Big Bottle Pétrus Mystery
Posted: Sep 6, 2007 5:29pm ET
I was looking at the comments from my blog of Aug. 30
on Hardy Rodenstock and Jefferson bottles and it made me go back and read an article I wrote in 1998 on counterfeit wines. It was called “A Taste of Deception
: An exclusive look at counterfeit wine – a multimillion-dollar business.”
Read it, if you are interested. Not much has changed, except that we are now talking about a lot more money.
But the idea that old vintages of large formats of Pétrus were never made is just not right, even if the owners of the château don’t have records for it. I recently was looking at a catalog from the Parisian wine merchant Nicolas dated 1965, and it listed magnums of 1947 Pétrus for 80 francs a piece. Moreover, I went to the central cellars of Nicolas in the summer of 1985 with Marvin Shanken, and we personally saw literally thousands of bottles, from halves to imperials, of rare old Pétrus, Cheval-Blanc, Vieux-Château-Certan and others. It was all sold a few years later to wine merchants around the world when Nicolas changed hands.
Here is what I wrote in 1998 on the subject of big bottles of old Pétrus:
“Some of the most controversial tastings in the last decade have been organized by collector par excellence [Hardy] Rodenstock. Some notable wine experts, including Sotheby's [Serena] Sutcliffe and her wine merchant-author husband, David Peppercorn, questioned the authenticity of imperials (each of which is the equivalent of eight bottles) of Pétrus served in tastings in the autumns of 1989 and 1990. The vintages included 1921, 1924, 1926, 1928 and 1934. Even the current manager of Pétrus, Christian Moueix, found the authenticity of the mammoth bottles hard to believe. 'We have no records from those times,' he said when asked about the bottles in an interview last summer. 'It's hard to believe that they ever existed.'"
Nonetheless, Rodenstock remains convinced of their authenticity, because he is sure of their provenance. He bought them from a fabulous private cellar in England, and he points out that many châteaus do not have records of what they bottled in vintages dating to before the 1960s. "They just don't know," Rodenstock said. "Just because a château does not have any records to verify these rare bottles doesn't mean they don't exist."
Catalogs from fine wine merchants of the 1920s and 1930s, notably the Parisian négociant Nicolas, show selections of big bottles from small Bordeaux estates, even Pétrus. And today, many producers do special bottlings for customers and friends that may not be recorded. "I have a friend who had some 1982 Figeac
in 25-liter bottles [each of which holds slightly less than three cases' worth]. It was done as a favor by the château owner. But people may say it is a fake in 100 years," said Rodenstock.