Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux Tasting 2015

Posted by admin in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Held annually at the Royal Opera House, this year’s Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tasting showcased the 2013 vintage.

As usual, I didn’t have much time to linger and tasted only a few wines.

photo-101Chateau Haut-Bailly was hard and with bone-cracking tannins. Too much oak for the less than overwhelming fruit, perhaps.

Domaine de Chevalier was much more supple and smooth. It still had a big tannic presence but they were so much nicer than those of Haut-Bailly.

I always enjoy comparing Langoa-Barton and Léoville-Barton and, when possible, meeting Anthony Barton or his daughter Lilian. She was pouring today. The Langoa was bottled in June 2015 and was still wearing a lot of oak makeup. As is often the case, the Léoville was much finer and sweeter. It’s extraordinary how year after year this château produces a lovely – and relatively well-priced – wine.

Château Lynch-Bages mercifully showed no greenness or hardness. Indeed, it was a bit chocolaty. A good effort and one that is likely to attract generous scores.

This year was the first time I’d attended the afternoon session – usually I come in the morning. But it was much better in the afternoon because everybody had gone to lunch – including the chateaux principals – and it was possible to taste without being knocked over by somebody.

Share This Post

Negociants Icon Masterclass 2015

Posted by admin in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

To commemorate 25 years of their presence in the UK, Negociants held an “Icon Masterclass” on 13th October.

Co-hosted by Negociants’ UK MD Simon Thorpe MW, Yalumba winemaker Kevin Glastonbury, and Brokenwood Managing Director-Chief Winemaker Iain Riggs, the tasting was “not designed as a competition… It’s a chance to enjoy the wines and talk about them”, said Thorpe.

The 30-wine selection pitched Negociants’ brands against the Rest of the World, mainly but not exclusively France. It didn’t come cheap: the total retail value of the wines was over £2,000, with an average bottle price of £73.

This was one of the most interesting and impressive blind tastings that I’ve done for a while. And it’s always good to see Riggsy, even if he did insist on wearing Aussie rugby colours.

Icon MasterclassWines were tasted thematically in flights of six. The first was “Dry White 1 – Riesling & Semillon”. Wine 1 was obviously a Riesling – but from where? The sherbetty lemon fruit and profound acidity suggested Germany – but where in Germany? It turned out to be Weingut Dönnhoff Schlossbokelheimer Felsenberg Riesling Trocken GG 2013. At least I got the grape and country right.

Wine 2 had a slightly deeper colour and a richer, more oily nose. The finish was warm, long, and rich – an impressive wine. Alsace, perhaps? No – Jim Barry The Florita Riesling 2010.

The third wine was very toasty, suggesting some age, and for me was cruder than the opening pair, with lip-smacking acidity but less refined fruit. I couldn’t place the Pewsey Vale The Contours Riesling 2009 much to my shame – I’ve been to the vineyard several times.

Wine 4 was super-clean and fresh but wasn’t giving much away. The taut structure didn’t undermine the lovely texture. I guessed that this very good wine was Brokenwood Hunter Valley Semillon but it came from Western Australia – Vasse Felix Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2013. Glastonbury called it a “stunning wine” and I agree.

The fifth wine had an exotic nose, all mango and peaches and cream. Too opulent for me, though it became more savoury with aeration. I reckoned it was dry white Bordeaux but the opulence should have led me to its origins in Sauternes – Chateau Guiraud Le “G” de Chateau Guiraud 2013. This was the only wine in this flight with a cork closure.

Wine 6 smelled like semi-mature Hunter Valley Semillon… It was Brokenwood ILR Reserve Semillon 2007. It wasn’t quite as refined as the Vasse Felix wine but it was still very good. Riggs explained that Semillon grapes are bright green and he aims to capture “that luminosity” in the wine rather than greenness or herbaceousness. This wine has been bottled under screwcap since 2002, which has changed its character: cork used to impart a certain wood character to the wines, reckons Riggs, because cork is from a tree.

Flight 2 was “Dry White 2 – Viognier & Chardonnay”. The first glass was very cold so not very aromatic but nonetheless unmistakably Viognier. It was very tasty, with a bit of oak seasoning, and vaguely familiar… I guessed correctly that it was Yalumba The Virgilius Viognier 2013 (though I didn’t nail the vintage). During the discussion of this wine Riggs mentioned that “the corks we had in the Southern Hemisphere were rubbish”, which prompted the move to screwcaps.

The second wine was also very cold but the palate was big and rich, a vin de garde built to last. Condrieu, perhaps? Yes, Jaboulet Condrieu Grands Amandiers 2013. Plenty of life in this yet.

Glastonbury called the third wine “stunning” but for me The Virgilius Viognier 2005 was drying out.

Wine 4 had a little bit more depth of colour, with a hint of oak-derived gold. The Nautilus Estate Chardonnay 2013 was an impeccable New World Chardonnay – butter, vanilla, and juicy acidity.

CRL2MQYWUAAuRQrThe fifth wine was a bit smelly at first, though I couldn’t put my finger on what the problem might be. It had a decent texture but unappealing flavours. Glastonbury called it “tight and restrained” and a contrast to the former opulence and high alcohol of this wine and other Aussie Chardonnays. The Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay 2013 embodied the move “from flares to drainpipes” said Thorpe. I think he meant winemaking rather than Aussie fashion.

The final wine of this flight was Domaine Jean-Marc Pillot Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Chaumes 2012. It had a warm finish and I thought was very slightly corked, though nobody else commented on this.

Flight three – “Red 1 – Pinot Noir” – started with a cherry red-coloured wine, with a smell of wood char. Very Kiwi. Nautilus Estate Pinot Noir 2012 from Marlborough had a warm, glowing finish.

Wine 2 had a slightly lighter colour and a lean, focussed nose, suggesting something from Burgundy. Christophe Vaudoisey’s Volnay 2012 wasn’t a great example but it was unapologetically Burgundian.

Turning to brick red, the third wine was a lovely crowd pleaser. Dalrymple Single Site Bicheno Pinot Noir 2012 from the east coast of Tasmania was tasted alongside Dalrymple Single Site Coal River Valley Pinot Noir 2012, which was deeper-coloured and noticeably richer and riper than the previous wine.

Wine 5 had forceful acidity and what Thorpe called “farmyard” reduction. This Domaine Henri Gouges Nuits-St-Georges 2012 was a real contrast to the dense and ripe Two Paddocks The Last Chance Pinot Noir 2012, both of which retail at £50 per bottle.

Flight Four / Red 2 was of Cabernet Sauvignon & Cabernet Sauvignon Blends.

Wine 1 was big, ripe, and self-consciously grand. I thought it might have been one of those ambitious and expensive things from St-Émilion but it was Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011. For those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like.

The second wine was a bit smelly at first, reeking of Plasticine. It was better with aeration and had good flavours but it remained tight and abrasive on the palate. Yalumba The Menzies Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 was not one of the better examples of this wine that I’ve tasted.

