Don Cornwell's Critique of Today's Spectrum / Vanquish Wine Sale

POSTED ON 08/02/2012

Doubts have been raised over the authenticity of a number of the wines in the Spectrum / Vanquish wine auction due to take place at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel today. The main critique comes from the reliable source of Don Cornwell, about whom, Alder Yarrow says:

"He is a highly motivated, highly educated, and extremely experienced collector who is tired of seeing people pay outrageous sums for fake wine and of auction houses that seem to have no qualms about selling it to them. Cornwell has been collecting burgundy for more than three decades. But he's not just a wealthy lawyer with a taste for Pinot Noir. By night he's the owner and editor of the Oxidized Burgundies Wiki Site, which is building a community database of experiences with prematurely oxidized white burgundies. And by day he has more than once been involved in legal cases about fake wines".

Here is California lawyer Don Cornwell's critique of the Spectrum / Vanquish wine auction catalogue, which can be viewed at

Here are some of the more obvious issues that are raised by the pictures in the catalog, but which are not addressed anywhere in the text of the auction catalogue:

(1) Condition of the capsules vs. fills and labels. The biggest red flag to me is the condition of the capsules as compared to the fills/labels. Many of the wines on this list have very clean labels and excellent fills, but ratty capsules. This makes no sense at all and the reverse is much more common with old wines from damp cellars. Spectrum has done nothing to explain this.

(2) No provenance information of any kind vs. an exceptional number of cut capsules. I do not ever recall seeing an auction catalog before where there wasn’t a single comment about provenance. Usually, at a minimum, there is some type of description of the storage conditions for the wine. But here there is absolutely nothing. Is that because Spectrum thought they would be taking a risk by making any statement whatsoever about how or where these wines were stored before the sale? With that alarm already sounding, the huge number of capsules that were cut or trimmed -- apparently before the wines ever reached Spectrum – again raises major questions that call for serious disclosure. Ordinarily, wines that come out of the cellars of original owners don’t have T-cuts and capsule trims unless the owner has already tried unsuccessfully to sell the wines and had them rejected by an auction house. I can’t remember seeing DRC capsules where somebody cut off the printed band that surrounds the bottom of the capsule as an alleged means of providing assurance of proper provenance. Instead this raises the potential for fraud and certainly cries out for complete disclosure about where these wines came from, what other experts/auction houses rejected them and why. See lots: 37, 88, 89, 90, 93, 95, 96, 98, and 131. Lot 132 has perfect conditions except for an excessively abraded capsule. Spectrum: what is the explanation for zero provenance disclosure and yet clear indicia that a number of these wines appear to have been evaluated and possibly rejected by other auction houses previously?

(3) Missing Accent Marks on Romanée in the Appellation Controlée Line. Several lots of the DRC Romanée Conti are missing the accent on the first Ė (accent Aigu) on the green-colored Appellation Romanée Conti line. This is something that DRC has always used. The following lots of Romanée Conti appear to be missing the é in “Appellation Romanée Conti” and thus would appear to be questionable. 

-Lot No.99: 12 bottles of 1971
-Lot No 101: 3 jeroboams of 1971 (but this is slightly unclear in the photo)
-Lot No 118: 12 bottles of 1966
-Lot No 121: 12 bottles of 1964 
-Lot No 124: 3 magnums of 1962
-Lot No 127: 12 bottles of 1959

Was any attempt made by the “experts” to verify the authenticity of these anomalous labels with the Domaine?

(4) Missing Accent Marks on Post-77 La Tâche in the Appellation Controlée Line. Today’s modern La Tâche label contains an accent (circumflex) over the second A in La Tâche – both on the main block lettering of the vineyard name, and the green appellation controlée line. The circumflex was not included above the second A in La Tâche until the 1978 vintage and it appears on all La Tâche bottles from 1978 on. (The one exception to this that I’m aware of is that Wilson-Daniels has released some bottles of 1971 La Tache with new labels which contain the circumflex over the A in both places and Wilson-Daniels strip labels. It is possible that there may have been some other pre-78 vintages where Wilson-Daniels or the DRC importers in other countries have issued late releases with the new label, but I haven’t seen any to date.) . Lot 11, a magnum of 1985 La Tache, is missing the circumflex over the A on the green appellation controlee line, and thus the label appears to be a potential counterfeit. Again, was the authenticity of these labels confirmed with the Domaine?

