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Auction of World's Most Expensive Wines Marred by Fraud Claims

The bottles were pulled from a Geneva auction block


Some of the world's priciest wine has been removed from a Geneva auction block over questions of authenticity. According to The Independent, five or six lots of wine from Burgundy's heralded Romanée Conti Domain estate were withdrawn from auction due to allegations of fraud made on Wine Berserkers, an online wine forum.

The claims come from Los Angeles lawyer Don Cornwell, who argued in a May 20 post that the "stated provenance of the wines in the Bagheera auction appears to be false." Cornwell writes that many of the lots are "either outright counterfeit or highly questionable," basing his claims on capsules, labels, and the type of glass shown in photos of the bottles to be auctioned.

A bottle of 1978 Romanée Conti (which has fetched $20,000 at past auctions), Cornwell argues, is actually a bottle of 1974 Domaine Romanée Conti wine with the addition of false "neck labels, strip labels, capsules and probably corks." Some of the wines up for auction were thought to be worth as much as £11,000, or nearly $16,000.

The auction house is reportedly working to verify the authenticity of the bottles and says it will cancel any sales of wines that prove to be counterfeit.

Fraud is a problem that plagues the rare wine industry, and not just because of counterfeiting. In January, Berkeley, California-based wine seller Premier Cru filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation, citing more than $70 million in debt liabilities. The company — which often sold bottles of wine it didn't currently have in its possession — was embroiled in lawsuits after it failed to ship purchased bottles of wines.

Last year, the U.S. Marshals held an auction of wines from the collection of Rudy Kurniawan, who was sentenced to ten years in prison after selling millions of dollars worth of purportedly rare wines. The fraudulent wines turned out to be blends of other wines that were re-bottled with fake labels, but the auction included a number of bottles from Kurniawan's own collection that had been deemed authentic.

Fears of counterfeit bottles don't appear to be affecting auction-goers' appetites for high-priced vino around the world, however. According to Bloomberg, ten bottles of Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1945 Bordeaux fetched $343,000 at a Sotheby's sale in New York recently. The auction, which included wines from the cellar of billionaire collector William Koch, set a new record for wine collection sales to the tune of a cool $21.9 million.

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