Since previously blogging on”Billionaire’s Vinegar” and a Wine Spectator article on forgeries and the connivances (alleged) of many in the wine trade, a megastar in the world of forgery (it is alleged), Indonesian-born, erstwhile mega-rich mystery man, Rudy Kurniawan has been arrested in his home in LA and arraigned before the US justice department for various counts of wire fraud and other misdemeanours. This not a new story, but you can read several articles on this in The New York Times here.
What is new is that Rudy is just the tip of an iceberg that has so polluted the international wine trade, that beyond the fevered speculation on top grade Burgundy in the eldorado that is the Asian wine market, an ugly behemoth has developed, crashed and, somewhat surprisingly to the sane amongst us, survived, particularly in New York’s über-rich wine cogniscenti (sic).
Starting with the 2005 Burgundy vintage, rightly perceived as one of the finest in the region’s millennia long history, red Burgundy prices began to rise, inexorably. For a certain, tiny coterie of new collectors, the wines of Christophe Roumier, Domaine de la Romanee Conti, de Voguë, Rousseau and Ponsot became the Holy Grail.
In a tiny market where ten years ago tiny caches of older wines might occasionally be found in the cellar of some widowed old lady in Dijon or Paris, suddenly the market was awash with old treasures in quantities unheard of. Whole cases of Rousseau or DRC from the twenties. Musigny from the thirties, fifties etc. Every vintage better and rarer than the last.
One client of my erstwhile employers, Caveau de la Tour in Meursault, had a client who bought a staggering two million dollars worth of wine in 2007. Yes, $2 million dollars from one company in one year. He was also buying at auction, so his expert purchaser (sic), I’ll call him Ryan, was a very busy man. And he was not alone.
A new and self annointed circle of New York connoisseurs (sic, ore even sick, see below) spent their hedgefund generated wealth on ever more rare jewels of the vinous stratosphere and called themselves The Twelve Angry Men. Which begs a first question, what were they angry about? Well, ample reason would soon arrive…by the jeraboam full.
Huge bacchanalian tastings would take place, and a central figure gradually gained prominence: Dr Conti, aka. Rudy Kurniawan. He was quite simply a master; a taster with a magnificent palate and prodigious memory for the flavours and tastes of historic wines and vintages. He put this to good use, allegedly concocting a myriad of wines of magical, nay mystical repute. Until that is Laurent Ponsot pulled the plug on the party.
But let me come to my point. Rudy Kurniawan, and I have no doubt, several acolytes have duped and hoodwinked many. His endeavours are doubtlessly ferociously dishonest and will be punished by the full force of the law.
But, and it’s a really juicy but; you just have to love the irony and the justice. I strongly feel that the wine market has spun out of control with its pricing. Individual wines have become distanced from their true value merely by the ability of certain individuals to pay more than anyone else, not because they really appreciate the wines, per se, but just because they can – pay – more.
Of the Twelve Angry Men, you can only say they have been served the justice, to which their ever so clever title alludes. But, and forgive me here, anyone who is prepared to write in a tasting note, however bad or awful the wine, that it is “tighter than a thirteen year old’s pussy” or “smellier than an eighty year old nun’s crack”, deserves to get ripped off.
Such notes are so deeply unpleasant, so deeply offensive to the sensibility necessary in the judgement of fine old Burgundy, or just, for heaven’s sake, any wine, that the egg plastered over their faces and the money wasted on artfully crafted fakes is justice indeed. It makes me think of the right hand panel of Bosch’s, “The Garden of Earthly Delights“, a vision as nightmarish as their notes.
Of course, most of these idiots remain in the game, now post-banking crisis, paying ever greater sums for their wines, perhaps paying slightly more attention to provenance. And the charlatans in the wine trade are happy to make them pay ever more.
“1200 euros for Mugnier Musigny? That’ll be 900 euros profit, thank you very much. 4015 euros for the Roumier? That’ll pay for the summer fuel in my new yacht, or my new Caterham car…many thanks (You know you are, sunshine!); I’ll send you a new offer tomorrow!”
Like a London Cabby, I can proudly say, “I sold him a magnum of Romanée Conti once.” And I can also say, resolutely, it really was Romanée Conti.
But as he contemplates the writing on the wall in his cell, I have to add, “Dr. Conti, I salute you! You got them all.”