The deep, inky purple core, turning to garnet at the edge, and the distinctly minty flavours of wine 3 made me think of the Clare and Barossa Valleys, though I couldn’t choose from which one Jim Barry’s The Benbournie Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 came (it’s Clare Valley, of course).

A lot of tasters had wine 4 as claret. The cedary, savoury flavours and lovely texture did indeed suggest something good from Bordeaux but I’ve had some outstanding examples from Margaret River in my time and I guessed correctly. Vasse Felix Heytesbury 2011 was the sort of wine that asserts Margaret River as Australia’s premier red wine region.

Wine 5 was clearly claret. Château Ducru-Beaucaillou’s second wine La Croix De Beaucaillou 2010 was a good example of this great vintage.

I thought that wine 6 might be from Coonawarra but Yalumba’s The Signature Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2010 is actually an Eden Valley-Barossa Valley Cabernet-Shiraz blend. It was minty and had mellow mid-palate fruit, with some grip on the finish. The 2010’s signatory is Jane Ferrari, Yalumba’s roving ambassador and a good friend for many years.

The fifth and final flight, and third red wine flight, was of Shiraz/Syrah.

I condemned the first wine as being fairly simple. Good job that Riggsy didn’t ask me what I thought of his Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz 2013.

Wine 2 was a leviathan, sweet and minty with a warm and long finish. The flavours were very dark, verging on coffee, and the tannins were robust. Jim Barry’s Armagh, perhaps? The flavours were probably too dark for that and it turned out to be Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle 2012. I haven’t tasted this famous wine for a while but I’ve had older vintages and they weren’t like this… I think that the Frey family are pursuing a more contemporary style.

The sandy tannins and savoury taste of wine 3 made me guess at Crozes-Hermitage. But such was Negociants’ generosity today that it was Cornas La Geynale 2011 from Domaine Vincent Paris.

The fourth wine was a great big thing. Maybe this was The Armagh? It was Yalumba’s The Octavius Shiraz 2008.

The Armagh had to be here somewhere. Finally, I guessed it correctly for wine 5. Glastonbury called it a “ballsy wine”. At £140 RRP this was the most expensive wine here.

The final wine was garnet at the edge and had a lovely mid-palate texture, with grip on the finish but not at all clunky or overbearing. A good example of… Barossa? Yup, it was Rockford Basket Press Shiraz 2007, a wine that I’ve always enjoyed and admired and a nice way to finish the tasting.

Share This Post

Sunshine Patriots and Glorious Triumphs: Château Margaux 2004-1983

Posted by admin in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

With Sotheby’s sale of “Château Margaux 1900-2010 Direct From The Cellars: A Celebration of the Mentzelopoulos Era” to be held on 17th October, I thought I’d revisit some supposedly “lesser” Margaux vintages that I’ve tasted.

Jay McInerney, the novelist and Wall Street Journal wine correspondent, has written, “Many buyers tend to be sunshine patriots, buying in only great years.”

Outstanding vintages are almost as infrequent as Halley Comet’s visits to the inner solar system. That leaves a good deal of fine wine that is largely forgotten. But there is pleasure, and value for money, to be had by considering (and drinking) the less fashionable, lower-scoring years.

Fantastic Four

Margaux is an estate with the terroir and winemaking ability to make excellent wine in “lesser” years. The 2004, for example, is a lovely Margaux, lost between the high-scoring 2003 and 2005. Paul Pontallier, technical director of Château Margaux, calls 2004 “harmonious, a very fine and classical vintage.” It is lovely to drink now or cellar to 2020+.

Tonight I’m Gonna Party Like It’s 1999

The ’99 Margaux is undervalued because of the great 2000 that followed. It does not have the power of 2000 or 2003 but it charms with its elegance. This wine is “what Château Margaux stands for—balance, delicacy, softness, and strength”, believes Monsieur Pontallier.

The Velvet Revolution

The 1989 and 1990 vintages brought a great decade for Bordeaux to a successful close. Margaux 1990 was an early recipient of a 100-point score but the 1989 failed to impress the sage of Monkton. The vintage had many of the ingredients for success. Harvesting began on 11 September, with just one day of rain, and was the earliest since 1893 (which begun on 17 August!), with ripeness levels reminiscent of 1982.

On the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, Château Margaux crafted a masterpiece that “combines power and subtlety,” says Pontallier. The 1989 was approachable from a young age, due to its ripeness and velvety texture. As voluptuous as Rubens’s painting of Venus, its astonishing concentration and brisk acidity suggest that the wine will endure for many years.

The Twin Paradox

Like 1989 and 1990, 1983 and 1982 are non-identical twin vintages. “Today the 1982 is less evolved than the 1961 was when I tasted it in 1983,” says Pontallier of this famous vintage. Tasted from magnum, it appears to have peaked, and is not as fresh as the 1983, which might go further yet. Like the 1989, it is opulent and voluptuous but just starting to fade. Bottles would perhaps be more vigorous.

Paul Pontallier’s first vintage chez Margaux was 1983. Unfashionable and long overshadowed by its glamorous predecessor the year before, 1983 saw a big crop, only about 10% less than 1982. August was very warm, carrying with it the threat of rot, but this was avoided and the balmy weather continued into September. It was a good year for Cabernet Sauvignon and is a distinguished vintage for the Margaux commune, though less good for St- Estèphe and the Right Bank.

The ’83 retains a good depth of color for its age, with aged aromas of cedar wood. If not quite fully grownup, it is so close and authoritative that it can be drunk with great pleasure now. For me it is superior to the ’82 and perhaps a better bet over the next ten years or more.


Share This Post

River Deep, Mountain High: Trento DOC Sparkling Wines

Posted by admin in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A reprint of an article first published by Fine Wine International.

Overshadowed by Prosecco and Franciacorta in export markets, Trento DOC accounts for 12% of the domestic Italian sparkling wine market. Ten percent of its production is exported.


Giulio Ferrari – no relation to Enzo – initiated sparkling wine in this mountainous part of Italy in 1902, when Trento was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Owned by the Lunelli family since 1952, Ferrari remains the preeminent and largest producer of Trento DOC, with an annual production of five million bottles, 90% of which is sold in Italy.

The Istituto Trento DOC Metodo Classico was established in 1984 and, with the Istituto Agrario di San Michele all’Adige, oversaw production of classic method sparkling wines in Trentino.

In 1993 Trento was the first sparkling wine after Champagne – and the first Italian sparkling wine – to gain protected origin status. Trento DOC is for sparkling wines only; still wines come under the Trentino DOC.

Today there are 37 producers of Metodo di Classico di Trentino working with 3,000 hectares of vineyards planted with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Mountain bubbles

The pale-coloured, sharp-edged Dolomites are reflected in the area’s wines. Mountains and lakes influence Trento’s terroir. Vines are planted at up to 800 metres altitude, scattered across the mountains and valleys that overlook the River Adige. Altitude compensates for latitude here, with some vineyards so steep that at Azienda Agricola Zeni, for instance, the tractors have roofs to protect the driver in case the tractor topples over. Because of the slopes grapes are invariably hand harvested. Valley floor soils are alluvial but in the hills are more calcareous.

Vineyard holdings are fragmented. Ferrari works with 600 growers. The Cantina La Vis co-op has 300 members with an average holding of one hectare. 4,500 growers supply Trentino’s largest producer Cavit.

Vines are trained to guyot or pergola, though replantings always utilise the superior guyot system. The wind that blows in from Lake Garda to refresh the vines (and the workers) lends itself to organic viticulture, as pursued by Endrizzi, Zeni and Maso Martis, for example.

The Trento DOC regulations insist on “High quality base grapes grown in Trentino, second fermentation in the bottle, prolonged contact with the lees followed by long maturation and excellent winegrowing and winemaking techniques supervised and guaranteed by a high standard of professionalism.”

Wines must be made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and / or Pinot Blanc. Rosé wines can be made only by saignée. The minimum ageing period for NV wines is 24 months and for Riserva wines 36 months. The disgorgement date is declared on the label – not something that happens all that often in Champagne.

There is no minimum dosage but the maximum is “in conformity with EEC regulation”. In practice the wines tend to have a low dosage of no more than 10 grams per litre.

Pressure tends to be 5.5-6 atmospheres, more or less the same as a bottle of Champagne. (A refrigerated can of soda is about 2 atmospheres).

Trento Class Cruisers: A tasting of 15 Trento DOC wines 2007-1991

15 wines from five producers were presented at an “Old Vintage Tasting” held at the sixteenth century Palazzo Roccabruna in Trento as part of the “Bollicine Su Trento” (“Bubbles Over Trento”) event.

Abate Nero Riserva 2003

Abate Nero is a Trento DOC specialist – no still wines are made here.

The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes for Riserva were sourced from Trento and Lavis hillsides at 300-700 metres altitude.

An etched glass doubtless encouraged the fine mousse. Fresh and vaguely sherbetty on the nose, and not particularly leesy (though it was disgorged in 2011), the palate had dry richness but was a bit blurred at the edges. With aeration the pleasing flavours and acidity gave way to some acetate. Drink now.

Abate Nero Riserva 2002

Like the 2003, this was blended from 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir and had a dosage of 6.8 grams per litre. This vintage had less time on the lees, though, and was disgorged in “mid-2007”.

The mousse was more persistent than the 2003’s, though it lacks that wine’s complexity. Drink now.

Abate Nero Riserva 2001

A fine, persistent mousse again. Disgorged in “mid-2006”, the 2001 was fresh but had hint of furniture polish – linoleum perhaps. Smoothly textured and with great vivacity on the palate for its age, this wine declined badly with aeration to become excessively aldehydic.

Altemasi di Cavit Altemasi Riserva Graal 2003

This wine represents 10%, or 300,000 bottles, of the vast Cavit co-operative’s annual production.

Sourced from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vineyards overlooking Trento, Brentonico and the Lakes valley , it was disgorged in May 2010. A third of the Chardonnay was fermented in barriques.

It improved with aeration but remained unappealing. The rubbery, “burnt” nose suggested reduction.

Altemasi di Cavit Altemasi Riserva Graal 2000

This was much better. Disgorged in March 2007, it was clean, brisk and pleasant. The palate was vaguely honeyed and finished with some nuttiness. Drink now to 2015.

Altemasi di Cavit Altemasi Riserva Graal 1998

This was the best wine yet. Honeyed on the nose, its lip-smacking acidity and more than decent length showed real quality. After an hour or so in the glass it became very leesy – disgorgement was in April 2006.

Azienda Vinicola Methius Riserva 2006

Methius makes 15,000 bottles per year of this wine, which represents 20% of total production. A 60/40 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, it came from Faedo and Pressano hillsides at 350-500 metres altitude north of Trento on the east side of the River Adige. It was disgorged in September 2011.

Toasty at first, it showed good freshness, concentration and acidity, though overall was relatively simple.

Azienda Vinicola Methius Riserva 2005

A fellow taster complained about excessive sulphur. The 2005 had 110 parts per million, which was the highest of any wine here but not by much.

This was more honeyed than the 2006 but had excellent length again.

Azienda Vinicola Methius Riserva 2002

An excellent sparkling wine of real interest. All sorts of things could be smelled and tasted here: linoleum, honey, herbs and even Panettone. Nicely textured and with excellent length, like the 2005 and 2006 it had five years on the lees.

Istituto Agrario di San Michele all’Adige Riserva del Fondatore Mach 2007

The Istituto, which is now known as Fondazione Edmund Mach, is an agricultural college that makes wines under its own name from 50 hectares of vines. About 10,000 bottles a year of Riserva del Fondatore Mach are produced, which is about 4% of the winery’s total production.

The Chardonnay grapes for this came from vineyards at 700 metres altitude on “glacial deposit soil with marl-calcareous mineral content, sub-alkaline, fine loamy structure, strong skeleton (sic) and good organic matter content.”

As bright and fresh as the morning air in Trento, it was fruity, charming and invigorating but fundamentally simple. Disgorgement was in September 2011.

Istituto Agrario di San Michele all’Adige Riserva del Fondatore Mach 2006

Also disgorged in September 2011, the 2006 was much more complex than the previous wine, with nuttiness and fine length.

Istituto Agrario di San Michele all’Adige Riserva del Fondatore Mach 2002

A lick of acidity on the finish keeps this bracingly vigorous. Deep and dense, it could be drunk with red meat. Disgorged in September 2006.

Giulio Ferrari Fratelli Lunelli Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore 2001

First made in 1972, Riserva del Fondatore accounts for less than 1% of Ferrari’s annual production of five million bottles.

It is sourced from a Chardonnay vineyard called “Maso Pianizza”, 500-600 metres above sea level in the commune of Trento.

As golden as a Garda sunset, it was complex but remains fresh and lively. Riserva del Fondatore has significant ageing on the lees, at least a year more than any other wine tasted here. The 2001 was disgorged in 2010 but the vivid fruit keeps the leesy flavours in rein, though some nuttiness showed on the finish.

Giulio Ferrari Fratelli Lunelli Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore 1994

Less vivid than the 2001, with a paler colour and duller mousse, this was nonetheless delicious. The nose suggested sottobosco. Like the previous wine, it was disgorged in 2010.

Giulio Ferrari Fratelli Lunelli Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore 1991

At 20 years old, this still has concert pitch acidity. Truffles, dried fruits and some nuttiness suggest age but it has retained freshness. Also disgorged in 2010.

Share This Post

1855 and all that: The Bordeaux Classification and the arts

Posted by admin in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

While the Bordeaux brokers were busy establishing a wine hierarchy at the Exposition Universelle 160 years ago, a painter from Ornans was busy challenging the art hierarchy. Displeased by the space allocated to him at the Exposition, Gustave Courbet organised his own exhibition – adjacent to the official pavilion – called ‘Le Réalisme’, showing 40 of his own paintings. Courbet was de facto leader (though he did not form a school) of the Realist movement that championed accurate and objective representation, but was also a rebellion against historical, mythological and religious themes. He was asked to include angels in a painting for a church, but declared that ‘I have never seen an angel. Show me an angel and I will paint one’”.

Courbet_LAtelier_du_peintreThe centrepiece of his one-man exhibition in Paris was the six-metres wide canvas entitled “L’Atelier du peintre” (“The Painter’s Studio”), subtitled (oxymoronically) “Allegory of Realism”. In his long and rambling account of the painting in the preface to the catalogue of his one-man show, Courbet described it as “the moral and physical history of my studio” and that it showed “all the people who serve my cause, sustain me in my ideal and support my activity”.

The figures on the left of the canvas were described by Courbet as “the world of commonplace life” (with Baudelaire among them), though many viewers saw covert political content in the painting – the 1848 revolution had taken place only seven years previously, and Louis-Napoleon had become the authoritarian Napoleon III, supposedly represented in Courbet’s painting by the figure of the hunter. “L’Atelier du peintre” was later described by Huysmans as “une terrifiante ânerie imaginée par un homme sans education et peinte par un vieux manoeuvre”.

1024px-William_Holman_Hunt_-_The_ScapegoatAcross the Channel, English painters were producing work that would have outraged the obstinate and self-assured Courbet. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood had been formed in 1848 by several young artists, though by 1855 the group had effectively dissolved. Their style was a huge contrast to that of Courbet and the Realists: flat, bright colours and meticulous representation of detail, often with what is now considered to be a rather mawkish sentimentality of theme, as seen in the moral and social symbolism of William Holman Hunt’s 1855 canvas “The Scapegoat”.

Closer to Courbet’s Realism was Mrs Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell’s novel “North and South” – a depiction of the social contrasts between rural southern England and the industrial north – which was serialised in “Household Words” from September 1854 to January 1855, but published in volume form later in the year.  Dickens’ “Little Dorrit” was published in monthly parts from December 1855 to June 1857, the tale of Amy Dorrit – the “little Dorrit” of the title – and her father William, who has been in Marshalsea Prison for Debtors so long that he has become the ‘Father of the Marshalsea’. George Bernard Shaw later called it Dickens’ “masterpiece among many masterpieces”.

Westward_Ho!Tennyson – the Poet Laureate – published “Maud and Other Poems” in 1855. The British Prime Minister William Gladstone (this was an age when Prime Ministers actually read books) disliked the bloodshed in “Maud”, writing that “We do not recollect that 1855 was a season of serious danger from a mania for peace and its pursuits”. In contrast to Gladstone’s comments, Charles Kingsley’s story of the Devon seaman Amyas Leigh and his adventures against the Spanish Armada in “Westward Ho!” (still the only English novel to have a village named after it) thrilled contemporary readers who were mindful of events in the Crimea, where Florence Nightingale was a real life heroine.

Charlotte Brontë – the last surviving Brontë sibling – died, but “The Daily Telegraph” was born. It was the first paper to be issued in London at a penny and was hugely successful, for a while enjoying a higher circulation than any other English paper. Thornton Hunt, the eldest son of poet and essayist Leigh Hunt, was officially a staff member but in fact served as de facto editor, imbuing the paper with radical political views in its early days.

597Robert Browning’s two volume collection of 51 poems “Men and Women”, which he called “poems all sorts and sizes and styles and subjects”, featured much of his finest work, such as “Love among the Ruins”, “Childe Harold to the Dark Tower Came”, and “Fra Lippo Lippi”. In America, Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” first appeared in 1855, saturated – as Whitman himself put it – “with the vehemence of pride and the audacity of freedom necessary to loosen the mind of still-to-be form’d America from the folds, the superstitions, and all the long, tenacious and stifling anti-democratic authorities of Asiatic and European past”. The collection appeared in eight editions altogether during Whitman’s lifetime, each edition an enlargement and revision of the one preceding it. Similarly, Trollope’s “The Warden” was the first in his “Barsetshire” series of six novels, concluding with “The Last Chronicle of Barset” in 1867.

The 1855 Médoc Classification, however, has proved to be rather more durable than much of the literature and painting produced in the same year. For the arts, then, 1855 was a good – but certainly not great – vintage.

Share This Post

Book Review: ‘The Art of Forgery” by Noah Charney

Posted by admin in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Noah Charney819BsYltIDL


296 pp. Phaidon Press. Hardback. £19.95.

978 0 714 867458

Art historian and art crime expert Noah Charney’s new book – his ninth full-length published work – is an illustrated history of forgery, fakes, and fraud. (For the record, I co-authored The Wine Forger’s Handbook with Charney, upon which some of The Art of Forgery’s text is based.)

Wine, like art, is prized more for its non-intrinsic value than its intrinsic worth. A painting consists of a frame, a canvas, paints, and varnish. A wine consists of a bottle, a capsule, a cork and some fermented grape juice. The component parts of a painting or wine are worth very little. In January 2009 the “Revue du Vin de France” published an investigation – un exposé! – of the real cost of fine wines. It calculated that a bottle of Pétrus 2005 (currently available from a prestigious London wine merchant at £3,243) cost €30 to produce, of which €10 were for the bottle and the “anti-fraud” label. A large canvas and some oil paints would cost a bit more, though still far from the value of an old and rare painting.

The potential profits for fraudsters are massive but the prison sentences tend to be light, though in August 2014 Rudy Kurniawan was sentenced to ten years in prison, with a $20 million fine and a further $28.4 million in compensation to be paid to his victims. That is a far greater sentence than any of the art forgers cited by Charney.

The fall of the Knoedler Gallery, established in 1857, in New York in autumn 2011 after it has been exposed as selling forgeries, was a shock. No other gallery of similar prestige has been taken down like this. For all the noise about fakes and forgeries at major wine auctions, no big wine merchant or auctioneer has yet gone down because of fraud. The closest thing to this happening was in 1973 when the Cruse negociant firm was found to have been selling cheap plonk as high quality Bordeaux. The family had to sell Château Pontet-Canet but otherwise the business continued more or less as before.

The rise in fake art and wine has been fuelled by demand from all that new money in so-called “emerging markets” like China. The Getty Museum in California acquired art “with an air of new-money panic”, writes Charney, which brings to mind the immense spending sprees of Chinese wine collectors in recent years, often unwittingly filling their cellars with non-genuine bottles.

It is common to assume that anybody involved with fakes and forgeries is motivated by filthy lucre but Charney notes that money alone is not always what motivates forgers. As applied to wine, think of Rudy Kurniawan and the big-shot collectors that he partied with, or Rene Dehn of The White Club and his Walter Mitty notions of his own wealth. There is a word for this type of person and it is sociopath. In their own minds, the usual rules don’t apply to them. What’s wrong with serving and selling fake wines if people are enjoying themselves?

At the commercial and professional level, there is an inherent conflict of interest when an auctioneer “appraises” a cellar. Because auctioneers rely on consignments for their livelihood there are always demands from managers and shareholders to “authenticate” potentially valuable wines.

In the realms of art and wine connoisseurship there is no national or international standard of who can be called an expert. Being a Master of Wine does not qualify anybody to authenticate old bottles. Even now, with all the benefits of scientific analysis available, most works of art and fine wines are sold based only on the pronouncement of “experts”.

