Tag Archives: Aymeric de Clouet

Where do the auction wines come from?

One of the frequently asked questions about old fine wine which is sourced at French wine auctions is “Where do these wines come from?”

 

The answer is simple – everywhere, from private individuals, restaurants, investment companies, and/or merchants. As a country of wine, France has developed a large and matured secondary wine market over the centuries. In France, more than100 wine auctions take place every year.

 

The French system of  selling art and antiques (including old fine wine) at auction is entirely different than the British (and the rest of the world) model and is filled with traditions and regulations dating back to the 16th century. In order to become an auctioneer, or ‘commissaire priseur’ in France, you must earn advanced degrees in both law and art history, and then continue with two years of apprenticeship. The short video attached is of a Commissaire Priseur in her 3rd year, who brought old bottles of d’Yum 1929 for De Clouet’s examination prior to her auction.

 

Auction firms in France are also legally bound to compensate any losses relating to wine counterfeit. For this reason, they hire an independent wine expert to examine each bottle prior to its auction and the expert decides the initial bidding price based upon the condition and quality of each wine. Among other experts, Aymeric de Clouet is the sole judicial expert appointed by the Paris Court of Appeal since 2011. He oversees more than 30 wine auctions per year. De Clouet has recently been Knighted in the order of Agricultural Merit by the Ministry of Agriculture.

 

 

 

Bordeaux 2009

By Aymeric de Clouet

I was qualified after 2009 en primeurs tasting by a charming colleague of mine, Angélique de L, as “the only man who did not like 2009.” After the tasting held on Tuesday, June 26, I can say with confidence that he is no longer the only one.

The tasting was very promising: the three Léovilles, Gruaud-Larose, Beychevelle, Moulin Riche for Saint-Julien, and a few crus Bourgeois (Le Crock, Sociando-Mallet, Chasse-Spleen) for comparison.

The results were appalling, although not disappointing to me (but to the others). If I want to drink Port, I buy Port, and when I want a super strong red, I drink Châteauneuf, but when I want Bordeaux I do not want 2009.

The few wines that pleased me somehow were Chasse-Spleen, very good, fair price, nothing you can blame. Gruaud-Larose, one of my favourites at the time, confirms the great esteem I hold him in. But the others! The worst value ever.

I generally state that most crus classes are too young to really be appreciated at such a young age, but in that case the vintage is already open and sometimes well evolved, so it is not my conclusion. I give it little future. When I taste the same wines in relatively poor vintages like 2002 or 2004, the pleasure that I get from it is far above: well balanced, deep and complex, not as powerful but much more elegant, and a fantastic value.

Among the disastrous tasting, other than the two previously mentioned, I was surprised by Beychevelle, generally not one of my favourite estates, which was quite good.

My beloved estates, Poyferré and Las Cases, did not fare so well. But after this tasting I understand what makes a ‘100 point’ wine. Well, it is definitely not for me.
Next time we will travel to the right bank, let us hope that it will show a better side of 2009.

Average hierarchy (five tasters, all wine professionals)
1.      Chasse-Spleen
2.      Ex-aequo Moulin Riche & Beychevelle
3.      –
4.      Gruaud-Larose
5.      Léoville-Las-Cases
6.      Léoville-Barton
7.      Léoville-Poyferré
8.      Le Crock
9.      Sociando-Mallet

My personal opinion
1.      Chasse-Spleen
2.      Beychevelle
3.      Gruaud-Larose
4.      Sociando-Mallet
5.      Le Crock
6.      Moulin Riche
7.      Léoville-Poyferré
8.      Léoville-Las-Cases
9.      Léoville-Barton

 

Addendum
I tasted the wines over the week, since we were only five for nine bottles, some was left in the decanters. I confirm my judgment. I would only add that Sociando-Mallet is a reliable 2009, not great but fairly good. Barton has a good first sip, the after taste is catastrophic. Poyferré is closer to Port than to wine. Las Cases has a better evolution in the decanter than others. Conclusion still is: avoid 2009.

 

 

To be or not to be an authentication expert: that is the wrong question.

aymeric

 

By Aymeric de Clouet

As a legal expert in wine matters, I feel that there is a need for clarification in the wine industry on the matters of counterfeiting. The first one would be: there is no such thing as a wine authentication expert.

