Uncorked: Benchmark goes treasure hunting in wine world

Uncorked: Napa cabernets

Glue on a wine bottle is a red flag.

It’s not a deal breaker, there are any number of ways glue could arrive on a wine bottle stored for an extended period of time in a cellar. However, it is one of several data points Benchmark Wine Group founder and CEO David Parker would investigate to ensure the bottle’s authenticity.

Benchmark is the largest buyer of private wine cellars in the country. It has the ability to appraise six wine cellars per day. Because Benchmark has wines from the New World, Old World and debatably labeled “cult wines,” authenticity of a bottle, a case or a collection is of paramount importance.

Every bottle is inspected by hand, as the location of the label, its size and the lack of glue marks around it are checked for consistency. Benchmark keeps an extensive library of bottle labels to make sure they match what came from the winery.

The capsule and cork also matter, as signs of disturbance could indicate post-bottling alteration. Even code on the bottom of the bottle matters.

Every bottle will have a batch code from its producer. If it’s from the winery, the numbers on the glass should match with what the winery purchased. In addition to any tricks a forger could try, Parker also said storage conditions are important.

“We buy about half of our wines from perfectly stored cellars, and hand inspect every bottle,” Parker said. “We put our provenance guarantee on every bottle. We make sure it is authentic. Wines that are fake are pretty well known, and we always look twice if we find a 1947 Petrus or a 1982 Cheval Blanc. There are only so many of those wines left in the world.”

The Benchmark Wine Group website, www.benchmarkwine.com, has an array of collector wines. The mythical kind – a wine lover’s white whale thought of as impossible to find – are for sale there.

“We get a dramatic number of very unusual wines,” Parker said. “Large bottles you never see. A magnum of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti or Screaming Eagle. We see things like this all the time.”

With Benchmark, the opportunity exists to try a wine immediately, rather than sit on a winery’s waiting list. There are also the extremely rare bottles that found their way into a collector’s cellar.

Jen Saxby, a certified sommelier and events manager at Benchmark Wine Group, found Napa Valley winery Kongsgaard made one barrel of wine with fruit from another vineyard in 2020. Benchmark had access to the wine.

The market is hot for red Bordeaux and grower Champagne, according to Saxby, who added that Port is “very collectible, gets traded and is highly sought after.”

“Bottles from the top California, Bordeaux and Burgundy producers all come to us,” Saxby said. “We are treasure hunters in Aladdin’s cave.”

• James Nokes has been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Email him at jamesnokes25@yahoo.com.


Bouchaine Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, California 2020 ($29): President and winemaker Chris Kajani used 85% whole-cluster pressing and 15% saignée methods to make a wine that was very light pink, with lithe citrus and watermelon flavors. The saignée juice was fermented in the tank, and bled from the tank the second day after being crushed.

Château de Valcombe 2022 ($18): A super floral blend of syrah (95%) and viognier (5%) with pronounced grapefruit aromatics, along with flavors of grapefruit, underripe strawberry and citrus.

Chehalem, Willamette Valley Rosé 2022 ($23): Watermelon on the nose, with grapefruit and strawberry flavors.

Domaine Gassier 2022 ($19.99): Fresh strawberry and cassis flavors; the wine was very light on its feet with an iron-like minerality on the finish.

Domaine Maby, “Prima Donna,” Tavel Rosé ($18): Such a deep red color in the glass, it looks like sangria, a full-bodied rosé with red fruit on the nose and bold red cherry and ripe strawberry flavors. There’s a mouth-coating nature to the wine, and a long finish that also features granite and hints of tobacco.

The Mill Keeper Rosé, California 2022 ($21): There are grapefruit, peach and white flower notes on the nose, with crispy tart grapefruit flavors.

Pasqua “11 Minutes” Rosé 2022 ($19): From Italy’s Veneto and Valpolicella regions, a swank bottle with an eye-catching label stands out, as does the wine for its pink grapefruit, strawberry, thyme and crisp, refreshing flavors that are very approachable. Its name is an homage to the time the wine spends on its skins when being pressed.

R. Stuart & Co. Willamette Valley Rosé d’Or N/V ($65): A brilliant sparkling rosé with grapefruit, tropical fruit, dough and nice acidic push on the finish.