Stick With Art

Mike Dunne of the Sacramento Bee has written a wonderful article on the Authentication Controversy swirling about the world of rare wine.

The controversy came to the surface when a gentleman who paid $500,000 for wine thought to once to have been in the collection of Thomas Jefferson claims the wines are fake. He filed a lawsuit  in Federal Court in New York claiming fraud. It’s a pretty fascinating and complex story which can be found at Bloomberg HERE, while another take on the matter can be found at The Wine Collector Blog HERE.

Dunne gets to the heart of the the matter: How can we tell it’s fraud? How can we tell, particularly by tasting the wine, that it’s not the wine it’s said to be?

Leaving aside the artificial elements of the wine (cork, glass, label), can one simply evaluate a wine and determine if it is what it is said to be? How experienced a taster would you have to be to determine this?

This is the question at the heart of Dunne’s article and what drove him to speak to Allen Meadows, a Burgundy expert who writes The Burghound newsletter and who has been called in to authenticate wines in this manner before. When Dunne questioned Meadows about his claim that 3 of 17 wines he tasted at an authentication session were likely fakes the Burgundy expert responds this way:

"However, I can say that the wines in question were well outside of
what I would have expected to find for wines from those specific
vintages, from those specific vineyards and from that specific
winemaker based on, if I may use the term without sounding ridiculously
pompous, considerable experience," Meadows says. "Does that make my
opinions infallible? Absolutely not. Does it call into reasonable doubt
the authenticity? I believe that it does."

First, I’d be inclined to believe Meadow’s assessment of the wines. But think about the kind of palate memory one would have to possess to say about any wine that it doesn’t fit the profile of the vintage, vineyard and winemaker. Better yet, think about the confidence one would have to have in their palate to make this kind of judgment.

Now, I don’t know what kind of dough Mr. Meadows makes in a year. But I know this. Given the rarity of that kind of ability it’s a shame he doesn’t make three times as much as he does. How many folks in the world would have the ability and the confidence in that ability to make this kind of judgment?

So here’s the takeaway. If you want to get into the business of assessing value, stick with where the money is. It’s not wine. The value of the wine Christie’s and Sotheby’s auction houses sell in a year is considerably less than they make in a one day auction of Contemporary art. Hell, one painting goes for far more than the entire value of their wine auction departments.

2 Responses

  1. wineguy - March 27, 2007

    How much experience can anyone have with 1787 vintages? How many wines from a particular 18th Century winemaker can Mr Meadows or anyone else have tasted? Give me a break!

  2. Greg Walter - March 27, 2007

    Actually, most of the fraud that takes place in wine is in Bordeaux and Burgundy wines from the first half of the 20th century. You may or not be surprised at the quantity of wines from that era are out there in circulation between private cellars (especially in Hong Kong and other wine collecting hotspots). I think that it’s experience with those wines that Allen Meadows is speaking of, not late-1700s wines. If you run in the right circles, it’s not impossible to have quite a bit of broad AND deep experience with very old wines. Jim Suckling of Wine Spectator has that level of experience and expertise with Bordeaux wines. Having tasted with Allen and having read his newsletter for years, I have no doubt that he has that level of experience with Burgundies.
    Greg Walter

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