Authentication boards, artists’ estates, or non-professional wine “experts” who boast of their lack of commercial interests can also seek to discredit what are considered to be authentic goods for reputational reasons (that word sociopath comes to mind again). At least with an auction house there are several experts on hand who can guard against subjectivity and a one-person authentication committee.

Charney notes, “the word of an expert (often self-proclaimed, without further bona fides)… continues to play a vital role in art authentication”. This brings to mind the squalor of Spectrum Wine Auctions and The White Club, against whom a Los Angeles-based collector made accusations of selling fraudulent bottles. Said “expert” had never seen any of the allegedly dodgy bottles for himself: it still beggars belief that anybody could call something a fake or forgery based only on auction catalogue photographs and a strong opinion, and without any knowledge of the wines’ provenance (though the fact that Spectrum did not publish any details of provenance in their catalogue was hardly reassuring). Indeed, all this “expert” does is write immensely long, inaccurate and obnoxious posts on a US-based wine enthusiasts’ (i.e. wine geeks’) site, which, because of its registered location, is protected by First Amendment freedom of speech laws: People can say what they like and make entirely false accusations without fear of redress. Of course it is far more egregious to authenticate a forgery than it is to misattribute a work of art of bottle of fine wine – but the real test of skill is to authenticate, not to damn.

The arrogance of this supposed wine “authenticator” recalls that of H.P. Bremmer, an art expert who declared that even if an artist said that a work was one of his best, Bremmer would still know that it was a forgery because declaring authenticity was Bremmer’s job, not the artist’s. If the man in LA says that something is not genuine then it is not genuine, despite evidence to the contrary. These are people who see what they want to see: They see fakes when they want to discredit competitors and make themselves look clever, and they see real when they want to believe. “Optimistic attribution” is Charney’s wry description of how people will a work to be genuine, even when there is no evidence to support authenticity.

But it is difficult and things are rarely clear-cut. Charney cites the example of Jan Gossaert’s Virgin and Child, dated to 1527, which was found to contain nineteenth century paint pigments and was therefore assumed to be a forgery. But it turned out that these were from a heavy-handed restoration.

Hugh Trevor-Roper and Sir Anthony Blunt are two high-profile and high-tuned intellects to be caught out by fraudsters. One wonders how such apparently clever men could have been made such fools of. But it can and does happen to the best of us. Michael Broadbent MW, former head of Christie’s wine department, was horribly caught-out by Hardy Rodenstock. Their relationship has parallels with that of Bernard Berenson and Joseph Duveen – the internationally renowned scholar and the international dealer, mutually dependent on each other to create lucrative business opportunities – though of course Broadbent was entirely innocent of any wrongdoing.

“Reconditioning” is the vinous equivalent of an old painting being “restored.” But if an old wine has got something else (and something much younger) in it, is it still the real thing? Is a bottle that has been reconditioned at the château itself more genuine than a bottle concocted by a wine forger, with a half-full bottle of something old and nice topped up with something not so old and nice? Well, that is what the châteaux do. “New wine in old bottles” is what Charney calls a “provenance trap” – a refilled DRC bottle with a serial number that can be traced in auction catalogues is like a fake picture in an old frame with auction house stamps on it – the frame or bottle is genuine and has a paper trail, so it’s assumed to be genuine. It is disturbingly easy for fraudsters to get away with this.

Charney suggests, “the key would be for the provenance researcher to have no vested interest in the sale of any object”. Unfortunately it is a financial necessity for most authenticators to offer purchasing and selling services. “It is up to buyers, collectively, to insist upon (independent, forensic testing) – and perhaps to pay for them, for the art trade is not likely to volunteer,” says Charney. Nor, alas, is the wine trade.

At least with art there is a lot of scientific analysis that can prove whether a work is genuine or not. With old wine there is no formal scientific testing that can prove whether it is genuine or not. There is no vinous equivalent of Cranfield University’s “forensic science research” project with Bonhams, to authenticate works of art. An old bottle cannot be x-rayed like an old painting. Indeed, it is probably easier to send a manned mission to Mars than to find a foolproof and universally acceptable anti-counterfeiting method for fine wine. The search continues.

This is a fascinating and thought-provoking book.

Share This Post

Applications now open for 2016 Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection

Posted by admin in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My friend and colleague Noah Charney, with whom I co-authored The Wine Forger’s Handbook, has just announced dates for his 2016 Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection.

“The Early Application period for the 2016 Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection will open in September 2015. Early applications will be considered through November 15, 2015.  The general application period will run from November 16, 2015 through January 01, 2016 subject to remaining census and housing availability.

Applications are reviewed on this rolling basis until census is full so it is recommended that interested candidates apply early.

For a detailed prospectus and an application materials please contact us at: education (at) artcrimeresearch.org

The Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA) 2016 Postgraduate Certificate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies will be held from May 27 through August 15, 2016 in the heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy.

In its 8th year, this academically intensive ten-week program provides in-depth, postgraduate level instruction in a wide variety of theoretical and practical elements of art and heritage crime. During the summer students will explore art crime in history, its nature, its impact, and what is currently being done to mitigate it. Students completing the onsite courses and a final thesis earn a postgraduate certificate under the guidance of internationally renowned cultural property protection professionals.ARCA's Abbey Road - Class of 2013

This professional development program has been designed to expose participants to an integrated curriculum  in a highly interactive, participatory, student-centered setting. Instructional modules include both classroom and in situ field lectures as well as “hands-on” learning from case studies, organized research, and group participatory assignments and discussions. At the conclusion of the program, participants will have a solid mastery of a broad array of concepts pertaining to cultural property protection, preservation, conservation, and security.

City of Amelia, Italy

During the program students explore such topics as:

• the licit and illicit art trade

•criminological theory and the art thief

•art and heritage law

• art and antiquities policing

•art crime in war and conflicts

• museum security

• art provenance and collection histories

• art forgery

• cultural heritage repatriation

•art insurance & underwriting

•art crime’s relationship with the art market

The culmination of the ten week academic program is the completion of a final thesis, submitted by each student in late autumn after successful completion of the onsite courses associated with the program. The completion of this written body of work serves as the capstone to the postgraduate certificate program and demonstrates the student’s ability to conduct independent scholarly research, data collection and analysis and to make a significant contribution to the research literature in the field of art crime.

Integral to the thesis process is the opportunity for students to work with the program’s academic director and assigned thesis advisors who help shape the student’s thesis and oversees the project from it from inception through final submission. This thesis advisory team also guarantees that the student’s work meets ARCA’s standards for submission.


This interdisciplinary program offers substantive study for art police and security professionals, lawyers, insurers, curators, conservators, 2013 Students visiting Amelia's Historic Theatre - Photo by Mink Boycemembers of the art trade, and post-graduate students of criminology, law, security studies, sociology, art history, archaeology, and history.