A wine expert is someone who has an extensive knowledge of wine, wine areas, wine producers, changes in labels, foils, the history of glassmaking, etc. At the end of the day, a wine expert does not even need to taste wine, just like an expert in jewels does not dig out stones, or an expert in paintings does not necessary paint.
Like his colleagues for other objects, the wine expert spends his life learning all techniques, all stories of old, everything that can help him make an accurate statement about bottles. Because the expert’s job is threefold:
1. authentication assessment
2. evaluation
3. assistance in selling

But the authentication assessment is not an authentication certificate, because no one can be sure that a bottle is authentic. Not even the châteaux and producers dare to confirm their own bottles. The utmost certainty they give is: “no element was found that could lead us to think the bottle was fake”.

And so is the limit of an expert’s mission settled.

An expert can declare that he found no element that was unlikely for the time period or the château considered.

An expert, on the other hand, can declare that a bottle is fake, to his opinion, for this or that reason. But even then, one must be cautious as to the definition of a fake bottle.

A bottle with the cork and the wine of origin, but with a label so destroyed that it was replaced by a copy, is this a fake? No. It does not have the same value than the original one, but it is not a fake. Someday, we should explain to wine collectors that it is extremely rare to have both perfect levels and labels. It happened to me only once in 25 years, in a fantastic château cellar near Rambouillet, that had all the right elements.

(Even if it is not the theme, I will give three elements to you: natural soil, high humidity, but flowing wind through two small windows that prevented humidity to remain stagnant. No concrete, no wood cases, no artificial temperature control…)

A bottle is fake as soon as the wine is transferred from its original bottle or the cork changed by anyone else than the château. Yes, but this does not go without problems: in the many decades when the châteaux accepted to change corks every 50 years, do you honestly believe that they would open a bottle from the same vintage to refill the natural loss of wine? Some châteaux took, for example, one bottle delivered to fill the others. Some others added glass balls to raise the level without adding wine. But many just added the wine of the year, thinking that it would do no harm, on the contrary it would “freshen up” the old juice. Hence some nuclear traces from younger vintages, in perfectly authentic bottles from pre-nuclear era. Same goes with younger foils and labels, for older vintages. Only Yquem kept for decades enough original material to recondition the old bottles with the exact same label and foil.

Understanding history helps to understand today’s world, and the priority of an expert is to know it. Of course, ignorance is bliss, and many people prefer certainty than doubt. Well, certainty is more comfortable, but it does not exist.

Let us take another example: it was common in the years before the end of French colonies to use some Algerian wine to “better” (i.e. to raise the level of alcohol, which was the main quality criteria at that time) in French wines. If we analyse some of those great wines today, we will find that they are not 100% Pinot Noir, but are they fake? A practice that dates back 80 years, that cannot be remedied, is it a fake from the expert’s point of view? It would be today, but it was hardly so at that time, there was even names for that. Same goes for the paintings’ expert when he has to say who, between the students and the master, painted the picture! It is not 100% the Master, but such was common practice at Renaissance time.

The life of a judicial expert is filled with those “judgment calls” when you have to explain to non-professionals the subtlety of wine knowledge. Explain, instead of dictate. Convince, not impose. Still, in the end, you can get real results: last year I could find enough proof during a Police investigation to have an auction in Britain stopped and a counterfeiter of old cognacs arrested. But in this case, it is the counterfeiter who lacked subtlety.

An announcement

milon.jpeg

FAIR WINES is proud to announce Aymeric de Clouet’s next auction, which will be the event of the year in Paris. It takes place at Millon on 8th June 2017.

An extraordinary private cellar, held in the same family for three generations, with rare treasures such as sixteen bottles of Mouton-Rothschild 1945, twenty-three Château Lafite-Rothschild 1945 as well as the famous ’86 vintage, and also Haut-Brion and Latour 1928, Mouton 1937, Petrus 1945 and 1961 (in magnum and in fantastic condition), Ausone 1953, Cheval-Blanc 1953, 1961 and 1982, Château Margaux 1986, etc.

Should you wish to receive the catalogue, and/or if you have any inquiries regarding our service, please write to us at info@fairwines.co.uk; we will gladly assist you.

 

 

No one wants a great vintage

by Aymeric de Clouet

(This article was originally published in French.)

