Wine Snobs Get Taken By Scam Artist (What a Buzz Kill!)

red wineI like a good glass of wine as much as the next harried mom, but given our thinly spread budget, my go-to wines usually come with a screw top or out of the box. Hey, don’t knock it; boxed wine has come a long way over the years! Or at least that’s how I rationalize it.

On special occasions, we’ll sometimes splurge $40 to $50 for a nice Cabernet or Zinfandel, and yes, the improvement in taste is remarkable. But still, that’s a splurge that isn’t possible in our everyday lives, so with the cheap stuff I will stick. Since it’s not often I get the opportunity to indulge in fancy wine, I’ll ask for advice before I buy. After all, I want to make sure I’m getting the best bang for my buck.

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If I found out I’d been swindled into overpaying for a $50 bottle of wine, I’d be ticked. So I can only imagine what some of the world’s top sommeliers felt when they realized they’d been duped by Rudy Kurniawan, who spent the past decade counterfeiting bottles of wine that would fetch tens of thousands of dollars at auction. 

The uber-wealthy immigrant claimed to have money through his family’s business, a “major Asian beer distributorship in Indonesia,” but no one was able or willing to verify that. Why ask questions of the flashy and generous young man that would spend a million dollars a month or more on fine wines and share with his friends? Something about biting the hand that feeds you comes to mind.

Rudy got into the wine auction scene, selling entire cases of rare wine where only single bottles had been previously located. Some people in the business started to raise eyebrows, but Kurniawan’s supporters stood by him, claiming that if the wine wasn’t what it claimed to be, then the man himself had been duped. 

More and more people became suspicious of Kurniawan, including Bill Koch (brother to Charles and David), one of the biggest wine collectors in the country. With that Koch money, you know he could afford it. After Koch inspected some wines he had purchased from Kurniawan through auction house Acker and found them to be fakes, he sued to get his money back. He wasn’t the only one, and eventually Acker refused to sell any more of Kurniawan’s wine.

He was able to sell rare and expensive wine through second-tier sources, and possibly would’ve continued along without getting caught, except the FBI had been working on a case regarding his immigration status. It was determined that the foreigner had been living in the U.S. illegally since 2003, when his application for asylum had been denied.

On March 8, the FBI came to his home, arrested him, and proceeded to inspect the residence. They found a multitude of corks, labels, old bottles with soaked-off labels, thousands of wine labels for old wines, and a re-corking machine. The evidence was undeniable. Kurniawan had pulled the wool over some of the most discerning wine pallets in the world.

Moral of the story: When something seems too good to be true, it probably is. This guy was able to unearth some of the most rare wines on the planet by the case full. Wishful thinking doesn’t make something true any more than being rich and sharing wine with your friends makes you a trustworthy person.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a box of wine on my counter calling my name.

 

Image via leyla.a/flickr

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