Course Schedule for 2016

“Art and Heritage Law”
Dr. Duncan Chappell, Lawyer and Criminologist
Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Sydney
Conjoint Professor in the School of Psychiatry at the University of NSW
Chair of the International Advisory Board of the Australian Research Council’s Center of Excellence in Policing and Security.
Former Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology (1987-1994)

“Art Policing, Protection and Investigation”
Dick Ellis, Law Enforcement, Security and Investigation
Detective and Founder of The Metropolitan Police, New Scotland Yard Art and Antiquities Squad (retired),
Director, Art Management Group

“Insurance Claims and the Art Trade”
Dorit Straus, Insurance Industry Expert
Insurance Industry Consultant, Art Recovery Group PLC
Vice President and Worldwide Specialty Fine Art Manager for Chubb & Son, a division of Federal Insurance Company (retired)

“Art Forgers and Thieves”
Dr. Noah Charney, Author, Journalist, Art History and Criminology Lecturer, ARCA FOunder
Adjunct Professor of Art History, American University of Rome
Author, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., Phaidon, PublicAffairs, Simon & Schuster
Journalist, ArtInfo, The Daily Beast, The Guardian, Wired

“Museum Security and Risk Assessment”
Dick Drent, Museum Security Expert, Law Enforcement and National Security Expert
Director, Omnirisk
Associate Director, Holland Integrity Group
Corporate Security Manager, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (retired)

“Art Crime in War”
Judge Arthur Tompkins, Judge, Forensic Expert
District Court Judge, New Zealand Ministry of Justice

“Unravelling the Hidden Market of Illicit Antiquities: Lessons from Greece and Italy”
Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis, Forensic Archaeologist, Illicit Antiquities Researcher
Researcher, Trafficking Culture Project, Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, University of Glasgow
Forensic archaeologist, Illicit antiquities researcher, University of Cambridge

“Breitwiesers, Medicis, Beltracchis, Gurlitts and Other Shady Artsy Characters: How to Analyze their Crimes Empirically”
Marc Balcells, Criminal Defense Attorney, Criminologist
Professor Universidad Miguel Hernandez de Elche
Consultant Universitat Oberta de Catalunya
Graduate Teaching Fellow at The City University of New York – John Jay College of Criminal Justice

“Antiquities and Identity”
Dr. Valerie Higgins, Archaeologist
Associate Professor and Program Director of Archaeology and Classics
Program Director, MA Programming in Sustainable Cultural Heritage at the American University of Rome

“The International Art Market and Associated Risk” (**to be confirmed)
Dr. Tom Flynn, Art Historian and London Art Lecturer,
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Richmond The American International University, London
Sr. Lecturer and Course Director, RICS-Accredited Art Market & Art Appraisal Kingston University, Lecturer, History of the Art Market, Art & Business, IESA/Wallace Collection

Important Dates

November 16, 2015 – Early Application Deadline
January 01, 2016 – General Application Deadline
April 2016 – Advance Reading Assigned
May 27, 2016 – Students Arrive in Amelia
May 28 and 29, 2016 – Orientation
May 30, 2016 – Classes Begin
June 24-26, 2016 – ARCA’s Annual Summer Art Crime  Conference
August 11-15, 2016 – Student Housing Check-out**
November 15, 2016 – Thesis Submission Deadline

**Some students stay in Amelia to relax a few days after the program to participate in the August Palio dei Colombi, Notte Bianca and Ferragosto festivities.

For questions about programming, costs, and census availability, please write to us for a complete prospectus and application at: education (at) artcrimeresearch.org”

Share This Post

All That Sparkles: English Wine

Posted by admin in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

It’s a wet Bank Holiday Monday, so I though I’d reproduce an article on English wine first published by Meininger’s Wine Business International in 2011.

English humour has often travelled well. Monty Python and Benny Hill were exported worldwide to the delight of local audiences. English wine was also considered to be highly amusing. In 2008 it was reported that Prince Charles had converted his Aston Martin to run on wine from a Wiltshire vineyard (in fact, it was bioethanol fuel distilled from surplus wine).

Today, however, there is less joking about English wine – and particularly its sparkling wines. There has been an unofficial Royal seal of approval for English fizz. Chapel Down was allegedly drunk at (or after) the wedding of Prince William and Catharine Middleton. The Queen served Ridgeview Fitzrovia Sparkling Rosé 2004 at the state dinner to honour the visit of President Barack Obama. A vineyard has been planted in Windsor Great Park with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. And if all that weren’t enough, Royal approval of English wine was confirmed when the Duchess of Cornwall became President of The United Kingdom Vineyards Association.

Even when the jokes were coming thick and fast, English sparkling wines were winning awards, which have generated much positive PR. “A lot of our sparkling wines, particularly those that have succeeded in blind tasting competitions, have more than proved that for their price they more than match Champagne” says Julia Trustram Eve, Marketing manager of the English Wine Producers association.

Guys and dolls

The modern English wine industry was established by Major-General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones, who planted a vineyard at Hambledon in Hampshire in the early 1950s, apparently the first commercial vineyard to be planted in England since the Middle Ages. More vineyards and wineries were created through the 1960s and 1970s, typically by retired major generals with little practical experience of viticulture or winemaking.

By the 1980s, though, the industry was increasingly professional and becoming more attractive to outsiders. The Anglophile Americans Stuart and Sandy Moss purchased Nyetimber in 1986. On the advice of the Champenois, they planted Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier vines in 1988. The first commercially available vintage (1992) was released in 1997 and awarded a Gold Medal and the trophy for Best English Wine at the International Wine and Spirit Challenge. “The Nyetimber effect”, as Trustram Eve calls it, was the catalyst for more English sparkling wine to be made from the classic Champagne varieties.

It wasn’t just professionalism that enabled a sparkling wine industry to develop, though. According to Stephen Skelton MW, viticultural consultant to several English wineries, “The weather and climate change has made English sparkling wine possible. The double fermentation of sparkling wine helps acidity but there’s no doubt that we can now ripen Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Conditions for growing grapes have got better – higher daytime temperatures, warmer nights and longer growing periods have meant higher sugar levels. We’re growing varieties that we could only dream of when the first vineyards were planted post-war. Chardonnay was tried and it just wouldn’t ripen.”

Producing good quality, reasonably priced still wine relies on affordable land and plenty of sunshine, neither of which are in much supply in England. At any rate, English vineyards are closer to Champagne than to Germany, from where so many English vines came. Michael Roberts of Ridgeview says, “Sparkling adds value to the product. We don’t have enough added value in still wine.”

On the spur of the moment

The show-success of English sparkling wines has caught the eye of some noted wine industry dignitaries. Christian Seely, the English-born Managing Director of AXA Millésimes (which owns Château Pichon-Longueville, Château Suduiraut and Quinta do Noval, among others) formed a partnership with former banker Nicholas Coates to make sparkling wine from two vineyards in Hampshire using what they unofficially call “Méthode Britannique”.

When the wife of the distinguished writer Steven Spurrier bought a farm in Dorset in 1987 he “realised there was a lot of chalk in the soil. I asked the Chablis producer Michel Laroche to come and see it and he took some soil samples back to Auxerre and pronounced them fine for Chardonnay. The summer of 1987 was a washout and I forgot about the idea until a few years ago, when it became plain to me that some of the lower part of the farm was perfect for vines.”

