Jump to content
DonRocks

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

Recommended Posts

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.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

...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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...