, with the oldest, Frederick, being largely benevolent. They're all philanthropists to some extent, but Frederick seems to have devoted himself largely to cultural philanthropy and stayed away from politics and the buying of elections. (And from the family petro-chemical business.)

But allow me now to recommend "Rumpole and the Blind Tasting", an episode of the Rumpole of the Bailey television series, which is among the greatest series in the history of English-language television, featuring the monumentally great Leo McKern as Rumpole. The "Blind Tasting" episode is quite relevant to the Rudy Kurniawan affair, and is in itself wonderfully entertaining, like the rest of the series.

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Phoney wine is certainly nothing new.  I may have been bitten by the fraud bug myself, but hopefully not.  Back in the '70's I lived for a while in Geneva, and Christie's had wine auctions there regularly, it being a place where there was lots of money to be tapped.  I even remember Michael Broadbent himself, their wine guy and a noted wine book author of the period, flitting about the room with a wine glass in hand chatting up the potential bidders.  At one of those auctions there was a substantial quantity of high level "older" Bordeaux being sold.  I noticed that the labels all appeared quite new and clean, but most importantly the bottles had very shallow punts (that indentation on the bottom) which I had never seen on older wines -- as far as I knew/know, that type of bottle had been introduced in Bordeaux fairly recently, and at that mostly for lesser wines.  Oh well.  But is did give me pause as to the authenticity of wines being sold by such a "reputable" auction house.

Anyway, on one of those occasions, I bought a lot of six bottles of '29 Ch. Pichon Baron, a 2nd growth Pauillac.   I drank most of it long ago, and have not much  memory of it though I don't recall being blown away. At least the bottles appeared authentic.  I still have one bottle.  Maybe I'll wait until 2029, if I last that long myself, though the wine isn't likely to.

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Anyway, on one of those occasions, I bought a lot of six bottles of '29 Ch. Pichon Baron, a 2nd growth Pauillac.   I drank most of it long ago, and have not much  memory of it though I don't recall being blown away. At least the bottles appeared authentic.  I still have one bottle.  Maybe I'll wait until 2029, if I last that long myself, though the wine isn't likely to.

What did the cork say?! That's the most definitive sign.

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What did the cork say?! That's the most definitive sign.

Most old corks like those come out in crumbs and are unreadable.  Sadly, I have a lot of experience with crumbling old corks.  Even with wines that have been stored correctly, in my experience corks more than 25-30 years old usually come out in many many pieces. That said, to the best of my recollection I never confirmed that anything was amiss with those bottles.  Sometimes you can strip off the foil and read the cork through the glass, but often not.

Anyway, I think its pretty easy to forge the printing on a cork just like a label, although presumably it would be a new cork and I'm not sure how you can simulate the deterioration of a typical old cork.  If it were to come out in one nice piece with a loud pop, that might be cause for concern  :) .

I have heard that Lafite used to send teams around, including to the US, who would re-cork any bottle of Lafite more than 30 years old for a small charge.  Unfortunately I never moved in such circles that I could have experienced the service close up.

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Most old corks like those come out in crumbs and are unreadable.  Sadly, I have a lot of experience with crumbling old corks.  Even with wines that have been stored correctly, in my experience corks more than 25-30 years old usually come out in many many pieces. That said, to the best of my recollection I never confirmed that anything was amiss with those bottles.  Sometimes you can strip off the foil and read the cork through the glass, but often not.

Anyway, I think its pretty easy to forge the printing on a cork just like a label, although presumably it would be a new cork and I'm not sure how you can simulate the deterioration of a typical old cork.  If it were to come out in one nice piece with a loud pop, that might be cause for concern  :) .

I have heard that Lafite used to send teams around, including to the US, who would re-cork any bottle of Lafite more than 30 years old for a small charge.  Unfortunately I never moved in such circles that I could have experienced the service close up.

