American auction house Zachys is thrust in to the center of an ongoing scandal that alleges it sold a bottle of fake jeroboam of 1999 Domaine Romanée Conti La Tâche to a Hong Kong wine collector.
The collector who wishes to remain anonymous told Vino Joy News that he was sold a 3 liter La Tâche in an online auction hosted in New York by Zachys for a total of US$19,840 back in 2011.
Nine years later, suspicion on the wine’s authenticity was raised after another auction house, Acker Merrall & Condit, turned down the bottle on the basis that the bottle has label inconsistencies and a re-waxed capsule when the collector tried to resell it earlier this year.
When the collector relayed Acker’s evaluation result to Zachys and asked for an explanation, the auction house’s founder Jeff Zacharia wrote in an email reply on July 11, which is also reviewed by Vino Joy News and admitted the auction house in fact never inspected the wine and did not dispute Acker’s assessment.
“While I do not believe we have physically inspected the bottle, I would guess that our answer would be no different than the one that you got from Acker,” the company founder replied.
In a separate email in what appears to be a “buyer-beware” warning, the company founder also notes that the wine showed seepage in the catalog back then, seemingly shirking responsibility to the buyer. However, the auction house failed to mention that the wine has a re-waxed capsule or label inconsistencies in the catalog.
Speaking to Vino Joy News, the collector called Zachys’ response “irresponsible” especially for a long-term client who has been buying from the auction house for more than 10 years.
Solutions proposed by Zachys including refunding the collector with the equivalent of other wines through Zachys auctions within a year were declined by the collector. He called it “half-measure and insincere”. Additionally, he complained that the wine’s value has more than multiplied in the past nine years, and even refunding the same amount in 2011 in cash would be considered a devaluation.
But what puzzles him the most is still on the wine’s authenticity. “If they believe the wine is real, why wouldn’t they just take the wine back and sell it again? They don’t want to do that either,” he asks.
One wine authentication expert who talked to Vino Joy News on the condition of anonymity this week pointed out a few inconsistencies after reviewing high-resolution bottle images, enough to cause concerns, though he added that micro images and physical inspection are needed to reach definitive conclusions.
“On the main label, it’s possibly immature ink and print. The glue run [on the front label] could be temperature fluctuation or too much glue been applied by counterfeiter. You will notice a lot of ink scratching, it would be inferior ink or inferior print run,” he says.
Additionally, he called attention to the green ink on the front label for ‘Appellation La Tache Controlee’, which seems to be running outside of letter plate, and the blurred number 902 on the top right corner of front label. The fuzziness could indicate inferior ink or that it has been tempered with, he cautions.
“Cork looks like it’s pushed out. It just raises more questions. There are enough red flags to cause concerns,” he concluded after reviewing the bottle images.
After months of wrangling for an amicable solution, the collector has sent the auction house a legal letter a month ago, but as of today there’s no reply because time, as unfairly as it sounds, is on the seller’s side.
Statute of limitation
Zachys claimed the statute of limitations had lapsed because the sale in question had happened nine years earlier.
In an email reply to us, Charles Antin, Head of Zachys Auction Sales, made sure to mention the statute of limitation and auction house’s iron-clad terms and conditions, “While this was well beyond our statute of limitations in our terms and conditions, we did offer him a full credit on what he had paid towards future purchases. We do not have the bottle in our possession so we really cannot comment on anything else.”
The company argues that a sale can be rescinded if the wine is found to be inauthentic within 90 days of the date of delivery, but the wine in question was sold nine years ago.
Requests from Vino Joy News for Zachys to show the wine’s sales track record to trace its origin were ignored as it declined to comment on anything related to its authenticity.
The collector called Zachys’ handling and reply “thuggish”, and said he’s actively pursuing the case through legal channels to defend his rights.
This raises concerns for many collectors in Asia who after buying wines at auctions would ship them straight to their cellars or storage facilities without doing inspections at all. What happens is by the time they realized the wine’s value has appreciated, conducting authenticity check in preparation for reselling might be too late.
David Wainwright, a fine wine expert based in Hong Kong, said that the best way for collectors who purchased highly priced trophy bottles is to have professionals to examine the wines immediately.
“The singe piece of advice I can give is that if you buy wine in the US and live in Hong Kong, with stuff like that you need to get it looked at right away. Check statute of limitation and terms of conditions printed in auction catalog,” he cautions.
This is not the first time that Zachys is accused of selling fake wines at auctions. Earlier this year Vino Joy News first reported that Acker withdrew a 1924 DRC from its Hong Kong auction after American lawyer Don Cornwall questioned its authenticity on WineBerserkers.com. The wine was bought by the consignor through Zachys in 2012.
In 2017, its Golden Gate collection sale in Hong Kong raised eyebrows because it featured wines from Eric Greenberg, a convicted wine fraudster by US federal court.