Every year the Primeurs campaign in Bordeaux is the opportunity for a nuptial parade from the producers in front of critics and journalists. Every year is an opportunity to explain why the vintage is even better than the previous one, which was already fantastic, the opportunity to widen one’s vocabulary in order to express it all. But the truth is, the last thing that producers, journalists and professionals want is a great vintage.

The good old times are past, when people knew how to handle a great wine, cellar it for 30 or 40 years with infinite patience. The times when it did not matter if a wine was completely undrinkable for 10 to 15 years. There are fewer old cellars, because of new buildings, robberies, and lack of finance.

The times are over when a small vintage was an economical nightmare for the producer and a long punishment for the consumer. All grands crus are at least drinkable and the last horrible vintage in Bordeaux dates back to 1992. Even 2007, a wine with little future, can be enjoyed in 2017.

The times are over when producers forced the vineyard to produces huge quantities of red, and with smaller yield came a better quality, steady demand and better margin.

The more you look into it, the more the wine industry is moving towards Champagne’s strategy: the same taste every year, to the utmost joy of restaurants, while even investors and owners are happy, because the speculation and price variations are limited but safe. Even producers are happier with a good vintage rather than a great one: it means steady price increase, instead of up and downs. 2010 was a difficult vintage to sell, to explain, and in the end made a loss for investors, despite the quality. In times of mediocrity, one needs to adapt.

We have to thank our predecessors who made 1928, 1947, 1959 and 1961 that we enjoy so much today, wines with genius instead of wine with skills. And even if I only mentioned reds here, I could say as much about whites, when 1964s are fresher than 2002s.

Value lies in aesthetics, whether it is with food or wine, not in the product quality. Patience lacks, and education, to appreciate great vintages. Will 2005 be the last real one? We can only hope that new trends will help to make great wines again, with the return of concrete vats, the end of overheated casks or excessive macerations, etc. The hope in balance between tannins, acidity and alcohol in wine.

The tasting notes on old Bordeaux

The old wines that fascinate us are the ones that are beautifully grown but somehow neglected by critics, and/or undervalued for a reason. For instance, Aymeric de Clouet bumped into a previous owner of Cos d’Estournel at a restaurant in Switzerland a few weeks ago. They chatted as old friends do, and concluded that 1993 is one of the vintages initially considered poor but matured into excellent 20 years later.

Here are Aymeric de Clouet’s latest tasting notes on old Bordeaux.

Hope you enjoy them.

 

****************

My ranking is based on a five-star system: five is the top of the world, needless to say very few wines get there, and not every year. Four is excellency, three very good, two interesting (if not too expensive), one is insufficient.

Château Clerc Milon, Pauillac 1986 : ***

Although not as expansive as its glorious leader, Mouton-Rothschild, Clerc Milon 86 is a very good wine, very sharp and at its peak. Far from the current concentrated wines, it is fine and discreet, with a very pleasant scent and a lasting taste in the mouth. Very good. Drink now.

Château Fourcas Hosten, Listrac 2009 : **

One of the best price quality ratios in Bordeaux, Fourcas-Hosten is a reliable source for good value, like many Listrac/Moulis wines. This 2009 is pleasant but definitely not one of the best I tasted from this château. Good, can be better. Go for the 2012, it is cheaper, and I find it better.

Château Croque-Michotte, Grand Cru Classé (or not) Saint-Emilion 1961 : ****

I am enthusiastic about this wine. 1961 is a great vintage, one of the greatest post-war (unlike 1982) but at this time many wines were still incorrectly vinified. This was excellent, a great finesse indeed, but all the complexity, great length, and perfect balance that are required to make a great wine. Not even expensive.

Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan 1986 : ***+

A neglected wine by critics, Les Carmes is a fantastic vineyard in the heart of the city. I have tasted nearly everything since 1953 and I deeply recommend it in most vintages, until it was bought and completely transformed recently: the wines are darker, more concentrated, less typical and with less individuality, they could be made anywhere in the world: well, now they have good grades! This 1986 is a good example: strong personality does not required strength and concentration. Ample aromas, everlasting taste, not feeling of overuse of casks, etc. A great old fashioned wine. Forget the new arrivals and stick to the great ones from the past.

