Tag Archives: 2000 Bordeaux

Is Acker Merrall’s Hong Kong Auction on May 29th Selling Fake Wines?

26 May

When two different Masters of Wine express reservations about the authenticity of wine being sold at auction, you have to sit up and take notice.

Jancis Robinson MW, one of the doyennes of the British wine world (she’s an OBE for heaven’s sake), had a cryptic Twitter post up on 21 May:

In lead-up to Vinexpo in HK I’m increasingly worried about the way fakes may be being offloaded in wine auctions in HK. Buyers, mega beware!

This wasn’t cryptic as regards Robinson’s fears — that there may be Hong Kong wine auctions selling fakes — but was vague on some key points.  Why was she worried?  How did she find out about this issue?  Why did she use the word “offloaded;” could these alleged fakes not be sold elsewhere?  And perhaps most importantly, which particular wines was she talking about?  Granted that Twitter isn’t exactly the place for long analyses, but her one follow-up didn’t expand upon her fears either.

Luckily, some of the questions raised by Robinson’s stray tweet were answered the next day by Jeannie Cho Lee MW, one of the leaders in the Hong Kong wine world, in a series of related tweets on the subject.  Here’s the first post of hers that I saw about the possible auction fakes, in full:

I am recvg many emails warning Asian buyers abt upcoming HK$125mill Acker auction. V difficult to assess how much is real vs rumour…

Now we know the allegedly offending auction house: Acker Merrall & Condit.  And we also now know the allegedly offending auction: Acker’s mammoth wine auction (1,865 lots!) in Hong Kong scheduled for 28-29 May 2010, and which is imposingly titled “The Imperial Cellar”.  These 140 characters also tell us how Lee found out that there may be fake wine being auctioned, through e-mails.  From whom?  That we don’t know.

Notice how both Robinson and Lee parse their words very carefully in these posts.  Neither of them comes out and accuses anyone of anything, just that they are “increasingly worried” and are finding it very “difficult to assess how much is real” and how much is rumor.  Of course, libel law may be part of the reason for the qualification of their comments (and I should make clear that I have no specific evidence of wrongdoing either, I’m just presenting the scuttlebutt and my thoughts on it).

Lee’s next tweet showed how seriously she took the accusation of fake wines at the Acker auction, however:

If anyone has evidence of questionable authenticity abt HK auction wines, pls send. Researching 4 article 4 ChinaBzNews w 800k readers. Thnx

This led me to ask her, on Twitter, why she was concerned about possible fakes, and Lee’s response clarified how she heard about this issue:

@wineauctionspy I have numerous emails frm US contacts who said many upcoming wines were rejected by other auction hses- believed 2 b fakes

Okay, now it is starting to become clear.  Acker Merrall, an auction house based in New York, schedules a wine auction in Hong Kong, an increasingly important wine market, that Sommelier India calls “the largest wine auction ever conducted in Asia and the third largest in the world.”  This huge auction features a exceptional selection of rare Bordeaux, the cream of collectible wines, including 450 bottles that are pre-1961, 181 bottles from the 1961 vintage, around 400 bottles from the 1982 vintage, and 3,000 bottles from the 2000 vintage.  Needless to say, the 1961, 1982, and 2000 vintages are considered to be three of the four best, most collectible vintages of Bordeaux in the last 50 years (with the 2005 vintage being the fourth).  That’s a lot of very, very good and very, very expensive wine.  Oh, and there are 1,470 bottles of Romanée-Conti being auctioned in this sale too.

But this mother-lode of wine is only that good and that expensive if it is real.

Acker Merrall’s competitors know that, of course.  Could any of them be the source of the mysterious e-mails claiming Acker is passing off fakes?  I have no evidence of that one way or the other, but I’m not connected in the industry and so the evidence may exist unbeknownst to me.  If so, these e-mails could just be the manifestation of jealousy that Acker Merrall is pulling off such a big auction in such an up-and-coming wine center.  But allegations of counterfeits being sold at the “Imperial Cellar” may have the ring of truth because Acker Merrall has a history of auctioning, or almost auctioning, fake wine.  In an April 2008 wine auction by Acker Merrall in New York, 107 bottles of rare Burgundy slated to be sold proved to be fraudulent and were withdrawn from bidding at the last moment.  Further, a lawsuit filed last year asserts that Acker Merrall sold numerous lots of fake Burgundy and Bordeaux wines in 2005 and 2006.

I certainly don’t know which wine in Acker Merrall’s “Imperial Cellar” auction is real and which is fake.  It could be that everything is 100% authentic; I hope so.  But it behooves potential bidders to take Robinson’s advice and caveat emptor mega.


Bonhams 27 May 2010 Auction — Preview

20 May

A mixed lot of DRC, available in this auction by Bonhams HK as Lot 17 (Estimate: HK$124,800)

House: Bonhams

Date: 27 May 2010, 19:00 HKT

Title: Fine and Rare Wines

Live Location(s): Hong Kong (JW Marriott Hotel, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway)

Web: http://www.bonhams.com/asi/auction/18460/

Phone: +852 3607 0004

Buyer’s Premium: 15% + VAT*

Shipping: UK – ₤8 + VAT per case, ₤16 + VAT minimum charge, ₤80 + VAT maximum charge; ROW – “please ask for a quotation.”*

Storage: 7 days free from date of sale, £3 + VAT per lot per day thereafter*

* This information is from Bonhams’ UK “Notice to Bidders,” and I’m not sure if it applies to Hong Kong sales as well.  As a PDF of the specific auction catalog was not available online and as I couldn’t find anything specific to Hong Kong, please contact Bonhams directly to be sure of your ancillary costs.