Spurrier presented a dossier to Jean-Claude Boisset and family at Vinexpo in 2007. They became interested in a joint venture and suggested planting the best ten hectares of Spurrier’s land with vines from Pépinières Guillaume (vine supplier to Bollinger, Pol Roger, DRC and others). Boisset would then distribute the wines worldwide.

The first 12,500 vines were planted in May 2009, from which the first crop will be harvested this year. So far 20,000 vines have been planted on five hectares, with the remaining five to be completed next year. Ian Edwards at Furleigh Estate will make the wines.

“My inspirations are Pol Roger and Ridgeview”, says Spurrier. “I plan to make a blend of not less than 30% Chardonnay and not more than 70% Pinots and a Blanc de Blancs, probably 2/3 and 1/3. The wines will be as elegant as possible.”

Despite the Spurrier-Boisset partnership, however, only one Champagne producer (Pierson Whitaker) has actually bought a vineyard in England. Michel Chapoutier has expressed interest in making (still) English wines but according to Skelton “a lot of (overseas) people have expressed interest but nobody has actually done it yet.”

Trustram Eve adds, “We’re aware that there’s been interest expressed by one or two Champagne houses. It’s tailed off because of the recession but they want to invest in the future here in the same way that they have invested in other parts of the world. I believe that land here is a tenth of the price of land in Champagne – so it represents good value for money!”

The Price is Right

Spurrier has high ambitions, then, but there still remains the challenge of selling English sparkling wine at a price the same as, or at least close to, that of Champagne. “They seem happy to pay around £25 at the moment for the top English sparkling wines”, comments Spurrier. “I must admit that this surprises me but I think there is more demand than supply at the moment.”

Susanna Forbes of the website DrinkBritain.com says, “Once people have made the effort to get to a winery, they seem to have more of an understanding about size of operation, so they are not too surprised that it’s not two for a tenner. English wine seems to be doing well in positioning itself nearer to Champagne than to Cava or Prosecco.”

Roberts admits, “(In the early days) we didn’t dare put ‘English’ on the label because it was a negative marketing move. But after a wonderful decade of publicity the perception now is that it’s very good value. A typical price still beats a BOGOF, discounted Champagne. Pricewise we’re not really competing with Champagne.”

Skelton comments, “We can produce good sparkling wine from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The question is whether it can be done economically, which depends on costs of production and retail prices. At £10 it’s not worth doing. At £30 it makes a lot of money. So somewhere between those two figures you can make money. Purchasing land is obviously a major cost. We don’t have an economy in which you can buy grapes like they do in Champagne. Most producers here have to buy their own land at £6,000-10,000 per acre. But in Champagne it can be any figure you want up to €10 million per hectare. English grapes cost a third to half the price of Champagne grapes. Production costs – fermentation, rémuage, dégorgement, bottling and so on – are not markedly different to Champagne.”

English wine is taxed like any other (imported) wine. “There’s nothing we can do to avoid taxation”, admits Trustram Eve. “We’re not lobbying for it because it’s not something that is going to move. But a £25 bottle of English sparkling wine is more than comparable in quality to a bottle of Grande Marque Champagne at £35-40.”

Cellar doors of perception

The easiest and most profitable way to sell English wine is at the cellar door, as Forbes explains: “Cellar door sales means less takings going to the middle men. With the small production volumes that most wineries deal with, it makes them vital to the English wine industry. Equally importantly, it builds a strong fan base, which is why wineries that don’t really need to open are doing so. Similarly, newer operators who already sell out swiftly and have built a good reputation have ambitious visitor centre plans as part of their winery growth projections. This physical connection is all the more important with the relatively high prices being charged.”

“Profitability hangs on retail prices”, says Skelton. “But volumes are minute and very little wine is sold on the market away from the vineyards. This will increase as the new plantings come into production but who knows what will happen to the price? Is it going to be a substitute purchase for Champagne or will it be an entirely new market?”

According to Trustram Eve. “Our (planted) acreage since 2004 has nearly doubled, most of which has been planting of traditional sparkling wine varieties.” Increased plantings implies increased production but many of these new plantings will not be bottled for several years yet. “We have had some pundits talk about over-production”, she adds, “but we are and will be producing a fraction of what Champagne produces.”

England has successfully exported muffins, cricket, Tony Blair and various members of the Royal Family but is the world ready for English sparkling wine? “Exports are starting and it is a sector that is going to grow”, says Trustram Eve. “Some is exported already to the Far East, to Scandinavia and to America but there’s a lot of potential for new labels coming onto the market.”

According to Michael Roberts, 40 million bottles of Champagne and 60 million bottles of sparkling wine are sold in the UK annually so “we’re trying to find a home for 5 million bottles.” Ridgeview exports to Finland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Estonia, Switzerland and Ireland. Roberts says, “Yes, we see an overseas market for English sparkling wine. There is less resistance to the word ‘English’ overseas than there is in England. It’s a very valid brand.”

Skelton, however, is less convinced by the need or desire to export: “I don’t see much of a market overseas. We have a massive market so why would you go overseas with all the expenses involved? Would you rather spend two weeks touring America trying to sell English wine or get more visitors to your vineyard and work out a way to increase your price?

Diamonds are forever

With the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics coming in 2012, hopes are high for English sparkling wine. The industry continues to grow and, through employment, land management and regional tourism, is contributing to the rural economy. Spurrier thinks that the future is “very strong, provided that only Champagne grapes are used and the quality is kept high.”

Ridgeview has trademarked the “MERRET” name for “English Quality Sparkling Wine”. With Nyetimber, Ridgeview is working on defining quality production parameters that English sparkling wine producers will be encouraged to sign up to. It is named after Christopher Merret who, according to the British wine writer Tom Stevenson, wrote of how “gay, brisk and sparkling wine” was being drunk in London more than 30 years before sparkling wine was first made in France and nearly 70 years before the first Champagne house was established.

“It needs more than a generic name to differentiate it from wines not made from Champagne varieties or not made by the Champagne method”, says Roberts. “I want to create a name for when wines have gone through a very stringent process and to encourage people to use the name. It will be a licensed trademark rather than something that has gone through the European Union to become a formal appellation.” He has done this, he says with typical English scepticism towards the EU, “to avoid bureaucracy.”

“Sparkling wine is without doubt the flagship of the English wine industry”, says Skelton. “It opens doors, generates interest and provokes the feel-good factor.” Now all they need to do is win some medals at the Olympics.

Share This Post

The Wine Forger’s Handbook: Unadulterated Tales

Posted by admin in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

After the recent publication of my friend and colleague Noah Charney’s The Art of Forgery, I thought that I’d publish an extract from The Wine Forger’s Handbook, which I co-authored with Noah.

Adulteration of wine – adding different or inferior wine to a superior and genuine wine – has a long history. The Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder complained that “genuine, unadulterated wine is not to be had now, not even by the nobility.” He was referring to fraudulent examples of Falernian, the most luxurious wine of Ancient Rome. Then, as now, the most sought-after wines were at most in danger of being reproduced illicitly.

