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AMATEUR NIGHT AT THE WINE FOLLIES: THE ANSWER WAS LYING IN PLAIN SIGHT

John Tilson • 6/19/12        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share

 

The story of wine fraud and the indictment of Rudy Kurniawan has been going on for a while now and so far there have been 4  Underground articles (to read #1 click here#2 click here  –  #3  click here – #4 click here).  A recent article in Vanity Fair written by Mike Steinberger can be added to the string. It goes over the basic story and adds a bit more detail. One of the most interesting for me is this excerpt:

“…But it appears that Burgundy’s complexity may have been Kurniawan’s undoing. During the lunch the day after the 2008 Acker auction, Ponsot and Kapon briefly left the table, and Kurniawan asked Barzelay a question: did he recall an Acker auction in 2005 at which Kurniawan had bought a single bottle of 1947 Ponsot Clos Saint-Denis? Barzelay did remember: Kurniawan had outbid Barzelay’s friend Don Stott for the wine, paying $14,220. Bar­zelay says that it suddenly occurred to him that Kurniawan thought the bottle was a Domaine Ponsot Clos Saint-Denis. In fact, it was a Christine Ponsot Clos Saint-Denis. The Christine Ponsot label was a line of wines put out by a négociant, Émile Chandesais, and named after his wife, who was not related to Laurent Ponsot’s family. This confusion may have led Kurniawan to believe that Domaine Ponsot had been making Clos Saint-Denis as far back as the 1940s and that it was safe to produce those counterfeit Ponsots. If that is what happened, it is a mistake that now has Kurniawan facing up to 80 years in a federal penitentiary. (At his arraignment, on May 23, Kurniawan pleaded not guilty.)…” (To read the entire article Vanity Fair article click here)  

Consider the following:

 

  • Many years ago my friends and I would often go to Restaurant Greuze in Tournous. Located to the south of the city of Beaune, the restaurant was established in 1947 by the legendary chef, Jean Ducloux. He was a master in the preparation of traditional Burgundy dishes such as escargot, frog legs, and roast chicken in mushroom or truffle cream sauce. And, yes the “pommes frites” (French Fries) were superb! In those days Jean Ducloux was still cooking (he has since retired). The restaurant at that time I believe was 2 stars and their wine list often had interesting items such as Ramonet Montachets and often older Red  Burgundies at fair prices.
  • We often went to Greuze on our annual Burgundy trip. On one of our visits to Greuze in the early 90s we saw old Burgundies from “Ponsot” on the wine list. They were from the 40s and included ‘45, ‘47, and ’49 wines from Clos St. Denis and Clos de le Roche. But, on close inspection of the bottles, they were negociant bottled and the name was “Christine Ponsot”. We knew no one by that name at Domaine Ponsot. The prices were very fair – I recall them being around $100 per bottle. We were told by the sommelier that the wines came from a local cellar and the bottles appeared very sound.
  • We went back again, and over the course of our two dinners, drank several of the “Christine Ponsot” bottles. They were very good. And, considering the “unknown” nature of the bottles (none of us had ever heard of “Christine Ponsot”) and the relatively modest price, we were quite pleased. After all, we have drunk more old Burgundies than I can remember from “unknown” producers and negociants. This is part of the charm of Burgundy. Some of these wines are remarkably good, others less so, and some not so good at all. In the case of these old “Christine Ponsot” Burgundies, there was nothing that led us to believe that they were not authentic. We knew the provenance and the wines tasted like very good old Burgundy. We learned a bit later on that trip what we had suspected from the beginning – the “Christine Ponsot” negociant label had nothing to do with Domaine Ponsot.
  • In fact, a friend of ours in Burgundy told us that his cousin had a lot of the “Christine Ponsot” Burgundies in his cellar and that they were very good. He also knew the background of the negociant.
  • As I have mentioned in past articles, after meeting Rudy for the first time, I wanted nothing to do with him. Ditto for the craziness that went on at the auctions he attended. That is not my idea of how to enjoy great wine, food, and friends. So suffice to say, I had no prior knowledge of the details of the 2005 Acker auction described above. But obviously, I would have known that the bottle had nothing to do with Domaine Ponsot. It had to either be a fake Domaine Ponsot since the domaine did not own vines in Clos St. Denis at that time or a “Christine Ponsot” negociant bottle. The price of $14,220 paid for the bottle was simply absurd and obviously paid for reasons other than for what was in the bottle.
  • So was it as the article says “…Burgundy’s complexity may have been Kurniawan’s undoing.” Or was it just a case of “amateur night at the wine follies.” Vamos a Ver. But, for me, it is clear. The answer was hiding in plain sight!

In Vino Veritas,Sig

John Tilson

 

 

 

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