It can help to get a really strong flashlight and shine it through the bottle. It's widely accepted that, short of opening the bottle, examining the cork is the best way to detect authenticity. If I were buying a *really* expensive bottle (which, alas, I never will), I wouldn't touch it until the capsule came off, and I saw the cork.

Here's the story about Lafite and recorking.

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I have heard that Lafite used to send teams around, including to the US, who would re-cork any bottle of Lafite more than 30 years old for a small charge.  Unfortunately I never moved in such circles that I could have experienced the service close up.

The Watergate Hotel hosted re - corking events in the early 80's. There was a well known Mouton event there just before I started working there. All the bottles of 1945 Mouton we had in the cellar had been re - corked and were pristine.

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The Watergate Hotel hosted re - corking events in the early 80's. There was a well known Mouton event there just before I started working there. All the bottles of 1945 Mouton we had in the cellar had been re - corked and were pristine.

I think it's pretty much been demonstrated over the long haul, that recorded bottles don't hold up as well (and definitely don't sell for as much) as original bottlings, even if there is significant ullage (pronounced yoo-lidge in English).

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I think it's pretty much been demonstrated over the long haul, that recorded bottles don't hold up as well (and definitely don't sell for as much) as original bottlings, even if there is significant ullage (pronounced yoo-lidge in English).

If that part about them holding up better is true then that would be great to hear.  I have seen suggestions that it is the case with respect to ports, with their higher alcohol, but less so for table wine.  Do you have a link?

The part about market value in my view is consistent with what it really is that drives the craziness of the market for these super-reputation wines.  This is rich guys who are collecting them for the label, not for the contents, because they probably could never tell which is which based on a tasting if their lives depended on it, and of course have no intention of ever opening them anyway, except as an occasional proof of their manliness and superiority.  Veblen was right!

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If that part about them holding up better is true then that would be great to hear.  I have seen suggestions that it is the case with respect to ports, with their higher alcohol, but less so for table wine.  Do you have a link?

The part about market value in my view is consistent with what it really is that drives the craziness of the market for these super-reputation wines.  This is rich guys who are collecting them for the label, not for the contents, because they probably could never tell which is which based on a tasting if their lives depended on it, and of course have no intention of ever opening them anyway, except as an occasional proof of their manliness and superiority.  Veblen was right!

Now that I'm thinking about it, I'm really not sure if they *do* hold up better; I've just always thought that for some reason. However, I don't have a citation, and after all, Chateau Lafite *was* going around and reconditioning their wines for people - they would certainly know better than I whether or not it helps (and apparently, the only reason they stopped was because it assisted fraudsters (scroll up a few posts and note the article I referenced).

I've had precisely one bottle in my life that I know was recorked - an older bottle of Latour that said on the cork (in French) "Recorked in 1974 by the Chateau," or something like that. And I remember it didn't show as well as I'd been expecting (I had no idea it had been recorked). Talk about "first-world problems" - needing your First Growth Bordeaux recorked.

And if my spellchecker doesn't stop changing "recorked" to "recorded," I'm going to spit blood. There's got to be a way to keep my spellchecker "in check" - it makes me look like an idiot.

One thing I have done in the past is re-capsule a bottle of 1966 Dow's Port which I purchased without a capsule. Over twenty years ago, a friend literally dripped candle wax all over it, forming a seal - I still have the bottle, and in principle there's no reason it shouldn't help (or at least "not hurt" - many wineries, at least in France, store their aging bottles without any capsules (and perhaps even without labels) until it's time to box and sell them - this way, both are in pristine condition when they get shipped.

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And I remember it didn't show as well as I'd been expecting (I had no idea it had been recorked). Talk about "first-world problems" - needing your First Growth Bordeaux recorked.

Life is hard, but we all have to muddle through somehow.  :blink:

And if my spellchecker doesn't stop changing "recorked" to "recorded," I'm going to spit blood. There's got to be a way to keep my spellchecker "in check" - it makes me look like an idiot.

See comment above.  I use a hammer myself.

