At the end of each month I find I’ve sampled an assortment of wines that are exciting but aren’t necessarily current releases.
Most of what I taste week to week is current-release wine, but one cannot live on raw young wine alone, so there are plenty of older and rarer wines that cross my palate. Naturally, I post these reviews.
This month I’ve uploaded a few rippers. The trio of Gaja super-Piedmonteses from Barbaresco, for example – the Costa Russi (tasting), Sori Tildin (tasting) and Sori San Lorenzo (tasting) 2006 vintage, are all monumental wines, great reds that live up to their lofty reputations, and so they ought at $775 a bottle (each).
It’s not often I get up to 98 points but I did with one of these beauties.
The occasion was Negociants Australia’s trade education program, Working With Wine. This is an extraordinarily generous enterprise by Negociants owner Robert Hill Smith, which sees principals from Negs’ imported agencies opening their best bottles and sitting on expert panels to educate wine trade members (mostly retailers, restaurateurs and sommeliers) about the great wines of the world. On this particular panel, devoted to one of my favourite varietals, nebbiolo, they had Franco Conterno, son of the late Aldo, of that great Barolo estate Poderi Aldo Conterno.
Franco – dubbed the Robert De Niro of Piedmont by one of the other panelists – served up a mini-vertical of Aldo Conterno Barolo Bussia Colonello (2005, 6, 7, 8 and 9) (tastings) followed by a triplet of 2009 Bussias: Colonello (tasting), Cicala (tasting) and Romirasco (tasting). Superb wines, especially the statuesque Romirasco. The Gajas were the icing on the cake.
Working With Wine - what a great gesture of leadership by Rob Hill Smith and Negociants.
Yet more amazing stories have come out of the Rudy Kurniawan wine faking trial in the US. Kurniawan was finally sentenced recently for faking millions of dollars worth of rare wine: he got 10 years in jail, and has to pay an awful lot of money to those he swindled.
According to reports on Bloomberg, Kurniawan (pictured in sketch above on the left) swindled collectors including sometime Sydney resident and Rockpool Bar & Grill co-owner David Doyle by selling them more than US$20.7 million worth of fake French wines. He concocted them in his home using faked labels and other packaging materials. Billionaire William Koch was another he swindled.
Said Bloomberg, US district judge Richard Berman in Manhattan imposed the sentence, saying Kurniawan, 37, had failed to accept responsibility from his crimes. Judge Berman ordered Kerniawan to forfeit property to the value of US$20 million including jewellery, art, real estate and wine. He was also ordered to pay US$28.4 million to collectors who bought the fake wines. A jury convicted Kurniawan last December of mail and wire fraud. It took until August 8 for him to be sentenced.
Kurniawan’s lawyer, Jerome Mooney, sought a sentence of 2 1/4 years, representing the time Kurniawan has served in US custody since his 2012 arrest. Kurniawan is the first person in the US to be prosecuted for selling fake wines and his crime should be viewed in perspective, Mooney said.
“Nobody died here,” Mooney said. “Nobody lost their savings, nobody lost their job, nobody was rendered devoid of the things they needed for their life.”
A key victim was David Doyle, co-founder of Quest Software and later, a restaurateur with a $40 million cellar. Doyle paid US$15.1 million and transferred an Aston Martin car for wines that included a supposed 1947 Chateau Cheval Blanc, according to prosecutors.
At least 1,590 bottles, which would be worth more than US$19 million if genuine, were fakes, Doyle’s estate manager said in a memo to the judge.
The government won Judge Berman’s approval to seize all Kurniawan’s property, including art by Damien Hirst and Donald Judd, luxury watches worth more than US$550,000 and a US$33,600 south sea pearl necklace.
The trial included testimony from three French winemakers who travelled to the US to testify.
Most disturbing is the revelation that Kurniawan’s fakes have infiltrated the wine market and may be sold at auctions for decades to come, according to the prosecutors. It’s another blow to the confidence bidders will have in the fine wine auction market.
