The Wine Ethicist: Boston Mangler Edition
Counterfeit wines are back in the news, thanks to that crazy auction in London last week. For some reason, the UK controversy brought to mind one of the stranger wine experiences that I’ve ever had. A number of years ago, my wife and I were in Boston for a weekend. Our hotel had a well-regarded restaurant with an ambitious wine program that included Château d’Yquem by the glass (I can’t recall the vintage). We had dinner there one night, and struck up a nice rapport with the sommelier. In fact, as we were ordering dessert, he made an astonishingly generous offer: he said he wanted to give us each a glass of Yquem on the house. Twist our arms! We accepted, and thanked him profusely. A few minutes later, he returned to the table with two glasses of what we had thought would be Yquem.
At the time, I had just started to dabble in wine writing and had nothing like the knowledge, tasting experience, and pomposity that I have now. However, I had tried Yquem, and judging by the pale color of the wine that was brought to us, I immediately suspected it wasn’t a Sauternes. The first sip sealed it: although it was a sweet wine, it definitely wasn’t a Sauternes, and it sure as hell wasn’t Yquem. My wife and I were baffled, and we spent several minutes speculating, sotto voce, about what had happened and discussing what to do. Had the sommelier made a mistake, or was he trying to put one over on us? Had one of his colleagues poured the wrong wine? Should we say something or not? In the end, we decided to keep our mouths shut. The Yquem had been offered gratis, and whatever the reason for the switcheroo, we didn’t want to put the sommelier on the spot. But just to reassure ourselves that we weren’t nuts, we went to the bar late the next morning and ordered a glass of Yquem, which confirmed that there had indeed been an imposter in our Riedels the night before.
So did we make the right call, or should we have said something? Have you ever had a similar experience, and how did you handle it? And let me also throw in a bonus question, prompted by all the renewed chatter about counterfeit wines: If you drank a famous wine—say, the 47 Cheval Blanc—and loved it, but later learned that your bottle had been a fake, how would you feel?