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Sotheby's Auctions Sunken Gruaud-Larose Treasure

Plus, a French wine fraudster eludes real payment for real wine with fake death, and an armchair to pair with Montalcino

Posted: December 12, 2013

• Whether it gets there by accident or by force, wine that has logged some dive time seems to be en vogue. First there’s the accidental: Two six-bottle lots of Bordeaux second-growth Château Gruaud-Larose salvaged from the 1872 wreck of the Marie-Thérèse off the coast of the Philippines in 1991 were sold at a Sotheby's auction in November, fetching around $17,600 for the two lots. The bottles, which had been relabeled and recorked at the château (talk about lifetime warranty), are believed to be either 1865 or 1869 vintages. Some theorize that these so-called “shipwreck wines” (see Acker, Merrall & Condit's 2011 sale of 170-year-old shipwrecked Veuve Clicquot) are exquisitely preserved due to the relative stability of their environment. Which has in turn led to the modern practice of purposefully sending your wine to the bottom of the ocean. Dave Hidden, of Hidden Valley Wines, is one of the first to produce a wine in this way from South Africa. The wine in question, the 2009 Shipwreck Shiraz (of course), was bottled from a single barrel, which was then encased in concrete (mafia-style) and stainless steel. For that extra measure of theft deterrence, to ward off the thirsty if not adventurous diver, Hidden sank his stash on a reef where great white sharks are known to breed. We usually prefer our wines not come from breeding grounds for, well, anything, but we're giving Shipwreck Shiraz the benefit of the doubt.

• While it's true that they are not long, the days of wine and roses, they were somewhat longer than one French pensioner led a number of Champagne houses to believe: In order to avoid payment of some $68,000 for orders over three years, the 68-year-old simply regretted to inform the collectors that he had passed away. Some wineries even sent condolences, but the wrinkle in the plan, of course, was that the fraudster was still very much among the living. According to Agence France Presse, the man had invoices sent to a wealthy, albeit fictitious, lawyer at a chichi address on the Champs-Élysées, while the wine was sent elsewhere. Old Man Flimflam lives on only $980 a month and protested at the trial "I don't even drink wine"; he claimed he was deep in an arrangement that forced him to sell the bubbly at a discount to another party. But the judge mocked the defendant, who has been posing as a lawyer and utilizing the services of Monsieur Faux P. Imaginaire, Esq. to perpetrate frauds and thefts for at least 30 years. (This was conviction No. 18 for the man, going back to 1969.) The judge handed down an 18-month sentence, with 10 months suspended, but at least the pensioner didn't get death this time.

• Fine wine lends itself to great pairings and great collaborations, some of them inspired, some of them head-scratchers. Château Mouton-Rothschild and Robert Mondavi. Dr. Loosen and Chateau Ste. Michelle. Luce della Vite and … a red leather armchair? Because, we guess, nothing says “Montalcino” like an armchair, Lamberto Frescobaldi, president of Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi, conceived of an unusual collaboration with 101-year-old Italian furniture firm Poltrona Frau and convinced them to create a chair, “Pausa di Luce,” whose color was inspired by the wine. (Frescobaldi, who represents the 30th generation of winemakers in his family, is of course no stranger to collaborative efforts, having worked with Tim Mondavi on Luce until 2005.) Unique to the chair’s design, which is based on a chair created by company founder Renzo Frau, is a wineglass holder, fashioned from the same oak that’s used to make the wine’s aging barrels. The chair is available by special order only, in the New York, Miami and San Francisco Poltrona Frau showrooms. The price is $12,000, which entitles the buyer to a Riedel glass designed specifically for Luce, though you’ll have to shop elsewhere for the wine itself. Unfiltered plans to set our chair up right in front of our Château Margaux coffee table.

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