I recall interviewing Doyle in Sydney in July 2009 with the following quotes. Doyle was emphatic that provenance was important to him. This is part of the story I wrote.
How does he buy his rare wines? “From the reputable auction houses, Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Acker Merrill in New York. They source a lot of great stuff and steer me away from stuff that might be dodgy. You have to have a relationship with them. They have information: you just have to ask.”
On provenance: “In Australia, you do not always have great provenance. I only buy from people I know, and I only ship at certain times of the year. It doesn’t matter what the label is, if the provenance isn’t good, it could be rubbish.”
Amen to that.
This last week has been an astonishing cultural feast, with the most wonderful concert by German tenor Jonas Kaufmann (pictured above) at the Sydney Opera House and a few days later, a riveting performance of Macbeth by the Sydney Theatre Company with Hugo Weaving mesmerizing in the lead role.
I must be the most spoilt bastard: Vanya Cullen of Cullen Wines (tastings), a passionate lover of vocal music and a fine singer in her own right, procured the tickets to Kaufmann’s first performance in Australia. She loved it so much she went back for more at his second and final appearance in the same hall.
Kaufmann’s voice is rightly described as honeyed, his delivery flawless and the normally excellent Opera Australia Orchestra seemed to rise to a higher level for the occasion. The program alternated between the solo orchestra and Kaufmann’s arias, which frustrated some in the crowd who would have liked to see more of him. But as my companions pointed out, operatic singing is highly demanding and emotion-charged, and Kaufmann’s voice deserved periodic rest. As well, he probably sang as much as he would in a leading role in an opera, if you worked it out. Each song was a gem, the voice uplifting. From the first notes of Recondita Armonia from Puccini’s Tosca, the audience was transported into a heavenly place.
By the finish the crowd was almost frenzied, the applause so sustained that there were something like eight curtain calls and three encores. A well-known Hunter wine-man who is a committed opera-goer said he hadn’t seen anything like this event since Sutherland and Pavarotti sang together on the same stage about 30 years ago.
To see Hugo Weaving play Macbeth a few days later at the Sydney Theatre, where I was a guest of Cumulus Wines (tastings) and their distributor Robert Oatley Vineyards (tastings), was almost as big. Weaving was entrancing, a great actor at the peak of his career, and the performance – directed by rising star of Australian theatre Kip Williams – was challenging, daring and triumphant. The audience was seated on sports arena type plastic seats on the stage, facing the empty seats opposite. We entered by a small side-passage.
The device was effective, making us more like participants in the drama than spectators. There was smoke – more smoke than I’ve ever seen in a theatre! – lots of gore, of course, and the intensity sustained by the cast of the actors, who had no interval in which to catch their breath, was impressive. The scene where Banquo’s ghost appears at the dinner table was very moving, Weaving’s tortured Macbeth truly extraordinary.
John Gaden and Robert Menzies were also very good. Cumulus, by the way, is a sponsor of the STC, so we had a glass of their excellent 2012 Climbing Shiraz (tasting) before the curtain went up.
Delamain Pale & Dry Grande Champagne XO Cognac $160
The colour is relatively light amber: this is not a Cognac for those impressed by dark hues or big oaky styles. It’s fine, aromatic and ethereal, wonderfully complex and smelling of new leather and dried citrus peels. Great intensity and finesse; endless length. 40 per cent alcohol. 95/100
Food: dark chocolate
Stockists: Five Way Cellars, Sydney; Armadale Cellars, Melbourne.
Something has gone very wrong with Australia’s top restaurant wine lists.
From my viewpoint - and I’ve been on judging panels of wine-list awards for 20 years - our top restaurant wine lists have lost their way.
This year, one of the leading wine list competitions, Australia’s Wine List of the Year Awards, sponsored by Fine Wine Partners, announced dual winners of its top award. The two national award winners are Lake House, of Daylesford in Victoria, and Perth’s Rockpool Bar & Grill.
My main beef with the types of wine lists that regularly win these big gongs is that they are unbalanced - far too international, with almost embarrassing small offerings of Australian wines.