More recently, Indonesian national Rudy Kurniawan was indicted by a federal grand jury in New York on four counts of mail and wire fraud for selling counterfeit wines. The FBI raided Kurniawan’s Los Angeles home and found a complete lab for producing fraudulent wines.
In both cases, questionable wines were vetted by top auction houses and connoisseurs. Wine professionals waxed ecstatic over these old wines, and rich collectors paid out the wazoo for them.
In their defense, the New York indictment describes Kurniawan as “a wizard at concocting fake wines by mixing and matching younger, less valuable wines that mimicked the taste, color and character of rare and expensive wines.”
Given these scenarios, I cautiously relate the following tale. In July 2010, news outlets reported a rare find by seven Swedish divers, who discovered a cache of 30 ancient bottles off the Finnish Aland Islands at a shipwreck site 200 feet down on the ocean floor.
A dive instructor brought up a single bottle, hoping to determine the age of the wreck. Upon opening, the bottle contained sweet champagne tasting of oak and tobacco.
The wine was thought to be from the Champagne house of Veuve Clicquot, founded in 1772. Divers believed this cache might have been destined for Imperial Russia, sent by King Louis XVI of France.
The oldest known bottle of champagne still in existence is a bottle of Perrier-Jouët from 1825.
These found bottles could have dated from the 1780s. A wine still drinkable at this age is remarkably rare. Its drinkability was attributed to ideal preservation conditions on the dark, cold floor of the Baltic Sea.
The first bottle, believed to be Veuve Clicquot, was auctioned by New York auction house Acker, Merrall and Condit last June. It was snapped up by an anonymous bidder in Singapore who paid around $40,000. The same bidder paid around $30,000 for an earlier offering of a single bottle of Juglar, a now defunct champagne house. The cache at the time of the auction was said to be 148 bottles.
A second lot of four bottles of Veuve Clicquot, six bottles from Juglar and one Heidsieck is set to go under the hammer at Mariehamn on June 8.
It has apparently been determined that the sunken ship where the cache was found dates from 1825-30. The cache now numbers a troubling 168 bottles.
The producer of these wines was determined by examining their corks. Veuve Clicquot corks have always been marked by an anchor emblem.
Mariehamn is the capital of the Aland archipelago between Finland and Sweden. The Aland government plans to use upcoming auction events to attract tourists.
The French auction house Artcurail will handle the most recent offerings. Pre-auction estimates project bottles will bring from $12,000 to $20,000 each.
Various experts have tasted these wines and pronounced them vibrant. Tasters describe them as being sweet. Champagnes from the alleged era of these wines would be sweeter than those made today. But skepticism exists among those who say there is no way these wines could have survived that long in salt water, regardless of how ideal the conditions, without corks being penetrated.
If interested in tasting wines aged under the sea and paying considerably less than $12,000 per bottle, a more modern and less expensive alternative might be Sketch, a Spanish white wine from 100 percent albarino from the Rias Baixas area.
Sketch is made in limited quantity by winemaker Raul Perez, who ages this wine in bottles 90 feet under the sea for 60 days. Sketch sells for around $80 a bottle, and was most recently found at Western Supermarket in Mountain Brook.
Contact Pat Kettles at email@example.com