Wine column no. 55: Beware of the bait and switch

Aug. 10, 2014: They call it the bait and switch.
You order a bottle of wine off the menu and watch as they bring it to your table. Yet the waiter doesn’t pop the cork right in front of you. Instead, he takes the bottle to a different location, purportedly to open it and pour the wine there. When he returns, it’s with full glasses but no bottle, leaving you to wonder: Is this the same wine I asked for?
Here’s another one: You order a specific vintage from the wine list. The waiter brings the bottle, pops the cork and pours it into your glass. Distracted by table talk, you quickly take a sip and nod to the waiter in approval. Several glasses and an hour or so later, the bottle is now completely empty. That’s when you notice you were served the wrong vintage. But now that the meal is done, it’s clearly too late to say anything.
Or is it? Google the words “wine bait and switch” and you’ll find about four pages of stories, allegations and commentary on this tactic.
Dining patrons have complained on TripAdvisor.com, and bloggers have fought back, too, giving specific examples as to how they or others they know were tricked or manipulated into accepting a wine they hadn’t asked for.
And it’s about more than just the wine. Vintages aren’t always priced the same. A 2002 The Prisoner Zinfandel blend (a rare find these days) would be much more costly than a 2008 The Prisoner Zinfandel blend — as it should be. But to bill someone for a 2002 when they actually only received a 2008? That’s not right.
Neither is pretending to have something you don’t really have. In December 2013, a federal jury found Rudy Kurniawan, of Indonesia, guilty of fraud for selling counterfeit wines and defrauding a finance company. No stranger to the courtroom, the 37-year-old had made millions by selling hundreds of collectible bottles at auctions and in private sales. Yet his image “was tarnished when 22 lots of rare Burgundies supposedly from Domaine Ponsot were withdrawn from a 2008 Acker, Merrall & Condit auction at the request of proprietor Laurent Ponsot,” according to Wine Spectator. A “collector with doubts on the wines’ authenticity had alerted Ponsot, who traveled to New York to make sure they were withdrawn. Asked where he had found the wines, Kurniawan was evasive.”
It turned out that Kurniawan owed millions of dollars to Acker and some of its clients. Billionaire collector Bill Koch filed a lawsuit against Kurniawan in 2009. In February 2012, wines consigned by Los Angeles restaurateur and wine dealer Antonio Castanos were withdrawn from an auction after collectors raised doubts about their authenticity. Castanos later testified that he was a straw man for Kurniawan. An FBI sweep of Kurniawan’s home found hundreds of bottles, labels, corks, stamps and notes that looked like the raw materials for making rare wines.
Kurniawan now faces a maximum of 20 years on each count and possible fines.
No one in Evansville would do that, of course. We have plenty of good eateries that deliver on their promises and are happy to make it up to you if they make a mistake. But don’t let a crowded restaurant and a harried waiter give you the impression that you don’t have a right to get what you asked for. You do. Everyone does. And the more consumers insist on being treated fairly, the more likely they actually will be.
Here are some wines that I believe are worth your time and money:
The 2011 Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley sauvignon blanc is blended with 24 percent semillon, a low-acid white wine grape. Californian sauvignon blanc wines are often crisp, citrusy and refreshing. The semillon grapes help to soften the sauvignon blanc’s natural acidity. At 13.5 percent alcohol, this blend has light lemon and pear flavors and is more of a pleasant dinner companion than a star. Varsity Liquors. $28.99.
The 2011 Joel Gott 815 cabernet sauvignon has an aromatic cherry or cassis nose. Light and inky, it offers some minor, ending acidity and is easy to drink, even on a hot, humid evening. I think this wine is ready to drink now. The Fresh Market. $19.99.
The 2012 Joel Gott 815 cabernet sauvignon is more concentrated than the 2011, with some tannins and an ending bitterness. Gott said it tastes like roasted blue fruit, graham crackers, cherry cola and blackberries. The Fresh Market. $19.99.
“The one recommendation I would have is decant it or pour it into a water pitcher,” the winemaker said. “All it does is open up the fruit in the wine and expose a lot more flavors by giving it a bunch of air right before you drink it.”
Both Joel Gott wines contain 13.9 percent alcohol.
Victoria Grabner is a freelancer who has blogged about wine for several years.

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