Total Lots: 280

Wine Distribution: Red Bordeaux 25% (71 lots), Red Burgundy 23% (63 lots), Red California 11% (32 lots), Red Australia 10% (29 lots), White Burgundy 8% (21 lots), Red Italian 5% (15 lots), Red Rhone 4% (10 lots), White Bordeaux 3% (9 lots), Champagne 3% (8 lots)

Most Expensive Estimate: Lot 215, Romanee Conti 1996 (1 Methuselah), HK$585,000

Least Expensive Estimate: Lot 104, D. Mortet Clos de Vougeot 1990 (2 btls.), HK$3,100 and Lot 155, Chateau de Fesles Bonnezeaux La Chapelle 1990 (4 btls.), HK$3,100

Potential Bargains (Using QPR or Quality to Price Ratio):

Let’s look first at the two lots with the lowest estimates that are listed at HK$3,100 each, which is equivalent to about US$400.  Wine Consigners, a close-out retailer based in Beverly Hills, has the Mortet Clos de Vougeot at US$194 per bottle, which is a bit less than the maximum estimate for the two bottles of the same in Lot 104.  Parker gave this offering a 90, and Wine Spectator rated it twice in the mid-80s, which are good but not great scores.  Two-hundred bucks is a lot of money to pay for good but not great wine.  Unless you are a Côte de Nuits fetishist or particularly like Denis Mortet’s wines, at almost US$200 a bottle, this doesn’t really offer good value to my mind.

The Chateau de Fesles in Lot 155 couldn’t be more different than Mortet’s Burgundian Pinot Noir in Lot 104, notwithstanding their lots’ identical estimated price point.  A sweet Chenin Blanc dessert wine from the Loire, the super-cuvée La Chapelle had a tremendous year in 1990 according to the Wine Doctor when he tasted it 16 years later.  “Deliciously fresh, and an amazing length, building to a crescendo some time after, and then slowly fading. Excellent.”  Chateau de Fesles no longer makes the La Chapelle, so this offering is legitimately rare and is in its prime drinking window.  The only bottle of the 1990 Fesles La Chapelle I could find online at retail was being sold in Australia by the Ultimo Wine Centre for AU$149.95 per bottle (approximately US$125).  Back in 2003, Sotheby’s sold a 6 bottle lot of the 1990 La Chapelle for ₤92 (and two other six bottles lots in that auction for ₤80), so that should give you an idea of how much this wine has appreciated in value over the intervening years.  If sweet wines are your thing, Lot 155 is worth bidding on, especially if you can get it for under the maximum estimate.

Although it does not have one of the very lowest estimates in this auction, I might look at Lot 62 of a 12 bottle case of 2005 Chateau Beychevelle as an opportunity to get a good value.  Beychevelle is a fourth growth estate in St. Julien that Parker says “too often does not live up to its pedigree.”  But this reputation is something savvy bidders can use their advantage, as it means that Beychevelle is often well-priced compared to other Bordeaux chateaux.  Especially since 2005 is regarded as one of the best vintages in memory, and the experts agree that the 2005 Beychevelle is a fine, if not spectacular, wine, it is a good target for value bidders.  If you could get this lot at a price in the middle of the HK$5,900 to 7,000 estimate range, say for HK$6,500 (US$833), you’d be getting a deal considering that the average price for a bottle at retail is US$82.


There are plenty of high priced Bordeaux lots in this auction – see, for example, Lots 1-3 that are all of Lafite and all estimated to sell for between US$18,000 and $40,000 per lot – but the most extravagant lot has to be the Methuselah of 1996 Domaine de la Romanee Conti of Lot 215 that is estimated to sell for up to HK$585,000 (equivalent to about US$75,000).  This huge 6 liter bottle is from the Romanée-Conti vineyard and this namesake wine is beloved by collectors and drinkers alike, as are all the varieties of 1996 DRC.  Whether that love is strong enough to merit a bid on wine that may cost upwards of US$5,000 per Burgundy-sized glass (415ml) is another question.

As suggested above, Chateau Lafite Rothschild leads the way for red Bordeaux lots with its cases of the star vintage of 1982 (nos. 2-3 and 217), which are all estimated to sell for up to HK$312,000 (approximately US$40,000).  If you want the taste of top vintage Lafite and you’re rich, but not that rich, consider Lot 52 of one bottle of the 2000 Lafite that has a maximum estimate of HK$35,900 (about US$4,600).  As might be expected for what is considered by many the finest wine in the world, Lafite is consistently excellent every year.  Nevertheless, both 1982 and 2000 are thought to be “exceptional” vintages by experts, and are notoriously difficult to get a hold of at any price.  According to Wine-Searcher.com, the cheapest available bottle of 1982 Lafite at retail is being sold for US$3,199 plus shipping from Chicago.  This means that if you are a serious wine collector in Asia, the 1982 Lafite lots in this Hong Kong auction might actually be, believe it or not, reasonably priced relatively-speaking when you factor in possible shipping and that the least expensive available bottle in Asia costs HK$38,000 (US$4,870).