Thursday, August 9, 2018

LeDomduVin: Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1945

Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1945 - Upper Label "V" for Victory© LeDomduVin 2018

Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1945

Inspecting a Jeroboam of Mouton Rothschild 1945 ...

As the Wine Quality Control Director for the company I work for, an essential part of my job is to inspect and do the authentication of all the bottles we buy and sell (also checking provenance and suppliers reliability and integrity, as well as being responsible for the quantity and quality of the stock and storage's environment, conditions, and security of all the company's cellars and warehouses, and also doing Market Analysis, Stock Valuation, SOP, etc, etc...).

So, while doing regular monthly inventories in our warehouses, I also take the time to inspect some bottles and put to the test my authentication skills and knowledge.

Dominique Noël a.k.a. LeDomduVin Wine Inspection © LeDomduVin 2018

Although I cannot reveal all the details that differentiate a real bottle from a counterfeit one, as it will go against the deontological codes or ethics of my profession (and might also provide counterfeiters with intrinsic and useful details to produce better fake bottles), I still would like to share with you some of my bottle authentication knowledge and briefly establish the reason why I believe, for example, that this Jeroboam of Mouton Rothschild 1945 is genuine, and not a counterfeit. 

Starting from top to Bottom. 

1. The bottle

- The glass of the bottle is clearly old and its color is too (a bit difficult to see on these pictures as they were taken inside the warehouse, which explains the soft yellow lighting and the darkness of the bottle) 

Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1945 - The Bottle
© LeDomduVin 2018

- 1940s Mouton Rothschild bottles have broader shoulder than the base, and it is clear on the pictures (above and below) that the base is narrower than the upper side of the bottle

- The glass surface presents defaults and asperities with micro-bubbles trapped inside the glass, proof that this bottle has been handblown and not machine-made. 

- On the picture below, you can see a hand blowing default of the bottle. Do you see it? Yes, it is not an impression on the picture, the glass shape of the bottle is slightly incurved [ ) ] on the left side compared to the right side which is straight. [ | ]

Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1945 - The bottom of the bottle
© LeDomduVin 2018

- The punt is deep and thick, time-worn and presents no markings, compared to more recent bottles which present markings (either engraved or embossed or even embedded within the glass).  

Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1945 - The deep and thick punt of the bottle
© LeDomduVin 2018

Back in the mid-40s at the end of World War II, glass was not always easy to find, and therefore, at the time, old and used glass bottles of different colors were melted together, then handblown to make new bottles, which were slightly different in color than the usual color normally used for Bordeaux wine bottles prior (and even after) the War.     

2. The capsule

Old, corroded, wrinkled, time-worn and short (which was normal at that time compared to nowadays Bordeaux capsules, which are longer and usually covering the full length of the cork) with the correct color and correct markings.

Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1945 - Top of the Capsule
© LeDomduVin 2018

3. The cork

I did not cut the capsule for this specific bottle but it is very important when doing an authentication of a bottle to verify the cork size, color, defaults, markings, brand, font, vintage, wine absorption, etc... to make sure that it is genuine and/or verify if the bottle has been reconditioned (re-corked, refilled or topped up, etc...) and also make sure that it is not a fake one. 

That said when a bottle is as old and expensive as this one (Mouton 1945 goes for 35-40,000 Euros for a magnum (1.5L) - retail price -, so I let you imagine how much a Jeroboam (4.5L) could go for...), there is always an hesitation on taking the decision to cut the capsule to verify the cork, as it will slightly decrease the value of the bottle in case of reselling later on. 

If the capsule is slightly loose and you can uncap it from the bottle without damaging it, then it is usually better than cutting it. Yet, if the capsule is tight and you absolutely need to verify the cork, then you will have no other choice but to cut it.   

However, if you are sure to keep the bottle for your own consumption and/or have any doubt about the bottle, cutting the capsule to check the cork is definitely one of the best ways to check 

- the cork authenticity (real or not? old or new? correct or wrong markings like the vintage and/or the brand?) 