(5) Incorrect Accent Marks on Propriétaire on the second printed line on the label. Another little-noticed change in DRC’s labels over time is that the modern label has an accent (Aigu) on the first E in the word propriétaire which appears on the left side of the second printed line on the label. DRC first began using the Aigu in the word propriétaire sometime after 1975 and the Aigu definitely appears in Proprietaire on line 2 on all DRC bottles from the 1978 vintage onward. It is not properly there however on bottles issued before 1976. (This is once again subject to the same exception for late release bottles of 1971 through Wilson-Daniels, which do bear the Aigu in Proprietaire.) In the case of the Spectrum wines, it would appear that someone copied the modern DRC label in attempting to fake older bottles of DRC, because the following lots contain an Aigu in Propriétaire but should do so for the vintage in question:

-Lot 17: 2 magnums of 1959 Romanée Conti 
-Lot 65: 7 bottles of 1966 DRC Montrachet 
-Lot 66: 7 bottles of 1966 DRC Montrachet
-Lot 99: 12 bottles of 1999 Romanée Conti
-Lot 118: 12 bottles of 1966 Romanée Conti
-Lot 121: 12 bottles of 1964 Romanée Conti

Once again, if you have information from the Domaine that the labels on these bottles are correct, would you please share it.

(6) Incorrect Number of Digits on Bottle Numbers. The following lots contain an incorrect number of digits on the bottle number when compared with other bottles of known provenance: 

-Lot 12: six magnums of 1971 La Tâche (alleged bottle No. 0255). Compare, e.g., 1971 La Tâche magnum (bottle No. 01078) in “Wines from the Legendary Cellar of Wolfgang Grünewald” Acker Auction Oct 18, 2008 at page 174. See also Acker Hong Kong Auction No. 1, May 31, 2008 Lot 122 (1971 DRC La Tache Magnum No. 00327). Notably, the 1971 magnums that Mr. Kurniawan sold in the April 27, 2007 Christie’s Los Angeles auction had very similar four digit numbers. See the Christie’s April 27, 2007 auction catalog at page 85 (bottle numbers 0233, 0235 and 0236.) 

-Lot 15: two magnums of 1962 La Tâche (alleged bottle Nos. 0306 and 0308.) Compare, e.g. 1971 La Tache magnum (bottle No. 00346) in “Wines from the Legendary Cellar of Wolfgang Grünewald,” Acker Auction Oct 18, 2008, Lot 646 at page 174.

-Lots 65 and 66: each lot consists of 7 bottles of 1966 DRC Montrachet. Note that the bottle numbers on Lot 65 are all four digit numbers, ranging from 0900 to 0906. However, Lot 66 is all five digit numbers, ranging from 00035 to 00041. DRC uses either five or six digit numbers on their Montrachet bottles and used five digit numbers for the Montrachet in the 1966 vintage. See the photo below of Bottle 00148.

-Lot 94: a magnum of 1978 Romanée Conti (alleged bottle No. 0027). I personally owned a magnum of 1978 La Tache, which I sold at auction on December 10, 2005. My magnum had a six digit bottle number. See also Lots 95-97 in this auction (1978 Romanée Contis in 750 ml bottles) which have six digit numbers.

-Lot 100: a magnum of 1971 Romanée Conti (alleged bottle No. 0048). Compare, e.g. 1971 Romanée Conti magnum (bottle No. 000355) in “The Don Stott Collection,” Acker Merrall 11/4/2011, at Lot 1246 (at page 435).

-Lot 101: 3 jeroboams of 1971 Romanée Conti (alleged bottle Nos 016, 017 and 018.) Compare, e.g. 1971 Romanée Conti Jeroboam (bottle No. 00014), in “Hong Kong XVI,” Acker Merrall 9/16-17/2011, Lot 811 at page 268 and related photo. 

(7) Incorrect Capsules.. Lots 65 and 66 (1966 DRC Montrachet) have plain white capsules. That is incorrect. DRC utilizes a white capsule with a black printed band on it, which is similar to the branded capsules used on the red wines. 

