End game

If you are lucky enough to inherit a collection of wine, what are your options? Even if you enjoy the odd bottle or three, what do you do with 3,000 of them? Unless the intention is to drink your way to an early grave, a cool head is needed. The lady's late husband's cellar was exquisite, so the easy solution was to send it all to a wine auction house and wait for the cheque to arrive.

In this case Sothebys did their usual efficient transformation of wine into money, but some of the wines could not be guaranteed authentic, so the widow was left with some on her hands. One of the lots rejected was French Grand Cru, Chateau Haut Brion 1943. In previous auctions this wine sold for between 2,000 and 3,000 euros, so why had Sothebys shown zero interest?

The selection of wonderful old bottles kindly brought along by the dear lady to a Marbella restaurant last week looked almost too good to open, but soon the more physically active of our little group pitched into a long-fought battle, armed only with corkscrews. Meanwhile we pondered the question. In the last decade there have been several landmark cases of buyers suing auction houses for huge amounts of money on the basis that the wines they were sold turned out to be fakes. Moreover, one of the world's greatest wine forgers, German Hardy Rodenstock, was known to have been an active producer of fake Chateau Haut Brion between 1983 and 1985, precisely the period when the wine we were about to taste was bought. Rodenstock made his name in 2005 when he discovered in a ruined house in Paris some bottles engraved with the initials 'JF', purportedly those of US president and wine lover Thomas Jefferson. Rodenstock sold them for more than 100,000 euros each, but on subsequent analysis the contents turned out to be 1960 vintage.

On tasting, the Haut Brion was thin and well past its best, so probably authentic. If it had been in good condition it may have been a later vintage of another wine, so probably a forgery. Whether Sothebys was right or wrong, we enjoyed the experience of drinking an allegedly 75-year old Gran Cru claret.