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Margaux chief called in fraud squad over 100-year bottles

The Bordeaux fraud squad is investigating a consignment of 100-year-old Château Margaux – at the instigation of the château's director.

Margaux chief Paul Pontallier informed the fraud department (Direction de la Concurrence et des Fraudes) at the beginning of last year that he was worried a batch of Margaux 1900 was likely to be fraudulent.

The batch, which totalled 360 bottles of Margaux 1900 and Lafite 1900, was being sold by Paris auctioneers Tajan. Pontallier grew suspicious when he saw the auction catalogue said the bottles had been reconditioned with the permission of the châteaux.

‘We were stunned because we had given no such permission,’ he told decanter.com. He asked the auction house to add a note to that effect, but was worried that the bottles may have been topped up with a more recent vintage.

‘It is very difficult to understand what has happened to the bottles,’ he said. They had been bought in Belgium from a private collector by a wine merchant, Khaled Rouabah, who asked French producers Barton and Guestier to change the corks. Barton and Guestier agrees it had done so.

Re-corking is standard procedure with even the most ancient of bottles. The level of wine in the bottle is frequently topped up, but only with the same vintage, and always under the supervision of the château.

‘We became suspicious and contacted the fraud police because we thought that more bottles may be involved,’ Pontallier said. He said that it had been impossible to determine how the auction catalogue had come to say the château had been involved in the reconditioning.

Before 1949 Bordeaux wine from all châteaux was sold in barrels and bottled by negociants.

The investigation, ordered by a senior Paris judge, Renaud Van Ruymbeke, continues. Newspaper reports that other châteaux – notably Haut-Brion and Mouton-Rothschild – are also under investigation have been firmly denied by the châteaux.

‘So far as I know it is only Lafite and Margaux involved,’ Pontallier added.

Written by Adam Lechmere8 April 2002

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