....many wineries, at least in France, store their aging bottles without any capsules (and perhaps even without labels) until it's time to box and sell them - this way, both are in pristine condition when they get shipped.

On those occasions I have toured cellars of wineries, my recollection is that they always store the bottles without labels and capsules.  For just that reason I imagine.  The winery version of "bright stacking" as practiced in the cannery industry, although there it is mostly because they can't label them until they have a buyer who provides the labels, such as for store brands.  Come to think of it, I'm sure that happens sometimes in the wine business too, though one would hope it's limited to the lower echelons.

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On those occasions I have toured cellars of wineries, my recollection is that they always store the bottles without labels and capsules.  For just that reason I imagine.  The winery version of "bright stacking" as practiced in the cannery industry, although there it is mostly because they can't label them until they have a buyer who provides the labels, such as for store brands.  Come to think of it, I'm sure that happens sometimes in the wine business too, though one would hope it's limited to the lower echelons.

Many countries have different labeling laws, so different labels for even fine wines are often required.

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...even if there is significant ullage (pronounced yoo-lidge in English).

FWIW, I've only ever heard this pronounced with a leading schwa (rhymes with "dull", not with "eulogy"), which is also what OED prescribes...French loanword etymology be damned.

Veblen was right!

Once you get enough orders of magnitude past the cost of basic physical needs, life is - as an acquaintance of mine put it - performance art.

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Quote from the article:

"Separately, the appeal document also says that the impact on Kurniawan's victims has been exaggerated. 'The prices paid for the bottles of counterfeit wine greatly exaggerated the real financial impact on the purchasers,' the document says.

'That is not to say that Rudy's conduct in any way should be lauded or excused,' it adds."

My head hurts.

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Quote from the article:

"Separately, the appeal document also says that the impact on Kurniawan's victims has been exaggerated. 'The prices paid for the bottles of counterfeit wine greatly exaggerated the real financial impact on the purchasers,' the document says.

'That is not to say that Rudy's conduct in any way should be lauded or excused,' it adds."

My head hurts.

A constant theme of Rudy's defense has been the "Robin Hood" excuse. "It's not really a crime because I was only ripping off extremely wealthy people."

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A constant theme of Rudy's defense has been the "Robin Hood" excuse. "It's not really a crime because I was only ripping off extremely wealthy people."

He ripped me off, and I'm not wealthy.

Fortunately, I bought only one of his polluted, counterfeit lots of wine: 3 bottles of 1941 Latour. I was fascinated by the history of it, the wine being made during the Nazi occupation of France in WWII. The bottles looked sketchy as hell, but some expert friends assured me that WWII wines often had makeshift bottles and capsules, so I kept it for awhile. Several years ago, I decided to open a bottle - as soon as I touched the cork with the corkscrew, it dropped down into the wine (never a good sign), and the wine was plonk. I sent the other 2 bottles back to be re-auctioned, saying that I didn't like what I had, and that the cork was in terrible shape. They sold, and I probably got about 75% of my original purchase price back - the wines were much less expensive when I bought them than what the current market value is, so that one bottle I drank ended up costing me maybe $150-200. Were they counterfeit? I have no way to know, and I have no idea why someone would counterfeit a 1941 Latour, but all this transpired before anyone knew anything about any counterfeiting, so my hands were clean (if I had known they might have been counterfeit bottles, I would have simply eaten the cost) - however, somewhere out there, two bottles of 1941 Latour are circulating around the secondary market that are more likely than not, horrible. I still have my empty bottle if anyone wants to look at it.

I do not have a personal vendetta against Kurniawan because of this one incident; rather, it's because of what he did to the entire auction-wine market: There are untold amounts of wine being passed around at auction, much of it fake at the hands of Rudy Kurniawan - he may not be "singlehandedly responsible" for ruining the auction markets, but he's certainly the primary contributor. Ironically, wine prices at auction are higher than ever for certain wines such as Red Burgundy, and all the principal players in this scandal, other than Kurniawan, haven't even been investigated - he's been made a scapegoat for what was almost surely a "look the other way" type of situation. Make no mistake: some very important people in the industry are guilty of being complicit, thereby allowing this scam to continue for much longer than it should have - they might not have done anything directly wrong, but at the minimum, there was gross negligence involved.

