Charlie Trotter probably thought he was finished with diner complaints when he closed his Chicago restaurant last year. But a pair of New York wine collectors filed a lawsuit in federal court June 13, alleging that the chef and his staff sold them a fake magnum of Burgundy last year. Brothers Bekim Frrokaj and Ilir Frrokaj (FRO-kah) are suing Trotter and his restaurant for $70,000 plus punitive damages, alleging multiple counts of fraud.
Trotter denies the allegations. "We have never had a complaint in 25 years," he told Wine Spectator. "I think my reputation stands for itself."
The wine in question is a magnum of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti 1945, which the complaint alleges the Frrokaj brothers paid more than $46,000 for. The brothers, who live in the Bronx, share a wine collection. When they saw that Trotter was preparing to close his restaurant last year and was selling wines from his 7,000-bottle cellar, the bottle that caught their attention was the DRC 1945, and they contacted the restaurant about it. The complaint says they flew to Chicago in June 2012, had dinner at Trotter's, and discussed the wine with both Trotter and a sommelier. They paid $40,000 in cash, put the rest on a credit card and had the bottle shipped home.
When Bekim tried to add the wine to his home insurance policy, the complaint continues, the insurer asked him to have it authenticated by an expert. He contacted Maureen Downey, founder of Chai Consulting. Her report concluded the bottle was a fake. "I've got issues with the bottle's glass, with the label, with the capsule and with the cork," Downey told Wine Spectator. "I am 100 percent confident that the wine is counterfeit." Downey also said that she has been unable to confirm the purchase of the bottle with the importer from which the staff allegedly bought it.
According to Vince DiTomasso, the brothers' Chicago-based lawyer in the case, his clients asked Trotter for a refund but did not receive a satisfactory answer. "You spend more than $46,000 to buy a wonderful bottle of wine and you find out it's fake, you'd be disappointed, shocked, angry—all kinds of emotions," said DiTomasso.
"I think this is a case of buyer's remorse," said Trotter, who is taking a sabbatical from the culinary world and pursing a degree in philosophy. He said Bekim contacted him four months ago claiming the bottle was bad. "He bought a bottle from us that we bought 12 years ago. We bought it in good faith, and we've never had a complaint before that a wine was not authentic."