A NEAR MISS … 607 LOTS REMOVED FROM BONHAMS HONG KONG AUCTION
Bonhams Auction in Hong Kong conducted a two-day spirits and wine auction in Hong Kong on November 20-21. The first part of the auction (lots 1-474) consisting of whisky and spirits, was held on Friday November 20. The wine portion of the auction (lots 475-1276), was held yesterday, Saturday, November 21, 2020. The wine auction included a single cellar consignment (Lots 475-1081), titled as the A1 Cellar, which belonged to Singapore wine collector William Giauw. Due to overwhelming problems with the authenticity of the lots in the A1 Cellar, in response to our request, the entire collection of 607 lots was pulled by Bonhams with the consent of the consignor shortly before the sale was to commence. My kudos to Bonhams’ management and the consignor for belatedly doing the right thing here and avoiding the most counterfeit-filled auction sale since the Cellar I and Cellar II auctions in 2006
After one of the members of our review team alerted everyone that there seemed to be serious problems with a very large number of bottles in this consignment, we began giving considerable scrutiny to each lot for which there were either large photos in the catalog or photos available online in earnest. One of the team members had actually physically inspected this same consignment before and advised the owner that there were an overwhelming number of counterfeit wines included and that the wines could not be sold. Some of the worst offending wines (mostly from DRC and Liger-Belair) were eliminated, but most were consigned to Bonhams for auction.
I am aware that due to travel restrictions with the Covid-19 virus, Richard Harvey, the head of the Bonhams Wine Department in London, was unable to travel to Hong Kong to inspect the collection himself. Based on what we observed from the catalog and the online photos it would appear that no one from Bonhams with the slightest amount of knowledge about authentication inspected the wines prior to the catalog publication. I say that because this catalog and the available online photos contained 17 separate lots of what I have previously referred to in this thread as “Seeing Eye Dog” auction lots – wines supposedly from the same producer, same vineyard and same vintage which any human being with normal eye sight who knew nothing about wine could look at and tell you in in seconds that there was a problem because the bottles were different colors, different shapes, different heights or otherwise obviously didn’t match. Starting with auctions dating back to the fall of 2011, I’ve written about three such auction lots – but in one auction, and one collection, there were 17 such lots. That is simply impossible to rationally explain. I have included photos of some of the most ridiculous lots below.
Bonhams Lot 851 – purported 1959 Felix Clerget Beaune Greves (3 different bottle colors) | Bonhams Lot 813 – purported 1949 Jules Belin Musigny (3 different glass colors
Bonhams Lot 677 – purported 1949 Charles Noëllat Richebourg (3 different glass colors and different capsules) | Bonhams Lot 651 – purported 1950 Chateau Lafleur (4 completely different bottles)
Beyond the 17 patently obvious “Seeing Eye Dog” lots, there were massive numbers of other counterfeits. For example, there were 26 lots of purported Henri Jayer burgundies (lots 821-846) including 12 lots which pre-dated the start of Jayer’s domaine bottling - - including 1959, 1962, 1966 and 1971 Richebourg, all of which were clearly counterfeit. The Bonhams wine department in London pulled all of the Jayer lots but one early in the week leading up to the auction in response to our initial expressions of concern. (That promising response helps explain why you didn’t see an advance warning here.)
There were also multiple lots of highly suspect Maison Leroy grand crus from the 1960s and 1970s, obviously counterfeit 1945 to 1952 Vogüé Musigny (Mise Drouhin)(Lots 605-608), counterfeit 1990 Coche Corton Charlemagne (Lot 651) and an astounding 17 lots of counterfeit Charles Noëllat burgundies purportedly from 1949 to 1978 (Lots 664 -680) all bearing the same bogus label. (This is the domaine acquired by Lalou Bize-Leroy in 1988 which is the principal basis of Domaine Leroy today.) Two of the lots of the Charles Noëllat Richebourg (1949 and 1952) were among the 17 lots of “Seeing Eye Dog” counterfeits with obviously mismatched bottles. But all of the purported Charles Noëllat labels had a very blurry violet-tinted photograph that looked more like an etching.
Bonhams Lot 679 – purported 1962 Charles Noëllat Richebourg Magnums
Correct 1966 Charles Noëllat Richebourg label (from European auction/retailer I Deal Wine) | Original labels from Charles Noëllat Richebourg 1959 to 1966
This consignment also contained multiple wines that never existed - for example, 1964 Georges Jayer Échézeaux (Lot 820), 1990 Maison Leroy Musigny (Lot 694) [Note: there was Domaine Leroy 1990 Musigny, but not Maison Leroy Musigny], and 1999 Frederic Mugnier Chambertin, Chambertin Clos de Beze and Chappelle Chambertin (Lot 722). As one of the team members said: “What’s next, Rousseau Musigny?”