The description on Lot 65 says five bottles have “nicked Establissements Nicolas” capsules and the labels have “Establissments Nicolas” stamped on them. I’ve never heard of any DRC Montrachett being capsuled with Nicolas capsules. Leaving aside the absence of the Domaine capsules, why would wines have Nicolas capsules and labels and Lebegue-Bichot import/export strips (see photo of Lot 65 on page 69) at the same time? That makes no sense. Lot 66 has plain white capsules for which no explanation is provided and the Lebegue-Bichot import/export strips on that set of bottles are quite different. 

(8) Wrong glass Lots 65 and 66 (1966 Montrachet) have completely different glass, including one that is completely inappropriate for a bottle of 1966 wine. The photo of Lot 65 on page 71 shows modern “tire tread” glass near the punt. The photo of Lot 66 on page 73 shows flat glass on the punt appropriate for the era.

(9) Too many bottles. 1966 DRC Montrachet is an exceedingly rare wine at this point. A search of Wine Market Journal reveals that only 7 bottles of 1966 DRC Montrachet have come into the auction market since 1996. Spectrum purports to have 14 bottles in a single auction. Surely this requires, at a minimum, a detailed description of the provenance of these bottles. 

10) Crudely stamped bottle numbers vs Domaine’s printed numbers. Lot No. 94 (an alleged magnum of 78 Romanée Conti) has a crudely hand-stamped four digit number. However, for the 1978 vintage DRC had the numbers printed onto their labels. See, for example, the photograph of Lot 97 (1978 Romanée Conti 750ml bottle) which appears at page 105 of the Spectrum catalog. See also the photograph of 1978 Romanée Conti (Bottle No. 005884) in “The Ultimate Cellar,” Sotheby’s April 2-3, 2011 (Lot 6244 at page 171.)

(11) Misspellings. On lot 94 (magnum of 78 Romanée Conti), the street address of Percy Fox, the UK agent, is misspelled. The name of the street. is Sackville, not Sackvilee. There are numerous photographs of the Percy Fox strip label with the address correctly spelled on other bottles in other auction catalogs. Have your experts contacted Percy Fox to determine whether they in fact used strip labels with their address misspelled?

(12) Wrong surround trim on the neck label. On Lot No. 99 (12 bottles of 1971 Romanée Conti) the decorative edging around the neck label is incorrect. The normal edging is a thick bold outer line tracing the shape of the neck label and a second fine parallel line in black with white space in between. On Lot 99, the fine black line and white space is missing. Instead there appears to be a solid gray line directly abutting the black solid outer line and there is no intervening white space between them. . 

(13) Record of prior sale of the same numbered bottle. Lot 101 consists of three jeroboams of 1971 Romanée Conti with consecutive numbers. One of those is No 018. A jeroboam bearing the identical number was sold in Kurniawan's Cellar II auction and another bearing the number 00018 was sold in the Rosania/Kurniawan auction at Acker on April 25, 2008. Each of these jeroboams had different strip labels, neck labels, etc. and both of them are quite different in appearance from Spectrum’s lot 101. What evidence did Spectrum’s “experts” use to determine that the bottle in Lot 101 is legitimate and the other two (at least one of which came from the same source) were fake? Moreover, how does Spectrum explain the fact that the three jeroboams in Lot 101 have three digit bottle numbers and are missing the Aigu accent on the first Ė on the green-colored Appellation Romanée Conti line?

(14) Soil level irreconcilable between main label, neck label and strip label. This is true in several instances. One of the most egregious is Lot 97 (1978 Romanée Conti). Another is lot 121 (12 bottles of 1964 Romanée Conti.)

(15) Wrong font/wrong spacing on some older neck labels. My very first impression as I looked at the photographs of the older wines in the catalog was that the font is wrong on the neck labels. DRC uses a comic-type font for MONOPOLE on the neck label. From 1990 on, the font in use for “MONOPOLE” has been the same as is depicted in the photo of the 1999 Romanée Conti on page 22 of the Spectrum catalog. However prior to the 1990 vintage the font on the neck label was slightly different. The font was slightly narrower, with the result that the straight lines in the M, N, P, L and E appear somewhat “thinner” before 1990. Additionally, the top portion of the letter O was distinctly “thin” in comparison with the bulbous bottom. See the photographs of the neck labels on the 1966 to 1988 vintages set forth at pages 70 and 74 of the Sotheby’s “Ultimate Cellar” catalog and pages 174, 176 and 186 of the Wolfgang Grünewald catalog referenced above. In addition, prior to 1990 (except apparently for the vintage 1964), the vintage date was printed in a regular font, not the thick bold numbering which appears on the modern labels In addition, for the years from 1978 through 1988 there was greater space between the numerals comprising the year than there is today. (Again, see the photographs from other auction catalogs referenced above.) The neck labels on the Spectrum bottles in Lots 11, 12, 89, 91, 92, 94, 97, 99, 118 and 122 do not match the neck labels in other auction catalogs for the vintages after 1964 and before 1990. The neck labels in the Spectrum catalog appear to be copies of the modern version – with a much thicker font on MONOPOLE, broad bold numbering and tight spacing between the numerals, even for the vintages from 1978 through 1988.

