By Sommelier Sam/Cover photo by Janet Nicol
WHAT price would you pay for a bottle of wine? Well, if your name is Rudy Kurniawan it seems you would pay a very high price indeed; to be exact a $28.4 million restitution bill and a ten year spell behind bars. Sentenced on August 7, 2014 in the U.S. courts, Indonesian-born Mr Kurniawan is the latest in a string of vinous villains who have put their considerable talents to work counterfeiting rare and expensive wines. In Rudy’s case with remarkable success, fooling some of the world’s best-known authorities on wine and causing considerable chaos in the global wine investment market. It’s estimated that he bilked somewhere between $20 million and $100 million from his fellow wine buffs during his ten year run. A remarkable feat for a simple fellow from Jakarta, particularly given the notoriously exclusive world of wine collecting.
So, how did he pull off this audacious feat? As any good con man knows the only way to succeed is to infiltrate, become one of ‘them’; an insider, a member of the very club you are out to swindle. You also have to rely heavily on the arrogance of those who consider themselves infallible, and arrogance is certainly not lacking when it comes to the world of fine wine. Rudy was a past master at this. He made friends in all the right places, wore Hermès suits, drove a fast car and assembled one of the most admired cellars in the world. He walked the walk, talked the talk and drank the (very expensive) wine. He also convinced everyone of his ability to access some of the world’s rarest bottles, in particular Burgundies—including the most coveted wine of them all, Domaine Romanée Conti, earning himself the nickname Dr. Conti.
Behind the scene he set up shop in his apartment in Arcadia, California, carefully crafting the fakes from old, but much less expensive wines. He sourced aged, empty bottles that he could reuse (a new bottle would immediately ring warning bells for any collector) and he set about making incredibly authentic-looking labels, scrupulously studying and imitating every detail to ensure that even a trained eye could not tell the difference. So far so good for Rudy. How could it possibly go wrong?
In the end it was an all too familiar tale of greed and money breeding complacency. Fast forward to 2008. Acker, Merrall & Condit, one of the leading auction houses in America, is gearing up for its annual auction of fine and rare Burgundies. A full-page photo in Acker’s catalogue shows a quartet of Clos de la Roche bottles bearing the Domaine Ponsot label, including a 1929 (estimated at $14,000 to $19,000), consigned by a certain Mr. R. Kurniawan. On the other side of the Atlantic at his estate in Burgundy Laurent Ponsot, the proprietor of Domaine Ponsot is studying the auction catalogue. He picks up the phone, dials the number for John Kapon, head of Acker’s wine team in New York, and pointedly informs him that the first vintage of Clos de la Roche was 1934.
Sommelier Sam’s Wine Tip
Where: Bridges Restaurant Wine Shop, Jl. Campuhan, Ubud, www.bridgesbali.com, 0361 970095.
Who: Henry Fessy, Beaujolais, Burgundy, France.
When: Drink now until the end of 2015, might keep a bit longer.
Why: I am always on the lookout for a red wine that is suitable for drinking here in the tropics. This wine fits the bill perfectly. It is medium-bodied (not too flimsy or acidic and not too heavyweight) and soft and fruity thanks to the Gamay grape variety that it is made from (think red fruits like wild strawberries and cherries). Being five years old (2009 vintage) the tannins have rounded out adding a touch of spice, and there is also a lovely hint of mint that keeps it fresh.
How: I would happily drink this on its own (I did!) but it is also an ideal partner for Chinese food, seared tuna or salmon, or a simple roast chicken. Bigger reds, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz, would overpower the delicate flavours in these dishes but this wine, being lighter in body, less tannic and with the red fruit character providing just a hint of sweetness, works perfectly. The other bonus for us here in Bali is that Beaujolais is great when served slightly chilled!
Sommelier Sam lives in Sanur with her family and enjoys sharing her love of wine with the good people of Bali. You can connect with her at: facebook.com/SommelierSamby