I have been thinking about the article in the New Yorker dated Sept. 3, 2007, that I mentioned in my previous blog post. (It was also discussed by Wine Spectator editor and publisher Marvin R. Shanken in his most recent blog and in our recent news analysis.) And I have to say that it sheds a rather dark shadow over wine collector and merchant Hardy Rodenstock.
I have known Hardy since the late 1980s. I have attended some of his tastings. I have written stories about him. He’s always been friendly and generous, particularly in sharing old bottles. So I decided to send him a fax asking him what he thought about the story and whether he could substantiate the authenticity of the wines he has sold over the years.
Here are excerpts from what he wrote back:
“Thank you for your fax … I have heard about the article, but haven’t read it because it is apparently one-sided and in Koch’s interest. You will surely understand that I don’t read any more articles on the subject, since I would only get angry about that untruth and all those lies.
“I have been buying wines at auctions from Christie's, Sotheby's and other auction houses for more than 30 years now, as can be proved, and have also been buying wines from many wine merchants in the world within the last 30 years.
“You have been at many of my wine tastings yourself and have drunk many wines at tastings and dinners, which originally have come from me. You therefore can judge yourself and confirm that most of the wines were absolutely genuine.
“That I have come across one or another fake, as other wine lovers [have] too, is in the nature of things.
“Michael Broadbent, René Gabriel and many other authors have written in their books and articles that the wines they have drunk at my tastings were absolutely genuine. There isn’t any better proof, don’t you think so?
“Nobody in the world can fake a '45 Mouton, '21 Petrus, '47 Cheval-Blanc or '61 L’Évangile in imperial. So you can reassure your editors.”
It is true that I drank many extraordinary wines at Hardy’s tastings, and gave many of them high scores. But just because the wines were great doesn’t prove that they were authentic. Nor does it prove they were fakes, of course.
I was judging the wine in the glass, not whether it was genuinely what the label claimed. If you trust the person serving it, then you believe the wine is what it seems to be. And unless you have reason to be suspicious, you don’t spend your time putting the corks and labels under a microscope. Especially not 20 years ago, when Hardy’s most famous tastings took place.
Today, alas, the wine world is different. We know how many counterfeit bottles are out there, and when you taste a legendary old wine, there’s always a doubt in the back of your mind. Maybe that’s the worst thing about this whole controversy. When trust is shaken, some of the joy is lost.