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Fine whine? Billionaire cries foul in vintage sale

  • Florida energy magnate William Koch arrives at Manhattan federal court, Wednesday, March 27, 2013, in New York. Koch alleges in a federal lawsuit that California businessman Eric Greenberg sold him $300,000 in vintage wine, some of it supposedly dated to 1805, that turned out to be phony. (AP Photo/Louis Lanzano)

NEW YORK — As experts can testify, super sleuths in the wine business must study the cork, glass, sediment, wrapping, labels and how full a bottle of wine is to ascertain whether it's the real deal. And as two uber-wealthy wine collectors can tell you as they square off in federal court over some questionable bottles, even that sometimes is not enough.

Testimony began Wednesday in a civil trial six years after Florida energy maven William Koch, a yachtsman and collector, sued onetime-billionaire Silicon Valley businessman Eric Greenberg in U.S. District Court in Manhattan over $320,000 he spent in 2005 on two dozen bottles of wine that turned out to be duds.

The trial threatens to pop the cork on the dirty secrets of the wine auction world, which like the art market has been stung in recent years by a proliferation of fakes.

At the opening, there was plenty of talk of how difficult it is to be sure a bottle is real and how good a fake can be. It's heartbreaking for a true collector to learn that wine is inauthentic because it's more than just a bottle and a flavor, Koch's attorney John Hueston said.

"Koch will say these are links to history," he said, adding that great wines transport people to another era. "It's not just the juice in the package."


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