Ultimately, I’m left astonished wondering whose Spectrum’s alleged “experts” were and just what did they do? There are so many red flags here; so many things that an alleged “expert” should have detected but didn’t. Just what did this allegedly “elevated inspection process” consist of? What steps did Spectrum take to authenticate the “once in a lifetime” bottles of 1945 La Tache and Romanée Conti with DRC itself? What information did Spectrum obtain from DRC, if any, that would enable them to offer these wines to the public despite the obvious issues?

David Elghanayan
of Vanquish Wine Ltd says: ‘All the wines in this auction have been vetted during an elevated inspection process involving many world class specialists.

It has always been the practice of Spectrum Wine Auctions and Vanquish Wine Ltd to invite clients to inspect and request additional images and discuss the details of individual wines. We have multiple images available both in the printed catalogue and online including 360 degree high resolution images.

We reiterate the invitation to anyone to inspect the wines at EHD’s in bond warehouse in Weybridge by appointment’.

Maureen Downey of San Francisco says:

I am amazed!

If what has been reported is accurate and they knowingly took Rudy K wines via a 3rd party as to hide his involvement and create plausible deniability to the auction house(s) - shame on them.

The fine & rare wine world, and especially the wine auction world has suffered greatly as a result of unscrupulous vendors looking to make a buck by turning their heads in lieu of offering the consumer proper due diligence. The sad part is there ARE good houses out there! NOT all wine auctions are tainted!

Historically - auction houses have hidden behind ignorance or untrained staffs when fakes have slipped through (or been pushed through). But here you have some serious veterans of the fine & rare wine world & auctions. One would hope such a seasoned team would have done full due diligence.
A marketing piece about vanquish (Nov 2011) claims about its principles: "Within less than five years, not only have they revolutionised the Fine Wine industry but they have dominated the Champagne and premium spirits on –trade market in London." 
The "Senior Consultant and Strategic Advisor" of Spectrum was aware of Rudy's 'problematic" consignments, as far back as the beginning of Zachys Auctions in 2002 - where I worked with him. What has changed other than increased information about how problematic wines from this man are - including the Ponsot debacle, about which Rudy has never come clean.

So how does this seasoned team take these wines on consignment?

I can assure you that on this side of the pond - steps are being taken in the right direction. And I cannot wait until authorities start cleaning up this mess so we can begin down the long road of restoring faith in our industry. Of course we still have many millions in fakes to vet out of the market, but if people stop trading in them we will at least stop their exchange!

This one is not going away any time soon. 

The Corney & Barrow Letter

“Corney & Barrow, the UK Agents for Domaine de la Romanée- Conti have very recently heard about the very significant amount of concern being expressed in the public domain about the Spectrum/Vanquish „Auction of Rarities‟ on the 8th February at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde ParkHotel London.

This concern, communicated to us through trusted third parties and covered comprehensively on is shared by the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. It centres largely on the alleged consignor of some of the Domaine‟s wines in this sale.

Further detailed and specific concerns over labelling discrepancies of some of the Domaine‟s wines have been presented by Mr Don Cornwell and published on .

Corney & Barrow is not an official authenticator of the Domaine‟s wines except for those wines that it has sold directly from its UK allocation, including from time to time older vintages ex Domaine. The Domaine will only authenticate stock that has come directly from itself via its authorised agents.

Nevertheless Corney & Barrow believes, on behalf of its UK customers, that it has a responsibility to make public its concerns about Mr Cornwell‟s comprehensive critique of a significant number of Domaine de la Romanée Conti lots in this forthcoming auction”

Adam Brett-Smith
Managing Director
Corney & Barrow Ltd
Should you have any questions regarding the above, please speak to Adam

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