- as well as the state of the cork (wet or dry? wine absorption only at the bottom or completely soaked? still in one piece or crumbling? tartaric crystals or not? etc...)  

...and thus, in the meantime, while checking the cork, you can roughly assess the quality of the wine:

- if the cork is dry and slightly loose, for example, air may have affected the wine, which may be oxidized, gone, bad or even turned to vinegar in some case...

- if the cork is completely soaked, soft and crumbling, leakage may have occurred, and the wine may present the same problems as above... 

Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1945 - Side of the Capsule
© LeDomduVin 2018

4. The Label(s)

"In 1945, to commemorate the Allied victory, Baron Philippe de Rothschild had the idea of embellishing the Mouton Rothschild label with art-work: in this instance, a symbolic design intended to celebrate the return of peace. He commissioned this from a young unknown artist, Philippe Jullian (1921-1977). Having displayed early promise as a designer, he was to go on to become a successful dramatist. He submitted several drafts for the label: this one is based on the famous “V for Victory” that Churchill used throughout the war to rally the forces of freedom."

Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1945 - Upper Label "V" for Victory© LeDomduVin 2018

Mouton Rothschild 1945 label is divided into 2 distinctively different labels that are slightly apart from each other.

-  The upper one, on which the "V" represents "Victory" ("Victoire" in French), the ending of World War II, is obviously smaller in height but more particularly smaller in width by a few millimeters on both sides, as you can see on the picture below.

If you encounter a bottle of Mouton 1945 with the 2 labels attached and/or even detached but with the same width, then it is a fake bottle, a counterfeit that you should report, immediately if you can, to the Château, which will in turn investigate...

....but be ready to answer a few questions like: when and where did you buy it? from whom? a collector? at a wine auction? a retailer? a wholesaler? a distributor? Do you still have the contact details? How much did you pay for it? Do you still have the invoice? etc, etc...

All these details are important to trace the history and provenance of the bottle, in order to push the investigation further to retrieve its origin and, at some point, dig up the counterfeiter and put him/her where he/she belongs... behind bars.

It is said that 20-25% of the top 50 most expensive and top wines of the world on the market (mostly French wines from Bordeaux and more especially Burgundy) are actually fakes, extraordinary well-crafted counterfeits that usually challenge even the eyes of the best experts on the market.

It is a stereotype, but it is also said that there are more bottles in the black and grey market in China than the top Bordeaux and Burgundy wineries ever produced...

I've heard a story that a guy counterfeited 6,000 bottles of a very expensive and rare wine, and as per the same source, only about 2,000 bottles have been retrieved so far, meaning that the remaining 4,000 bottles could be anywhere in the world, even in your own personal collection.... scary.....
(not to create any paranoia on your part, but I'm sure that, from now on, you will look at your stash of expensive and rare bottles with a different eye...) 😊

I lately wrote a comment on a Facebook post about probably one of the most expensive wine dinners in history, organized by Fine Wine Experience in Hong Kong, at 108,000 HKD per person (read the article here), that it is quite funny to see all of these bottles of 1800s and early 1900s suddenly reappearing and coming back on the market from nowhere... (supposedly from unnamed private collectors who have been collecting them for decades....)... well, well.... it really makes me wonder as, frankly, I haven't seen that many as over the past 5-6 years... offered by both retailers and auction houses... while already back in the 90s and 2000s they were barely any on the markets and the few remaining ones were super hard to find.... nowadays, it seems that you can find some bottles of 1800s and early 1900s vintages everywhere and even in older vintages than the ones that were already difficult to find 20-25 years ago... surprising, no?... just saying... but it seems that there is something fishy about this... (and that is the Wine Quality Control Director talking here..)... 

Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1945 - Upper and Lower Labels© LeDomduVin 2018

- The lower label or main Label of this particular bottle is rough and shows signs of time, yet the paper, the size, the color(s), the font and the details are correct. And for those of you who may not know, R.C. meaning "Reserve du Château" is also correct. Therefore, no problem here either. 

Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1945 - Lower or main Label© LeDomduVin 2018

5. Conclusion

So, in conclusion, and to recap, I will say that this Jeroboam of Mouton Rothschild 1945 is a genuine bottle, and not a counterfeit, as all of its details are correct:
- The capsule (size, height, color, font, markings)
- The color and roughness of the glass, as well as the shape of the bottle (shoulder slightly broader than the bottom) and defaults of the bottle, as well as the lack of markings, are normal and expected for a 1945 vintage bottle
- The labels are detached and in 2 pieces (the upper one smaller in width) 
- The bottle writings, number, font, color, and size also match  

One day if I open the bottle I will let you know how was the cork and if in fact, it confirmed the authenticity of this bottle...

Obviously, and if you did not know prior to reading this little post, you will know now how to identify whether the bottle of Mouton 1945 you stashed away (either for investment and/or for your old days or a really special occasion) is a fake/counterfeit bottle or not...

It is easy, if all the above do not match, then it is a fake. For example, if  
- The capsule is wrong in color or markings, 
- The shape of the bottle is wrong, straight rather than broad shoulders, or too new for the vintage
- The label is in one rather than two pieces, and/or the width is the same for both labels. 
- It lacks a bottle number or states a wrong bottle number, or has been printed with the wrong color or font
- It presents glass markings which would not have been applied in 1945.
- And if you are able to see that the cork presents wrong markings or signs for the vintage. 

6. Authentication

Authentication is a hard job which is not as easy as people may think. Basically, while inspecting the bottles, you always have to think, refer to your memory and knowledge, check with previous inspection results and pictures if needed, and ask yourself some questions, more especially if you have any doubts and/or if any of the usual bottle, capsule and label characteristics for this specific producer and vintage do not seem to match with bottles previously inspected.

And answers to these questions only come with knowledge and experience and time. You could always ask the winery directly by sending them via email some pictures for their review and comments. Yet, even if it seems that the best place to find the answer is to go to the source, it is not  always the best choice and the right answer is not always guaranteed, as even the winery may not have the answer to your question(s) as they (even them) may not know or may not have records going back that far....

It is not easy I'm telling you... and if you decide to pursue a career into Wine Quality Control and Wine authentication (like me), you better start to build your own database of references with pictures and even label samples, either detached from old bottles or pictured closely enough to check the small details, as you will need it. Taking notes is also very important. (*)

In any case, even if you use your own knowledge, experience, memory, and any other references you may have to inspect and authentify a bottle, you will always have to ask yourself some questions as  for old vintage (pre-1960s) the capsule, cork, and label of a wine from same producer and vintage may slightly differ depending on

- the bottling time for example: is this bottle an original? or has it been reconditioned? re-corked? re-capsuled? relabeled?

- the negociant who bottled it at the time:  remember that until the mid 60s (1967 to be exact - when it became mandatory for the Chateaux to bottle their own wine(s) - even if some Chateaux started as early as the 1920s), most Chateau owners only tended their vineyards, crafted their wines to then put them in barrels and sell them to the negociants; but it was the negociants who, in turn, handled the rest of the process from wine aging, bottling, labelling, promotion, sales and distribution (and that from as far back as the early 17th century). Therefore, for very old vintage, it is not surprising to see a bottle with a negociant label differing from the one from the Chateau or even another negociant ... (to be continued soon) 

Et voila,

That's all folks! for today..... 

Stay tuned for more post like this one with pictures and details..... 

I wrote this little article on inspecting a Jeroboam of Mouton Rothschild 1945 in honor to celebrate, (a few days ahead), August 14th, 1945, the day when it was announced that Japan had surrendered unconditionally to the Allies, effectively ending World War II.

A day most commonly accepted as the end of World War II when the Japanese accepted the terms and surrendered, even if the real ending was when General of the Army, Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander for the Allied Forces, signed the Japanese surrender document aboard the battleship, U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Japan, on September 2, 1945

Cheers! Santé! 

Dominique Noël a.k.a. LeDomduVin

(*) maybe one day, I'll write another post to explain more in details what are the requirements for the job...

©LeDomduVin 2018

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