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james suckling uncorked

Rodenstock Replies


Posted: Aug 30, 2007 4:18pm ET

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.

Bobby Chandra
London —  August 31, 2007 4:27am ET
Hi James, I have just read the article and do find it fascinating. I find it amusing that one defence of rodenstock's is that the historian at monticello doesn't know how 18th century wine looks and tastes like. I think that is completely irrelevant. If you are trying to authenticate the original ownership of any object, it has to come from historical records which is a historians job not a wine connoiseurs.
Sebastian Rowe
London, UK —  August 31, 2007 4:37am ET
Interestingly, it would appear that Petrus 1921 in imperial is very easy to fake, as Wine-Searcher shows one listed, despite the fact that the Chateau has no records of making one!
Guest Guest
New York —  August 31, 2007 6:17am ET
Sebastian, I must correct you on your statement.Chateau Petrus has NO records whatsoever prior to 1945. However Christies has sold an Imperial Chateau Petrus 1921 and a double Magnum of Petrus 1921. Michael Broadbent states in the Auction Cataloge that He confirmed the Printing of Petrus 1921 labels for those Bottles with the original Printer ( Wetterwald).For your Info, I was lucky enough to attened a dinner where a Jeroboam of Petrus 1921 was opened ( this was in 1997 ). I was very sceptic myself, but the cork revealed that the Jero was re-corked at the Chateau in 1971 or 1978, I cant remember exactly. There were several Winemarchants from the UK and Switzerland at this dinner. Nobody thought it was a fake. I agree with James we all judged the wine for what it tasted like. If it was a fake then I don't mind drinking fake 1921 Petrus for the rest of my life as long as they taste like this one.
Martin Stoevesandt
Germany —  August 31, 2007 8:09am ET
James,now I'm curious. I agree with you that just because the wine taste great, it does not have to be genuine, but with your experience you should be able to say, whether it appeared to be a good example of the wine that the label shows. I.e. if you have 47 Cheval, a wine you probably had numerous times, you should be able to say, whether the wines you had with Hardy were proper examples of this specific wine, or whether they tasted great, but somehow not like 47 Cheval. I talked to Rene Gabriel more than once about Hardy's wines and he always said that he never had a bottle that tasted untypical in a way to suspect that it was a fake. I myself went to about ten of Hardy's tastings over the last 6 or 7 years and must say the wines were all great, with the usual corkies, and nothing would lead me to suspect that the wines were faked. Very frankly I just do not believe that one person can fake a wine in the way that it would merit 100 points from any credible wine taster. Ok, perhaps once, but for 20 years systematically, no way. If he really could do that, he would be the greatest winemaker on the planet. He is still having great tastings at least twice a year. Having said this, I admit that I know more than one person who claims all 45 Mouton from Hardy is 74 Heitz Martha's rebottled. A claim I can neither verify nor counter. The only thing I know is that both wines do taste somewhat similar and both can score a 100 points out of a good bottle. Any way, I'm interested to hear whether you ever thought that what you were tasting with Hardy was great, both somewhat weird? I always had and still have the feeling that everything what is served is legitimate.By the way taking the fact into account that so far nothing has been proven, I would tell Hardy to sue Mr. Koch for Slander. Wasn't there something like that you are innocent until proven otherwise?Martin
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  August 31, 2007 12:29pm ET
If one were going to fake a bottle, wouldn't the best thing be to purposely damage the wine in some way before putting it in the bottle so that the taster will excuse it as an original but flawed bottle? After all, how many people who have had a 45 Mouton know what it should taste like when it's cooked, corked or just plain oxidized into vinegar? Seems like the best way to rip off folks and not get caught. I hope I don't start a new trend with this post....
William Delaney
Arlington VA —  August 31, 2007 1:14pm ET
Everyone interested in wine should read the New Yorker article. Mr. Rodenstock (not even his original name) comes across as a highly suspicious character. He could clear the whole Thomas Jefferson wine mess us by disclosing where in Paris these wines were found. That he refuses to do so speaks volumes more than his appeals to critics' tastebuds.When added to all the other circumstantial evidence (Th.J etchings consistent with an electric Dremel tool, Jefferson's meticulous records at Monticello show no purchase of any 1787 Lafite, Mr. Rodenstock's suspicious ability to materialize with stashes of ancient, pristine wine) the picture is quite sordid.James, why dont you see if Hardy will give you a straight answer about the Paris location where these bottles were "discovered". Cheers, Bill