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"Wine Fraud Rudy Kurniawan's Rise, Fall, and Plans for the Future" by Peter Hellman on nypost.com

I discovered about a week ago that I have two more of Kurniawan's counterfeit bottles - I didn't remember they were from the same auction as the 1941 Latour, but they were.

To Acker Merrall's credit, I asked if I could return them (this is 14-years later!), and they didn't even hesitate: Yes, I can, for the full purchase price.

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7 hours ago, DonRocks said:

"Wine Fraud Rudy Kurniawan's Rise, Fall, and Plans for the Future" by Peter Hellman on nypost.com

I discovered about a week ago that I have two more of Kurniawan's counterfeit bottles - I didn't remember they were from the same auction as the 1941 Latour, but they were.

To Acker Merrall's credit, I asked if I could return them (this is 14-years later!), and they didn't even hesitate: Yes, I can, for the full purchase price.

I've already told this to Don, but, yesterday FaceBook suggested that I add Rudy as a friend. I thought it was pretty funny. 

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On 10/29/2016 at 10:24 PM, Gary Tanigawa said:

Now a documentary: Sour Grapes

In the article linked above there's a line about Rudy: "He stockpiled empty bottles, and, with the care of a chemist, refilled them with mixtures of lesser wines to taste like the real thing."

If this guy could do this in his basement and fool the greatest palate's in the world, why isn't there a company or industry that does this openly and intentionally?  It would be no different than hanging a copy of great painting on your wall at home.  You know it's not the real thing, but it's close enough to bring you joy and pleasure. 

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3 hours ago, Bart said:

If this guy could do this in his basement and fool the greatest palate's in the world, why isn't there a company or industry that does this openly and intentionally?  It would be no different than hanging a copy of great painting on your wall at home.  You know it's not the real thing, but it's close enough to bring you joy and pleasure. 

A perfect time to bring this up again. :)

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I don't think this was your point, but I read  post your in the link and my first thought was "Oh, so you wine experts can only judge the greatness of the wine by looking at the label?!?!!?  That's how I do it too, but my palate sucks."

Or maybe you're saying that if you knew it was a knock off that was assembled to mimic some great old vintage, it wouldn't taste as good?  That's probably more of what you were going for, but it's still the same issue.  You're essentially saying that you can't enjoy the wine/food/view unless some expert has deemed it extraordinary.  

Or did I totally misread everything?!?!

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35 minutes ago, Bart said:

Or maybe you're saying that if you knew it was a knock off that was assembled to mimic some great old vintage, it wouldn't taste as good? 

You're coming close here. Some chemical lab on the New Jersey Turnpike could manufacture a wine that tastes *exactly* like a 1999 Roumier Chambolle-Musigny. But even though it might "taste" as good, it wouldn't *be* as good.

Taste is a necessary-but-insufficient arbiter of quality (I've been saying this for 15+ years, and I still don't think many people understand me (I've learned to live with that)).

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Okay, I'll bite.  Do you think that you're referring to feeling the worth of the part of the item that is a result of the creative/inventive process or of nature, as opposed to the ability to duplicate what has already been done?  As a non-expert in many, many things, I live close to the mantra of "I know what I like" and apply it regardless of the item's "quality" (& boy, have I been known to like junk music, art, wine, food....).  But I recognize that, although I'm sure that someone can (& probably has) replicated much of the art I admire at museums, I wouldn't feel the same staring at it, thinking it was original (as an aside, isn't it a fact that there's a prominent museum that's stored originals and displays copies?  I thought I heard/read that somewhere) & soaking in the context of the inventive/creative process.  Maybe we drink/eat/view "the story" and that's worth some part of "quality"?

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