Château Haut Bailly, Pessac-Léognan 1998 : * (and I am sorry)

One of my favourite wines, I was shocked and surprised to experience such a tragedy: a mediocre Haut-Bailly! In fact, it was so average and uninteresting that we decided to open another bottle of wine and stop drinking it! I tasted the rest over three days, to make sure. Maybe it was the bottle, but the wine was flawless, it was just… nothing. No aroma, no taste, poorly balanced with bitter tannins… Nothing ! I really need to taste another bottle.

Château Latour-Martillac, Pessac-Léognan 2010 : **

Always a good value wine, it is pleasant to have those in a restaurant. Still, the 2010 is in its poor phase, good but closeted, with more potential than actuality. Buy now to store, start drinking in four – five years minimum.

Château Canon, 1er Grand Cru, Saint-Emilion 1975 : ***+

Like another me, Canon 75 is subtle and elegant, complex and refined… Let us stop there. Definitely one of the four – five best terroirs in Saint-Emilion, Canon has an amazing record of great vintages. This is one of the (few) very good 1975, the most disappointing vintage in History, but it is not a great one. Drink now after good decanting.

Overstressed Wine Industry Can’t Believe Their Eyes.

02_new_wine

As sole judicial wine expert appointed by a high court, one of Aymeric de Clouet’s jobs is to authenticate wines, mostly on a confidential basis. Some cases are like international detective stories which have to be unravelled, and sometimes de Clouet enlists the help of other judicial experts from different fields of expertise. In France, the Paris High Court has appointed such a group of experts. They contribute to each other’s inquiry in their respective fields when necessary. The team includes a world papyrus expert and a former head of the Musée du Louvre. De Clouet is the wine expert.

Here is an article about de Clouet’s experience and his opinion regarding wine fraud. You may find it interesting.

*********************************

Last year, I was approached by a Singaporean wine merchant desperate to know about a bottle of Romanée-Conti 1929 that he considered fake, because its label was printed with pixels which didn’t exist at that time.

I asked them to bring the bottle back to France for me to examine. The pictures on my computer definitely showing pixels, which is fairly natural, on a screen. We then examined it together, and the whole bottle seemed to me to conform perfectly to what it was supposed to be. Old used foil, old glass, old label.

It was apparently not enough for my client, who kept insisting on the pixel-like printing. “Can’t you see, can’t you see, it’s obvious, it’s pixels”. I did not see, the whole label seemed fairly typical of the time period. So we asked for the assistance of a judicial expert in old paper since all other elements were now cleared. She confirmed that the quality of paper, the printing technique and all details were at least 70-80 years old. At the end of the day, not a single element of the bottle had given any reason for suspecting fraud, but a lot of fuss had been made.

It reminds me of a story told to me at one of the greatest estates in Bordeaux about a self- appointed wine expert who likes to have fake bottles destroyed, which would be ok if not for the fact that she does make people destroy perfectly good bottles, simply because she does not know what older bottles look like. In the post-war France, not all bottles looked alike, even within the same estate, and even in the same case of wine. At that time, nobody envisaged that someday wines would make such high prices, and that a single bottle could be worth a month’s salary or more. Châteaux did not pay the attention to detail that they do today. And let us not speak about Burgundy. They started to print corks in the 90’s!

The current wave of newspaper articles and TV reports, plus on-line articles does raise the level of fear regarding counterfeiting. Rightly so: after Kurniawan’s scandal, and some others that are not to be discussed (I am sworn to secrecy on the cases where I was consulted as an expert), it is true that the level of fake bottles has risen. It is only natural, since the value of wine has never been so high, as well as the ignorance of buyers, who collect wines as a sign of status.

Most fakes remain easy enough to spot. Others need a bit of knowledge. The infamous Kurniawan could sell Romanée-Conti 1945 jeroboams without raising an eyebrow in the US, while everyone knows that only 600 bottles (75 cl) were produced. Some years ago, a big international auction house listed a 1947 from the same estate – which was never produced. Recently, another auction house in the UK listed cognacs from different years and various producers, all with the same cork and foil; another listed magnums of Cheval-Blanc ’53, with neutral foil, never used there.

As so-called specialists let many fakes through, one still needs to be careful. But this is not a good reason enough to believe that there are no real treasures still to be had, provided they are bought from reliable sources and appropriately vetted