There were multiple lots of purported old Clos de Lambrays (Cosson family bottles) from 1947, 1949, 1962, 1964, 1978, 1990 and 2002 (Lots 733-739). The two lots that had photos (from 1947 and 1949) had completely incorrect neck labels, incorrect brown bottles and crude (Rudy-like) wax capsules.
One of the more disturbing things that we found was that there were obviously counterfeit wines from the 1940s and 1950s from burgundy producers whose wines are NOT typically counterfeited, including 1949 and 1959 Prieur Musigny (Lots 753-755), 1947 and 1949 Pierre Ponnelle Musigny and Chambertin (685- 689), 1949 Jules Belin Musigny and Richebourg (Lots 812-814), 1949-1962 Felix Clerget Volnay, Beaune Greves and Corton (Lots 847-859) and 1959-1962 Michel Gaunoux Pommard Rugiens and Grand Epenots (Lots 901-903). In each case here, I was initially tipped off that there was a problem that we needed to do more research on because the bottle colors in the photos on some of these lots clearly didn’t match.
(Top left) Bonhams Lot 815 – purported 1949 Ponnelle Chambertin (note different colored bottle on right) – this is a copy of the mid-1950s label style | (Top Right) 1947 Ponnelle Chambertin (from Winebid 2019) | (Bottom) 1947 and 1949 Ponnelle Bonnes Mares
The counterfeits and highly suspect wines were not just limited to burgundy. There were also multiple lots of counterfeit old Bordeaux from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, including counterfeit (and non-matching) 1950 (shown above) and 1961 Chataeau Lafleur. From 1945 onward, Lafleur never
had vintage neck tags.
Bonhams Lot 603 – purported 1961 Chateau Lafleur -- versus -- Real 1961 Chateau Lafleur (from Winebid)
One of the featured lots in the auction was six bottles of (counterfeit) 1947 Chateau L’Eglise Cllinet -- a wine that was never sold under that label. From the 1884 vintage to the 1954 vintage, the wine was labeled as Clos L’Eglise-Clinet. It was only labeled as Chateau L’Eglise Clinet starting with the 1955 vintage. https://www.thewinecellarinsider.com/bo ... ise-clinet
/ See also
the review of the 1947 from a recent Vinous article by Neal Martin from a L'Eglise Clinet vertical tasting (set forth below). The counterfeiter also tried to scratch out or obscure the 73CL appearing on the lower left side of the label. We believe this wine came from Rudy Kurniawan, because he had a template for it among the records that the FBI seized.
Bonhams Lot 596 – purported 1947 Chateau L’Eglise Clinet
The 1954 Clos L’Eglise Clinet – the last vintage with this labeling
Review from Neal Martin --
The only bottle of the legendary 1947 l’Eglise-Clinet, at that time labeled Clos de l’Eglise-Clinet, to have passed my palate was bottled by a Pauillac-based merchant Jean Terrioux. It has an attractive nose of dried fig and leather well defined with touches of mint. There is certainly impressive freshness. The palate is initially opulent and lavish like many 1947s, although it only takes five minutes for what would have been a spectacular Pomerol to completely oxidize. I am sure there is plenty of bottle variation when it comes to this wine. Tasting note taken from the Pomerol book by Neal Martin. 92 - Neal Martin
We were petty overwhelmed trying to review and provide the backup to demonstrate why all of these wines were counterfeit or highly suspect. We flagged approximately one hundred lots of the 607 contained in the consignment. Given the width and breadth of the counterfeits that we found, we were also concerned because there were many lots in the catalog for which there were no photographs. I ended up contacting senior management from Bonhams that I have had some dealings with in the past. We presented all of our findings in a series of emails. We ultimately asked that they withdraw all of the lots in the consignment because there was an unprecedented number of counterfeit lots and a fear there could be many more. As of early Saturday morning (Hong Kong time) the Wine Department had pulled 84 lots and was still working. When the auction opened, they announced that, with the consent of the consignor, the entire A1 Collection had been withdrawn.
My thanks to Bonhams’ management and the Bonhams Wine Department for ultimately doing the right thing – but I just wish that the consignment had been properly vetted and rejected to begin with.