Jeffrey Ghi
New York —  August 31, 2007 1:53pm ET
You can't make money then if everyone suspects all you sell is flawed bottles.
Cesar Venta
VERACRUZ , MEXICO —  August 31, 2007 7:28pm ET
User Name: Cesar Venta, VERACRUZ , MEXICO Posted: 06:59 PM ET, August 29, 2007I was recently at " THE FORGE ", in Miami Beach, and the sommelier told me that they have a bottle of 18 th century from CH. Lafite in their cellar, that worths aproximately 25,000 us dlls. and that their cellar is the biggest for a restaurant in the USA. What is your oppinion ?
James Suckling
 —  September 1, 2007 12:53am ET
Very possible, Cesar. But I would need to know the vintage as well to be evaluate the value.
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  September 4, 2007 7:49pm ET
One footnote on the New Yorker article's reference to no magnums of Petrus being bottled from 1921 at the chateau. Negociants commonly purchased wine in barrel from Bordeaux chateaux in those days to bottle under their own imprimateur. Is it possible that a 1921 Petrus was bottled by a wine merchant? Of course, if the label says "mis en bouteille au chateau," that's a moot point.
James T Vitelli
Connecticut —  September 4, 2007 9:01pm ET
I don't know Mr. Rodenstock, have never done business with him and have never tasted one of his wines. So without trying to defend or impune him whatsoever, those that now question everything that he has ever come in contact with should keep in mind that the hallmark of any good con-man is that 95% of everything they say, do, touch, sell and buy is legitimate. They make their money off the other 5%. So I have no doubt, Mr. Suckling, that the vast majority of wines that you have shared with Mr. Rodenstock are legitimate, irrespective of whether the man is a fraud, or completely on the up and up. Cold comfort, no doubt. But 95% cold comfort is better than none.
Martin Stoevesandt
Germany —  September 5, 2007 12:37pm ET
Harvey, the Petrus issue is more complicated. Christian Moueix once said, I believe it was in regard to 1959, that Petrus did not make Marie Jeannes' from that vintage. My good friend Rene Gabriel and the godfather of Moevenpick, Ueli Prager consumed one of these bottles with Jean-Pierre Moueix, the father of Christian. The answer probably is that the small chateaus of Pomerol have very poor records from the past. I myself have seen 1921 Petrus twice from a magnum, as well as 1900 and some other rare years. Most of them were chateau bottled. Were they legitimate? I honestly do not know? Do I believe they were? Yes I do! Were they great? Definitely! One more time James, I'm curious whether you always thought that what you had was not only great but also legitimate. If we agree that most of the wines from Hardy which we had were awesome, a point that Robert Parker accepted about the only big tasting he attended with Hardy in Munich, what could those wines possibly have been, if not originals? Does anybody out there really believe you can forge a 100 point wine and trick the Sucklings' and Parkers' out there in rating this wine 100 points, without realizing it's the wrong wine or great but weird. Sorry but I do not believe that is possible. Granted again, this does not answer the questions about the Th.J. bottles, because there is no benchmark around for these wines. Than again, nobody really proved so far that the bottles Mr. Koch holds are fakes, or even that they came from Hardy. Hardy himself will tell you that he sold some bottles and that there are ten times that number now in the market. Martin
Tim Sylvester
Santa Monica, CA —  September 6, 2007 3:21pm ET
I too read the New Yorker article with great interest. Putting aside that Goerke chose Rodenstock as a stage name and that the circumstantial evidence suggests the Jefferson 1787 bottles are fakes, it doesn't seem possible to me that Rodenstock/Goerke could fool all the experts all of the time, esp. in regard to post WWII vintages that are relatively available for tasting comparisons. A few questions unasked are 1. where does he get the funds to host such lavish and expensive tastings, esp. given that he has no identifiable means of wealth or income and 2. where does he keep his stash of rare wines and why not let an expert, maybe Broadbent himself, walk the cellar and poke around??
John Phinney
Manhattan, —  September 6, 2007 10:07pm ET
To expand on Mr. Vitelli's comment, wouldn't it make sense, if one were perpetrating a scam of some kind, to gain the trust of experts who could vouch for one's wines? It would seem a smart move to serve legitimate wines to those who others trust, and then use their backing to dupe those who trust them. I don't say this to imply that I am on one side of this question or the other, or to cast dispersions on anyone even remotely connected. I merely offer that this would seem a plausible way to go about this sort of confidence scheme.

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