In Medieval London it was illegal for tavern keepers to keep French and Spanish wines together in the same cellar with German wines, an easily circumvented attempt to prevent mixing or substitution. Even high literature preserves a warning against adulterated wine. “The Pardoner’s Tale,” part of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, relates:

Now kepe yow fro the white and fro the rede,

And namely, fro the white wyn of Lepe,

That is to selle in fysshstrete, or in Chepe.

This wyn of Spaigne crepeth subtilly

In othere wynes, growynge faste by,

Of which ther ryseth swich fumositee,

That whan a man hath dronken draughtes thre

And weneth that he be at hoom in Chepe,

He is in Spaigne, right at the toune of Lepe,

Nat at the Rochele, ne at Burdeux toun…

Chaucer, who was himself a “messenger” (sometimes described as a “spy”) for King Edward III, knew a thing or two about deception. His father was a London-based vintner, so he knew a thing or two about wine, as well. Chaucer warns that Bordeaux wines are being substituted with less expensive Spanish plonk. Concern that what is on your wine label is not what is inside the bottle is nothing new.

Frederick Accum’s 1820 “Treatise on Adulterations” criticised the adulteration of wines. The wine dealer who “practises this dangerous sophistication, adds the crime of murder to that of fraud, and deliberately scatters the seeds of disease and death among those consumers who contribute to his emolument.” This may sound a little harsh but a brief conversation with a collector who has been defrauded into purchasing fake wine will show that being fooled is taken personally – and the victims are often out for blood.

No one was ever physically harmed by a fake painting (unless it was dropped on their foot), but adulterated or fake wine poses a potential health risk. This is especially the case in China, where food safety regulations are still lax, and where the majority of counterfeit luxury goods originate. In March 2011, the official Xinhua news agency reported, “the quality of food safety supervision and inspection would be a primary task in 2011.” It may be a case of too little too late.

China, it seems, is the main source of large-scale fraudulent wine, as well as other counterfeit luxury goods. A 2008 study of illicit luxury goods entering the United States (estimated at $287 billion per year in illegal profits), found that 85% of all counterfeit luxury goods, from Gucci handbags to fine wines, came out of China. An estimated 750,000 jobs have been lost in luxury goods industries, due to the under-pricing and rapid sales of fake luxury goods cheaply produced in China and now displacing legitimate products for consumers.

In the world of fine wines, there are two main types of fraud. Chaucer mentioned one of them: filling a genuine bottle with an inferior wine, like mixing Bordeaux with less expensive Spanish wine. The second category is logistically easier: label fraud. This involves pouring cheap stuff into a fake bottle with a fake label that imitates the good stuff.

Fraudulent attempts at replicating French classics led to the creation of the Appellation Contrôlée laws, which are intended to protect the producer and consumer. As Cyrus Redding wrote in 1833, “The best test against adulterated wine is a perfect acquaintance with that which is good.” This is easier said than done, however. Particularly for truly rare wines, like anything produced in the 18th century, there are few people who have tasted the real thing and therefore have a point of comparison. When the now-well-known Hardy Rodenstock’s alleged Jefferson Lafites were tasted, no one knew what they should taste like.

One must keep in mind, however, that adulteration is not necessarily fraudulent. In Ancient Greece, for example, wine was often diluted with water. The inferior wines of Galatia were usually cut with pine resin to make them drinkable. Nowadays this is called Retsina – and it’s still undrinkable. Rodenstock is said to have argued that his Jefferson Lafites were topped-up with new wine to increase their value when they were re-corked. This maybe a convenient excuse, but such procedures are not unheard of. One can see how there are many points of confusion that arise in the world of wines, even without intent to defraud. It is therefore a ripe market for criminals to infiltrate.

Share This Post

Dutch Angles: Lidewij van Wilgen of Mas des Dames

Posted by admin in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

This profile was first published in Gilbert & Gaillard magazine.

Sitting on the terrace that overlooks her vineyards, it is not difficult to see why Lidewij van Wilgen decided that there was more to life than making PowerPoint presentations.

Weary of the advertising industry, she came to France in 2002 and made her home in an eighteenth century farmhouse near Béziers: “I always loved to drink wine and I heard of this region as the New World of France, so it would be easier to fit in here. And it’s close to the sea – I love sailing.”

A contiguous 14-hectare vineyard that lies in an amphitheatre-shaped valley surrounds the house. “The previous owner knew that as a whole estate it was rare and wanted a lot of money for it”, remembers Lidewij. “An American bought it but then pulled out.”

The buildings and vineyard were in poor shape when she moved in. “It was badly managed over the last 20 years”, she says. “The farmhouse still had sand floors. Even the villagers were upset by it.”

After its purchase by Lidewij, a team from the University of Bordeaux inspected the estate’s terroir thoroughly. One of the technicians ate (sic) some soil and declared that he had tasted something similar at Pétrus. It took “at least four years” to renovate the vineyards, which are now farmed organically: “It’s very easy to be organic here. There is a natural eco-system.”

Lidewij studied for two years at a winemaking school in Béziers. It is not easy for a Dutch woman to be judged by Frenchmen on her tractor-driving skills: “With wine you start at zero, minus ten even, because you’re Dutch and you’re a woman. But it’s healthy in life to let something go and start again.”

She was studying fulltime whilst trying to bring up three young children alone. “In the beginning it was really hard”, she admits. “I would ask a local to plough the vineyards and he would call my ex-husband in Holland to ask if he should do this. I was really alone.”

She makes just the four wines, with the emphasis on clean, pure fruit. She asserts, “If you have clean grapes you don’t need to do much. Our way of winemaking is common sense, really.” Things are kept simple and honest: minimal use of sulphur, pigeage rather than remontage, and no new oak.

The tiny winery “means that I can make the quality of wine that I want to make. You can do everything by hand.” Rather than use agents, she sells direct to merchants and restaurants. About 30,000 bottles are made of Mas des Dames and another 20,000 or so of unlabelled wines for airlines and so on.

Mas des Dames blanc is 100% white Grenache, labelled as Vin de Pays d’Oc because the Coteaux du Languedoc appellation does not permit monovarietal Grenache.

The rosé is made from Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah. “I didn’t like rosé before I became a winemaker but I wanted to make one in the south”, Lidewij reveals. “I use really high-quality old vineyards so the wine is expensive to make. I sell it at a cost price.”

The unoaked La Dame is less structured than La Diva, the deep colour of which comes from old, low-yielding Alicante. The two- or three-year old barrels used for La Diva are sourced from Burgundy and Côtes du Rhône.

Unlike many other femmes du vin, Lidewij was not born into wine; instead, she chose it. Mas des Dames’s name comes from Lidewij and her three daughters, who are the most recent in a long line of female owners and residents at this property. Perhaps a winemaking dynasty has been established.

The early days were a struggle but even now “there’s always something, a fire in the vineyard or the pump that doesn’t work.” But Lidewij still relishes her life: “To have 24 acres of the world that are your responsibility is a good feeling.”

Share This Post