Withdrawn Henry Tang lot one of world's most prized wines
A bottle of wine that was withdrawn from Christie's auction of Henry Tang Ying-yen's wines could have fetched as much as HK$220,900.
Christie's removed the estimated price for the six-litre bottle, a Methuselah of 1971 La Tache, after its authenticity was questioned by US attorney Don Cornwell, who sent e-mails to David Elswood, the international head of wine at Christie's, and the FBI, to express his suspicions.
The Methuselah of La Tache is considered exceptionally rare as little wine is bottled in the six-litre or eight-litre format, and because 1971 was a year with heavy hail that produced a small vintage, according to wine merchants Berry Brothers and Rudd.
Because of its rarity, few were sold in public. In 2009, one Methuselah bottle of 1997 La Tache sold at an auction in London for US$28,459.
The other two lots of Tang's collection that were eventually sold were also among the world's most prized wines.
The three-bottle lot of Domaine de la Romanee Conti is the most revered and famous of Burgundy producers, a region of winemakers noted for making small quantities of high quality wines from small estates that can vary widely in terroir, the conditions under which the grapes are grown that form part of the wine's character.
Production tends to be limited to several thousand cases per year of a specific wine.
While Tang's wines are generally considered to have excellent provenance, with many coming direct from the domaine, a wine industry insider says it's unlikely that he would have bought the 1959 DRC that way. The 1959 DRC was sold for HK$242,000 at last week's auction.
Cornwell, in his open letter posted to Wine Berserkers - a popular international forum on wine - drew comparisons with Tang's lot to those sold by Rudy Kurniawan, a controversial wine merchant who was arrested by the FBI last year for allegedly selling fake Burgundy wines. He will face trial at a New York court next month.
"Lot 165 [from Tang's wines] has a four-digit number instead of five. Except for bottles that have come from Rudy Kurniawan, every bottle of DRC that I have ever seen bore the five-digit numbers," Cornwell wrote.
Kurniawan lived a lush, credit-fuelled lifestyle, and his free spending allowed him to meet many wine connoisseurs. By the time he came to sell them wine, he had become a trusted source, including to auctioneers such as John Kapon of Acker Merrill & Condit, the company that auctioned millions of dollars of wine in 2006 on his behalf.