Wine Racket: Why All Is Not Well in the Rarefied World of Fine Wine

Thierry Esch / Paris Match / Getty Images

Winemaker Laurent Ponsot stands in his estate's cellar. His detective work led to the arrest of an alleged forger.

There were just three bidders left in the room as the gavel came down to signal the $2,400 sale to an absentee buyer. There were no gasps or murmurs. The purchase, of a case of Domaine Ponsot wines at Sotheby's in London, marked the denouement of a daylong sale that racked up an unremarkable $2.3 million for the august auction house. The relatively modest earnings at the Oct. 24 auction, and the sepulchral feel of the event, reflected a departure from the frenzied activity at wine sales in recent years — notably in Hong Kong, where the auction houses...

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