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On Tasting
Create the Atmosphere for the Tasting Result You Want
Monday, 19th March, 2007  - David Farmer
Hardy Rodenstock with wife, Helga Lehner.

A small wave is building about counterfeit bottles of rare wine and itís slowly growing in size. We last wrote about this with Wishing Jefferson Had Drunk It. A recent article in Bloomberg by Cynthia Cotts about the American wine collector William Koch and his pursuit of Hardy Rodenstock whom he believes sold him dud bottles of wines, including several collected by Thomas Jefferson contained the following passage:

"At the 1995 tasting, Parker drank a 1921 Petrus Magnum that Rodenstock was promoting and gave it a perfect 100-point rating, according to Koch's complaint. Koch later purchased a bottle of the 1921 Petrus for $33,150, only to be told by experts at Chateau Petrus that it was a fake made by a master forger, Koch claimed.

"When the best wines were poured," Mansson [Per-Henrick Mansson who wrote for Wine Spectator] wrote about Rodenstock, "he'd jump from his seat and joyfully walk around his guests, affectionately ruffling their hair while repeating excitedly, ĎJa, unglaublich! One hundred points! One hundred points!" Unglaublich means "unbelievable" in German.

Also at the 1998 tasting were Michael Broadbent, the Christie's wine consultant who vouched for the age of Rodenstock's bottles, and Austrian glassmaker Georg Riedel, who designed a sipping glass for Rodenstock, according to wine expert Dennis Foley, who chronicled the tasting on his Web site, Wine Mouse."

Let us leave aside for the moment the unfolding drama about wine fraud such as the revelation that Chateau Petrus has declared it never bottled any wine in magnums before the 2nd World War and indeed was largely an unknown winery until the 1960's so that pre war bottles are incredibly rare.

Certainly the wine in the magnum was of the highest quality but the interest in this story for us is the example of how Rodenstock set up his tasting to get the desired promotional result. The great difficulty of being objective when tasting wines is discussed regularly in our On Tasting section. Create the right atmosphere with the heady air of expectation and most tasters will with enthusiasm point a whole series of wines highly. Set up the tasting in a cold damp room and you will find even the greatest bottles will be declared ordinary.

Mostly we are sheep at tasting and when some authority stands up and says such-and-such is the greatest wine ever we tend to fall silent and agree. We do this because some people do know more and the rest of us will learn more by listening but the way this is done as the example quoted shows means you can also be herded through a door that you are very uncomfortable entering.

Footnote: And another story on the unfolding wine fraud story as told by a sommelier from a famous New York restaurant. Over lunch a party consumed three bottles of a noted vintage of Petrus and towards the end of this marathon mentioned to the sommelier that the middle bottle was the least of the three.

Intrigued and alerted to the problem of forgeries and wondering if any were in the cellar that contained many thousands of great bottles he closely examined the three empties. He concluded that only the middle bottle was authentic Petrus.

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