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  • Writer's pictureThe Butler

Dr Conti is back: he makes wealthy wine lovers drink copies of fine wines.

After ten years in prison, Rudy Kurniawan is back. The greatest counterfeiter in the history of wine is at it again, but this time in the open, on the occasion of prestigious dinners in Asia.

A decade in the shadow of a Texas prison wasn't enough to tarnish Rudy Kurniawan's reputation as a wine virtuoso, at least among a certain fringe of international wine lovers. This Indonesian of Chinese origin, it should be remembered, spent the 2000s forging Burgundy grands crus and Bordeaux châteaux. Undoubtedly a true oenophile, but also very attracted by money, Zhen Wang Huang, his real name, sensed the explosion of the prestige French wine market in the United States very early on. First in Los Angeles, then in New York, he scoured the auction rooms and social tasting circles, using his contacts to auction off bottles that only the richest collectors could afford.

Rudy Kurniawan has amassed tens of millions of dollars by fabricating fake Petrus or authentic copies of Romanée-Conti - the man is nicknamed "Dr. Conti" - and enhanced his reputation as a super taster in the process. "The only good thing about him is his unparalleled memory," says Laurent Ponsot, the winemaker who brought down the notorious swindler. In 2008, Laurent Ponsot, then head of the eponymous domaine, confounded Morey when, at a New York auction, he noticed that bottles of Clos Saint-Denis dating back to the middle of the century were being auctioned off. Problem: the Morey Saint-Denis estate began producing wines under this Côte de Nuits appellation much later, in the early 1980s. What followed was a four-year hunt, in which Laurent Ponsot played a very active part, to bring down the man whom some are quick to describe as a guru.

Doctor Conti back in business

By 2023, Rudy Kurniawan was a free man, and it wasn't long before rumors began to circulate that the man who had become persona non grata in the USA was taking part in a special kind of dinner party in Singapore, where copies of the finest wines are served... but this time in the open. The wealthy participants in these evenings consciously taste fake wines and compare them with the real thing. Laurent Ponsot confirmed this information. Whether it's a new production specially designed for these tastings, or the remnants of bottles falsified in the past, it doesn't really matter, since many of the vintages made by the counterfeiter at the turn of the millennium are still circulating throughout Asia.

"I'm not at all surprised," says Laurent Ponsot, who praises - and that's an antiphrase - "Rudy's" (as he calls him) ability to land on his feet like a cat. His aficionados, who may well have been his victims in the past, thus enjoy discussing his alleged talent, and this is the height of cynicism in this latest episode of the Kurniawan saga: his ability to convince people that his creations surpass the originals. In a document reporting the tasting notes of one of the participants in these evenings that we were able to consult, a preference for the forger's creations is clearly stated. "Rudy managed to convince the majority of us to choose his blend over wines sold at much higher prices. He's a wine genius!" we read. Here we are, finally, at the heart of the matter. "He's not a wine genius. He doesn't even have taste!" asserts the Burgundy winemaker.

Rudy Kurniawan's dazzling tastings are said to have originated in the corruption of sommeliers, to whom he paid thousands of dollars to obtain information on the order of the vintages tasted. While Laurent Ponsot's battle to put an end to this gigantic wine deception has proved successful, his efforts to demonstrate that this wine sourpuss has no knowledge of oenology have clearly not yet borne fruit. He did, however, confide in us that his contacts in Singapore were looking into the question of how to put an end to these tasteless feasts.

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