How many of The Select who have tasted Rodenstock bottles have felt the same scepticism that Alexandre de Lur-Saluces says he felt when tasting a bottle at d’Yquem?
If a court finds that Rodenstock fabricated the famous Th.J. initials, if there was never a walled-in Paris cellar where mysteriously a cache of Jefferson bottles was discovered, if the Lafite and Château Branne-Mouton bottles that cost Koch $500,000 were plonk with a PhD, what on earth has been in those bottles?
And what are we to make of it all? Especially today, when counterfeiting is rife. Richard Brierley, who runs Christie’s wine sales here in America, made that point nicely in a Wall Street Journal article about Rodenstock last Friday [see article listed below]. He was quoted as saying, “In 10 years in the business, I have seen more suspicious bottles in the past year or two than ever before.”
For 21 years, Rodenstock, also known as Meinhard Goerke (Koch‘s lawsuit informs us), seduced - no, dazzled - the wine world’s most experienced, sagacious palates and minds with his extravagant tastings and with remarkable discoveries of special bottles.
I don’t like the position that history has put Michael Broadbent in. Almost certainly he remembers the - I regret to say - merciless two-hour telephone grilling I gave him about the authenticity of Christie’s 1787 Th. J. Lafite (or Lafitte, as the bottle says) before breaking the story of the existence of the so-called Jefferson bottles in The New York Times on 30 oct 85.
Surely all the background details, as seen by Christie’s experts at the time, and since, pointed to a valid provenance of the 1787 bottle, which the house sold to Malcolm Forbes for $156,450 in 1985, setting a one-bottle record that still remains vertical. Alas, 20-20 vision functions best, as we all know, in hindsight.
From 21 years of on-and-off discussions with Monticello, the Jeffersonian mansion and repository in Virginia, I have felt, at the gut level, that its scholarly scepticism about the provenance has been justified.
Evidently Christie’s could not do what Koch, a billionaire, could. He could afford to set loose a spare-no-expense expeditionary force, which included (shades of Ian Fleming ) former employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and British intelligence agencies, to try to establish if he had been bamboozled.
Koch alleges in his lawsuit (I have a copy of it) that “Rodenstock is also the source of counterfeit bottles of 1921 Pétrus Magnum,” one of which he bought from Zachys in New York for $33,150. This year, his investigators, he said, took the bottle to Château Pétrus, where experts found that it was ‘a very impressive fake’ that came from ‘a master forger of wine.’
If that is not a wake-up call, what is? As the auction and other secondary markets’ greed and status values continue to nurture conditions for forgery, which feeds on skyrocketing prices, in the future many more high- and-low rollers will depart salesrooms wondering if a not-rigorous-enough front office is taking them to the cleaners.