Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Fake and counterfeit wines - Investigation series: Chateau L’Angélus 1970 and the "L' " of Angélus

Fake and counterfeit wines - Investigation series: Chateau L'Angélus 1970 and the "L" of Angélus 


Today, I would like to talk to you about fake Chateau L’Angélus and the "L' " of Angélus. This post was inspired by a post on Facebook posted by Fabien Pizzinat (*) on the Facebook page/group called "Wine Business", Saturday, September 2nd, 2018. 


Fabien Pizzinat posted the following picture...

Fabien Pizzinat picture of a rather peculiar Chateau l'Angélus 1970 
bottled by negociant Philippe Serrande & Co. 



.... then wrote the following below the picture: 

"Bonjour! J'ai récupéré des bouteilles de Chateau L’Angélus 1970 mise négoce Philippe Serrande. Quelqu'un connait-il ce négociant? Merci pour votre aide. Fabien" 

which literally can be translated by 

"Hello! I just got some bottles of Chateau L'Angélus 1970 bottled by a négociant called Philippe Serrande. Does anyone know this négociant? Thanks for your help. Fabien".


As you can see on this picture from Fabien's post, this is a rather peculiar label for Chateau L'Angélus 1970 (personally, it is the first time in my 27 years career in the wine business and trade, that I see such a label of Angélus). Yet, it is different as it is supposed to be a Négociant label.

For those of you who may not know what it is, a Négociant Label is a label that has not been designed, chosen and labeled by or at the property, but by the Négociant. In short, for the last 400 years, Négociants (French, English, Dutch, Belgian, Swiss, Irish, etc...) used to buy barrels directly at the property, then shipped the barrels to their warehouse (either in France or in their own respective country) to age, bottle and label the wines, prior selling them, often under their own label, rather than the Chateau label (if any).  

However, getting back to Fabien's post, the various comments to his posts were very interesting and some very pertinent, yet it seems that nobody had a clear answer. 

Fabien Pizzinat even said that he wrote to Chateau Angélus and received the following answer from Jean-Bernard Grenié, the cousin of Hubert de Boüard de Laforest (Angélus owner), who joined the company business in 1987, and knows Chateau Angélus as well as Hubert, saying: 

"Il s’agit d’une mise négoce. Je suis extrêmement surpris de ce millésime, car normalement à Saint Emilion la mise en bouteille au château est obligatoire depuis 1970. Je n’ai jamais entendu parlé de ce négociant. Donc prudence, nous n’avons aucune certitude sur ce qu’il y a dans la bouteille. En tous cas, ce vin n’a certainement rien à voir avec un Angélus d’aujourd’hui." - Jean-Bernard Grenié

which can be translated by 

"This has been bottled by a négociant. I am extremely surprised of this vintage, because normally in Saint-Emilion the bottling at the Chateau is mandatory since 1970. I have never heard of this merchant. So be careful, we have no certainty about what's in the bottle. In any case, this wine certainly has nothing to do with an Angélus of today." -Jean-Bernard Grenié 

My first reaction was that if Jean-Bernard Grenié says that he is surprised (as in the 70s Bordeaux Angélus wines were bottled at the Chateau) and that he never heard about this wine merchant, then what else to add? These are probably fake bottles and the case is closed. 

Yet, (and you know me by now), as a Wine Quality Control Director responsible for the wine inspection and authentication for the company I work for, I could not resist but to do my little investigation. 

After all, this is part of what I do for a living and I'm curious by nature, so why not? Moreover, when in doubt, I need to find answers (and this post will complement the other posts that I already wrote on fake and counterfeit wines and bottles that you can read here and here and here, etc...).



Time to investigate © LeDomduVin 2018


Time to investigate again.... and determine if these are fake or counterfeit bottles or if there is a slight chance that they might be real...


A. The Label


So, let's have a closer look at this rather strange looking label above and let's compare it to the original label of Chateau L'Angélus 1970 below.


Chateau L’Angélus 1970 Original Label © LeDomduVin 2018


As you can see there is a huge difference between the 2 labels (yet, as it supposed to be a Négociant label, anything is possible.... but if it is, then this particular Négociant really did a sloppy job on his own label) 

Let's enumerate all these differences: 

1. The label design is totally different from the original Chateau L’Angélus label. 

2. The color is white instead of the regular yellow

3. The color of the letters is mono-color while the letters of the words on the original label are written with multiple colors

4. The font of the letters is also drastically different

5. The "L' " is not in majuscule, like on the original label, but in minuscule (a detail of a certain importance... omitted by the Négociant)

6. The drawing looks like a village port with some boats... Could it be the "Quai des Chartrons" in Bordeaux? ...the pier along the Garonne river where Irish, English and Dutch wine merchants and négociants established their offices and warehouses as early as over four centuries ago... it does look like it, doesn't it? 

Drawing - Details of Fabien Pizzinat's picture of the rather peculiar bottles
of Chateau l'Angelus he just acquired (1/2) 
  

.....while on the original label the drawing represents respectively the arches of the collegiate cloister of Saint-Emilion..... (easily recognizable by its arches and double pillars like in the picture below)

Collegiate cloister of Saint-Emilion © LeDomduVin 2013


...and the bell tower ("Le Clocher" in French) of Saint-Emilion's church further in the background 


Saint-Emilion Church's Bell Tower (Le Clocher) © LeDomduVin 2013


7. The logo with a chateau above a river surmounted by a "wolf" (?) or a "lion" (?) and a crown above it has nothing to do with Chateau L’Angélus (yet, once again, it could just be a design by the Negociant for its own label).   


Logo - Details of Fabien Pizzinat's picture of the rather peculiar bottles
of Chateau l'Angelus he just acquired (2/2) 


... even this old picture of Chateau L'Angélus dating from the 1930s (below), courtesy of Wikipedia, shows that the logo of Chateau L'Angélus has always been a carillon bell... not some kind of "wolf" or "lion" atop of a Chateau with some kind of shape in the middle that could represent a bell.... (it does look like a wolf, doesn't it?) (so, even if it is a Négociant label, why designing a label so far from the original?...)



Old picture of Chateau L'Angélus dating from the 1930s, courtesy of Wikipedia


8. The Appellation is "Saint-Emilion", which is fine, yet, the "Grand Cru" classification is not mentioned on this Negociant's label, which is really surprising knowing the Chateau L'Angélus was classified as "Grand Cru" in the classification of the wines of Saint-Emilion in 1955 (*), and therefore, even if it is a supposedly Négociant label (which I have a really hard time to believe it is), it should mention "Grand Cru", but it does not.....  (...a major detail omitted by mistake by the Negociant? again?)

(*) Read more about the 1955 Classification of the wines of Saint-Emilion here

9. The name of the owner, which appear on the original label (pride of the "de Boüard de Laforest" family, owner of this land and Chateau for the past 8 generations since 1782) does not appear on the label. Ok, I admit that it usually does not necessarily appear on Negociant's labels (as you will realize when looking at some of the Negociant's label examples below). Yet, I find it weird, because even if it was bottled by a négociant, it happened, (and more specifically in this kind of case scenario, with such an illustrious and renown family name in Saint-Emilion), that, sometimes, the name of the owner appeared on the labels of the bottles bottled by Négociants (of course, it depends on the agreement between the Chateaux owner and the Négociant, but for Angélus and the "de Boüard de Laforest" family, I doubt they will have authorized a Négociant label not mentioning their name... but maybe, who knows...?)

You see, as previously mentioned, prior to 1967 (when bottling at the chateau became officially mandatory in Bordeaux), some négociants / wine merchants were still buying barrels from the Chateaux, aging the wines and bottling and labeling themselves in Bordeaux (or even elsewhere like UK, Belgium, Holland, etc...), and we can distinguish 2 types of Négociant's label.


1. The additional label: 

Some Négociants kept the original label and added their name either on an additional label or directly on the label. Here are 2 examples of an additional label below the main label.


Like this label of Chateau Latour 1945 aged and bottled by Louis Eschenauer (Bordeaux) a Negociant house established in 1821.


Chateau Latour 1945 aged and bottled by Louis Eschenauer (Bordeaux) © LeDomduVin 2016


Or like for this Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1947 with the additional label of "Sichel & Co." a family owned Bordeaux Négociant house established in 1883, and still in activity after six generations of the Sichel family succeeding to one another at the company’s helm.



Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1947
with the additional label of "Sichel & Co." © LeDomduVin2018



2. The Négociant own label

Some Négociants designed their own label, some drastically different than the original (as it is supposedly the case for this Angelus 1970) and the name of the owner or other details from the original label did not necessarily appear on the Negociant's label (which could be the case for this specific label of Angelus 1970, you never know...).

Here are 3 examples of Negociant's Label:


This label of Chateau L'Angelus 1966 aged and bottled by Maison A. de Luze & Fils, a Bordeaux based Negociant house, founded by Baron Alfred de Luze in 1820, specializing in the maturing of great Bordeaux wines.


Chateau L'Angelus 1966 aged and bottled by A. de Luze (Bordeaux)



Or this label of Chateau Pedesclaux 1957 aged and bottled by Grafé Lecocq (Belgium), a Belgium Négociant house established in 1879 by Henri Grafé and his wife Léontine Lecocq, specialized in aging themselves wines bought in bulk from French estate in Bordeaux (predominantly) but also from other regions.


Chateau Pedesclaux 1967 aged and bottled by Grafé Lecocq (Namur, Belgium) © LeDomduVin 2018



Or even this rare label of Chateau Petrus 1947 aged and bottled by J. Vandermeulen-Decanniere (Ostende, Belgium), a house that was really active for roughly about 60 years between the late 1890s to 1955, and specialized in buying barrels directly at the property, having access to the barrel cellars of some of the best Bordeaux-Châteaux and Burgundy domains, then shipping these barrels to Ostende to let the wines mature in their warehouse, sometimes for even longer than they will have been aged at the Chateaux (3-5 years), prior bottling and labeling the wines with their own labels.



Chateau Petrus 1947 aged and bottled by J. Vandermeulen-Decanniere (Ostende, Belgium) © LeDomduVin 2018



So, as you can see from these examples above, we could say that Fabien Pizzinat's bottles might be real after all, as the labels on his bottles could simply be the real labels from a Négociant called Philippe Serrande & Cie.

Yet, looking at this 1970 Angélus label again, it seems to me that they are too many awkward details to believe that these bottles are real. And if they are, the negociant who bottled and labeled them, supposedly called "Philippe Serrande & Cie." really did a poor job with this label. The work of an amateur I should say with no respect for the brand or the name of the owner (if this label is real that is).     


Historically speaking, although, bottling at the Chateau was pioneered by some highly regarded producers and Chateaux owners as early as the 1920s, (like Baron Philippe de Rothschild who decided in 1924 that all the wines of Chateau Mouton Rothschild should be bottled and labeled at the chateau and asked asks Jean Carlu to design the label for this specific vintage)...



Château Mouton Rothschild 1924 - Jean Carlu label © LeDomduVin 2018


...it only became mandatory for Bordeaux Chateaux to bottle their wine at the Chateau in 1967. Yet, it is interesting to know, as a fact, that up until the mid-70s (and even late 70s, early 80s), many Chateaux in Bordeaux did not have the mean, the will, the place or the space to do the bottling, corking, and labeling at the Chateau (even nowadays some Chateaux and small producers still don't). 

Most of them were (and some still are) doing it by hand, one bottle after another, filling up the bottles and corking each bottle with a wine bottle corker machine (more modern this day than the one below, fortunately for them) (my grandfather used one exactly the same as the one in this picture).



French Antique Wine Corker "La Meilleur",
Paris, early 20th century - photo courtesy of www.1stdibs.com 
 


Hand bottling and labeling were both time-consuming and tedious, and not all Chateaux could afford to have a bottling belt at the Chateau or the space to put it. Therefore, when not doing it by hand, they hired companies which own bottling belt mounted on the trailer of a truck, passing by, Chateau after Chateau, to bottle and/or cork (and even sometimes label) the bottles.


Bottling Belt © LeDomduVin 2013


Anyhow, let's go back to these Angélus 1970 labels..... now that we closely looked at all these details, the question remains: 

Could these bottles of Angélus 1970 be real or not?  

As the label could be a Négociant's label, it is very possible that they could be real, and I will give them the benefice of the doubt for lack of info and data on this particular Négociant, but deep inside,  I'm still very suspicious looking at these labels again...)


B. The Négociant


So, to further investigate, let's see what we can find about this so-called Négociant "Philippe Serrande & Cie". 

When googling "Philippe Serrande" nothing really interesting comes up except a Fine Jeweller in Canada. 


When googling "Philippe Serrande Wine" Vivino shows 2 results here, and for "Philippe Serrande & Cie", or even "Philippe Serrande & Cie wine" the pictures are more interesting showing various examples of well-known Bordeaux wines in old vintages ranging from the 50s to the 80s. 




Diverse Philippe Serrande & Cie Labels found on Google  - Collage by LeDomduVin 2016


So, it seems that Philippe Serrande & Cie. might have really existed and even was a Bordeaux based Négociant after all... yet, (as far as I could search and after asking the question to a few people), no historical data or any other info can be found on this Negociant House... 

And strangely enough, the first few websites offering these wines by Philippe Serrande & Cie are Chinese online auctions (like "ARTFOX" here and "en.51BidLive" here).... literally nothing in France... there is also an auction house called "DognyAuction" here (apparently, in Switzerland.... never heard of it in my life)

I'm cautious and suspicious by nature when it comes to wine... but that's normal for a Wine Quality Control Director like me..... so I looked a bit closer at some of these labels found on the internet, more especially this following one.... look at it closely.... (found on and courtesy of the Dogny Auction website)


Chateau l'Angélus 1964 - photo courtesy of www.dognyauction.ch


Now that's very interesting because, although it is "Chateau l'Angélus" at Pomerol, (the counterpart of the one at Saint-Emilion), this label is also very different from the original label of  Chateau l'Angélus Pomerol 1964 below (courtesy of www.cellartracker.com)... and strangely enough (or...but of course!!! should I say...) it is part of the wines labeled and shipped in bulk by ("expédié en cercles par..." ) Philippe Serrande & Cie.

"Expédié en cercles" is an old French expression which literally means "sent/shipped in bulk/in barrels" (still used by some people in the wine trade, like in Switzerland for example).

"En cercles" literally meaning "within circles" referring to the metallic rings of the barrels (maintaining the staves).

Isn't it strange? Or is it just me....


Chateau l'Angélus 1964 - photo courtesy of www.cellartracker.com 


I mean, look at both labels closely, they have nothing to do with one another.. because it is a Negociant's label I hear you say... well, maybe...  (Chateau l'Angelus at Pomerol is also a strange story... but this could be the subject of another post in the near future maybe....)

However, my point is that it seems that all the labels of the wines bottled, labeled and/or wine shipped in bulk ("Expédié en cercles") by Philippe Serrande & Cie are totally different from the original labels. And therefore, it is really difficult for me to define whether these rather peculiar labels are real or not, without more info on this Négociant (like at which period he used to exist and was in business?). 

But it still seems fishy to me, because it seems that all these wines are mainly sold via and/or through auction houses and that the only vintages that can be found are all between the 1950s and the 80s, meaning that they would be very easy to fake and counterfeit knowing all the uncertainty surrounding this rather unknown Négociant. Moreover, it makes these labels suspicious and therefore particularly prone to falsification.   

C. Conclusion


I will stop my investigation here for time constraint reasons and more especially for lack of information and historical facts about this Négociant and the type of business he was conducting and when. 

All I can say is that back in 1970, Chateau L'Angélus at Saint-Emilion produced, bottled and labeled all of its wines with the renown and easily recognizable yellow label that everybody knows. 

Whether some wines of Chateau L'Angelus were sold in bulk/barrels to this specific Négociant back in the 70s and whether he made is own specific label is not necessarily verifiable either, as even Jean-Bernard Grenié, the cousin of Hubert de Boüard de Laforest (Angélus owner), who joined the company business in 1987, and knows Chateau Angélus as well as Hubert, said that he never heard of this Négociant (and although he is in a good position to know these types of details, it does not mean that it did not happen....but it is still weird that Jean-Bernard does not know Philippe Serrande & Cie, at least by name....).  

Still, my guts are telling me that there is something fishy with these labels for all the reasons cited above... 

So, either, Philippe Serrande & Cie. is the spawn of a vile crook creating fake bottles to be sold by small batches and/or lots in unknown online Auction Houses in Switzerland and China (let's say, Asia,)... or he really existed, but did a sloppy job for the labels he created for all of the illustrious wines he was reselling with no regards nor respect for the reputation of the Chateaux and their respective owners.          

The market is still flooded with fakes and counterfeits bottles of Bordeaux and Burgundy wines, and it is up to the responsibility of people like me, dealing daily with wine inspection and authentication, to expose and denounce them, try to investigate to uncover the culprit if possible and if not, to at least point the finger at the imitations and free the markets from this abominations. 

The fight against fake and counterfeits wines continues.....

FYI: for those of you who might still wonder what is the difference between a fake and a counterfeit bottle of wine:

  • Fake wine bottle/label = a wine and/or a label that is not genuine; a forgery or sham, created to look alike or have similarities with other known wines from the same regions to deceive people into a scam (like the example above, which is potentially a fake wine, and more especially these 2 examples below wich are totally fake - seen in China)


Fake DRC Romanee Conti White 



DRC label imitation Chateau Lacaunette  Le Prince du Roi - Fake wine © LeDomduVin 2016



Pacurs instead of Petrus - Fake Wine


  • Counterfeit wine bottle/label = made as an exact imitation of a valuable bottle of wine with the intention to deceive or defraud someone (like the bottles and labels of Rudy Kurniawan below for example)

Rudy Kurniawan fake labels


Ah, and before I forget.... for the "L" of Chateau L'Angélus, it has always been on the label in majuscule (and not in minuscule like on this label of 1970 from Philippe Serrande) and has been removed back in 1990, as per Hubert de Boüard de Laforest (Angélus owner), to appear first on the alphabetical order listing of wines (wine reviews, wine critics, magazines, wine guides, wine tasting lists, etc....), purely by marketing strategy in fact, and it works...  

Once again, if anyone has any info or data on this Négociant, please send them to me. Until then, I will remain convinced that there is something fishy about these bottles... and seeing them mostly being available and/or sold on rather unknown auctions online does not make me feel that they are genuine either.... but you never know... prove me wrong if you can...


That's all folks for today... 

Hope you enjoyed this post... and if yes, stay tuned for more wine posts like this one (about real wine too sometimes :-)

If you are interested to read more about fake and counterfeit bottles, you can read previous posts I wrote on that subject here and here and hereetc...).

Cheers! Santé!

Dominique Noel a.k.a LeDomduVin 








(*) Fabien Pizzinat seems to work in close relation with a wine boutique store located in Switzerland, called "Yourwine Grands Vins et Vieux Millésimes"

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