Fake label, wrong glass among clues in alleged bogus wine case

CHICAGO (Reuters) - An artificially aged label was among the clues that a pricey magnum of French wine sold by celebrity chef Charlie Trotter last year was a fake, a wine expert involved in the case said Friday.

Bekim and Ilir Frrokaj paid more than $46,200 last June for what they thought was a magnum of 1945 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti from Trotter’s legendary restaurant, according to an amended complaint filed in federal court in Chicago on Friday.

Trotter closed his restaurant in August, and sold thousands of bottles from his restaurant’s wine collection.

Reuters could not reach Trotter for comment on Friday. But he denied the allegations to the Chicago Tribune, according to a story published on the newspaper’s web site.

The Tribune reported that Trotter said one of the buyers had called him asking for his money back, and described him as “a disgruntled client who probably paid a lot more money (for the bottle) than he’s ever paid before. It’s buyer’s remorse.”

According to the amended complaint, Bekim Frrokaj hired wine consultant Maureen Downey last fall to authenticate the magnum for insurance purposes. She determined it was “counterfeit and valueless based on the physical attributes of the DRC magnum, the provenance provided by Charlie Trotter’s, and her discussions with Domaine de la Romanee-Conti” experts and employees, according to the amended complaint and an interview with Downey.

Downey told Reuters that she had long understood that such a large format bottle of this particular wine was never made because of the small-scale production from the Romanee-Conti vineyard, particularly in the limited 1945 vintage.

When Frrokaj sent her photographs of the bottle to review, she said the bottle’s glass and markings were inconsistent. Downey added, “His label and vintage tag are exact replicas of those of another client’s bottle I also believe to be counterfeit....I believe they have the same counterfeiting tells.”

Downey also said she questioned the accuracy of a letter Frrokaj had received, on the restaurant’s letterhead, stating that the bottle had been purchased by Trotter in 2001 from representatives of Wilson Daniels, a fine-wine importer and distributor of DRC wines in the United States.

Downey said she contacted a representative of Wilson Daniels, who confirmed her suspicion that no such bottles were sold by the wine importer.

A spokeswoman from Wilson Daniels could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Information Downey received after a later visit to DRC confirmed her belief in the accuracy of her report, the consulant said.

The lawsuit accuses Trotter and his former restaurant of violating federal and state consumer laws, and seeks $75,000 in damages.

The case is Frrokaj et al v. CHT Corp et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, No. 13-04376.

Reporting By P.J. Huffstutter; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz