Updated: Local Wine Shop Featured in ‘Fake Bourbon’ TV Sting

By Susanne Beck

Acker Merrall & Condit, better known as Acker to Upper West Siders, at 160 W 72nd Street, touts itself as “the oldest and most respected wine shop in America.” But a new report from Inside Edition alleging that Acker sold counterfeit bourbon could impact the shop’s respectability. The show included a clip of the shop selling a bottle of Colonel E. H. Taylor, a high-end bourbon that regularly fetches close to $1,000.

According to Inside Edition, the Acker salesperson assured their representative that the purchase was “the real deal,” despite its lack of the standard special lot code and packaging tube.

Inside Edition spoke to John Medley, technical director at Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky where the bourbon is made, after the company ran a series of tests on the bottle in question. “Based on the testing…I do not believe this bottle is authentic,” he stated.

A manager from Acker did not answer follow up questions from the television show.

Matt, a salesperson at the store referred the West Side Rag to their public relations firm. We will post their response if we receive one.

Update: Acker sent the following statement.

A few months before we were contacted by Inside Edition, we became aware of a possible authentication issue with a select bottling of Colonel E.H. Taylor Four Grain Bourbon that we obtained from a private collector. After an immediate investigation into the authenticity of the bottles, including contacting the parent company of E.H. Taylor, Sazerac, our concerns were not alleviated, and we removed all of the bottles from our shelves and ceased all business with the providing collector. We immediately contacted and refunded all of the customers who had purchased bottles before our recall, save for one buyer who declined to provide his contact information. We now believe this was the bottle behind the Inside Edition story.

We are committed to delivering the very best in fine and rare wine and spirits to our clients, and the authenticity of our products is paramount. We recently announced the launch of our global spirits division which included hiring US and Asia heads, and have also invested in authentication practices through the retention of multiple, well-respected, independent spirits authenticators.

NEWS | 33 comments | permalink
    1. No Fakes 4 me says:

      Acker also featured in the Netflix documentary called Sour Grapes, covering counterfeit wines. Who & how do we trust? You’d think buying from an established store would ensure some level of protection to counterfeits. They need to explain this.

      • UWSdr says:

        I was going to say the same thing…they run wine auctions and got very deeply involved with a shady consignor over a long period of time with repeated red flags and eventually had to settle a large lawsuit. At the very least this shop seems to be uninterested in due diligence, even after this scandal. It is shame because they clearly have a lot of expertise.

        • Judith Jorrisch says:

          At the very least, I think you should do due diligence about making such a claim which damages a long standing family business in our community. It seems careless and unfair and has nothing to do with the integrity of their every day business and dealings with customers, which is much more important to the average buyer.
          According to this article in Town and Country “Acker’s reputation took a hit after Kurniawan was busted, and the firm has since instituted third-party inspection and authentication. Most of the big houses have followed suit.” https://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/drinks/a19839843/wine-auction-scandals/

    2. Sue says:

      Years ago I bought a bottle of wine at Acker Merrill. Ad soon as I got outside, I dropped the bag and there was glass and wine all over the place. I picked up the glass and took it inside asking if they had a way to safely dispose of it. They gave me a new bottle of wine! Even thought it was my fault. So while I buy wine maybe once a year, I buy it from them!

    3. Truth and Reason says:

      The Inside Edition clip doesn’t mention if law enforcement or consumer protection is looking into this in any way. This is fraud and should be prosecuted as such.

      • Boris says:

        How did you already determine that a fraud has been committed? You started out by saying that this should be investigated.

    4. Pappy Van Winkle says:

      I asked Acker about this and received the below response. How better could it have been handled? I buy from them because they have a great selection and if something is wrong they’ll make it right, as they clearly attempted to do here.
      ______________
      A few months before we were contacted by Inside Edition, we became aware of a possible authentication issue with a select bottling of Colonel E.H. Taylor Four Grain Bourbon that we obtained from a private collector. After an immediate investigation into the authenticity of the bottles, including contacting the parent company of E.H. Taylor, Sazerac, our concerns were not alleviated, and we removed all of the bottles from our shelves and ceased all business with the providing collector. We immediately contacted and refunded all of the customers who had purchased bottles before our recall, save for one buyer who declined to provide his contact information. We now believe this was the bottle behind the Inside Edition story.

      We are committed to delivering the very best in fine and rare wine and spirits to our clients, and the authenticity of our products is paramount. We recently announced the launch of our global spirits division which included hiring US and Asia heads, and have also invested in authentication practices through the retention of multiple, well-respected, independent spirits authenticators.

      • David says:

        Pappy, they have a well documented history of selling fake bottles (aka fraud), so… https://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2012/07/wine-fraud-rudy-kurniawan-vintage-burgundies

        • Pappy Van Winkle says:

          Yes. Very much aware. I steered clear for a while but felt fine about going back. If anything, the heightened level of scrutiny they face makes it more likely they’ll jump at the slightest hint of an untoward bottle.

          I’m comfortable with buying from there and will continue to do so.

          • Truth and Reason says:

            There’s always someone willing to buy ocean front property in Arizona.

        • Judith Jorrisch says:

          That seems to be a patently false statement and unfair. The Vanity Fair article from 2012 that you post in fact indicates that they were also victims, not perpetrators. This 2018 Town & Country piece shows they were the first to have 3rd party authentication to prevent being duped again. https://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/drinks/a19839843/wine-auction-scandals/

      • Steevie says:

        They say that only one purchaser did not provide his contact information so that only one bottle could not be recalled and that was the bottle that Inside Edition purchased. Since when do you provide contact information when you buy something from a liquor store? Also some of the purchases must have been gifts and could not be returned by the purchaser. And some of the bottles would have been consumed and discarded within hours or days of purchase so there would be nothing to return.

        • Jim says:

          If you’re dropping $1000 on a bottle when the average price is closer to $40, the store will obviously be interested in getting your contact details so they can reach you should they have have any other high value items. Similarly, if you don’t mind spend 10x more for a specific product, you’re probably ok with the store reaching out to you. Obviously for a $20 bottle, the individual buyer is of less interest.

          I’d be more worried about mid-price bottles. Who really is ever going to think to check.

      • JW Black says:

        Pappy – as someone who works in the beverage alcohol industry, Acker; and others who participate in fraud, will continue to do so as long as there’s a sucker for their scams. Doing business with them adds you to their roster of dupes. People will tell you who they are, all you have to do is listen.

      • Thomas says:

        Fake or not… I walked in a few years ago looking for a highly-regarded South African wine. The salesman had plainly never heard of it, couldn’t care less, and tried to steer me to something far inferior they were selling at a sillily high price. Not first time with awful service, but was last time for me.

    5. JL says:

      I’ve always had a good experience at Acker. Nice wine store and good selection. The Father who used to run the company though was a mean crank. Never smiled and a total Snob. So glad he isn’t there anymore. Most of the other people are good and the long time manager Cliff is great.

    6. James Goodman says:

      Let’s everyone slow down before we say nasty things about a store, its employees, and a subject that few of us know anything about. I have a friend who is an expert on bourbon, whiskey, and rye. He says the problem is not dishonestly or intentional fraud. Acker is a reputable shop. The problem is that even the most reputable shops do not always have an easy time identifying the counterfeit spirits.

    7. Michael says:

      For years I would walk 11 blocks to Acker and buy a case of wine and take a cab home.
      The sales team was excellent and I don’t think that any fraud was intentional.
      I am a wine expert today because of my experience with Acker.

    8. Jay says:

      “Acker Merrall & Condit, better known as Acker to Upper West Siders”

      Well, no, better known as Acker Merrall.

      Merrall and Condit were only dropped in 2019.

      The delivery van still says “Acker Merrall & Condit”.

    9. UWS_lifer says:

      Oh sure, these guys spend $1000 on a bottle of whiskey and they are some kind of a connoisseur and very classy but if I buy $1000 worth of Jack Daniels my wife calls me an “alcoholic” and “irresponsible”. smh

      Just another one of those double standards I guess.:)

    10. Rusty Shakleford says:

      Yet another hit to their reputation. How many more times?

    11. eagleScout says:

      I have purchased expensive wines in my time and at no time has anyone asked for contact information, they are happy to get my credit card.
      Perhaps they knew that the liquor was fake and were creating a sucker list of contacts for when the next batch arrives.

    12. Wayne Z. says:

      They lost a customer. How do you trust a place like this ever again?

    13. elle says:

      Long history of shady dealings — not just this and the $32million of Kurniawan bottles, but also a $$ Burgundy withdrawn from auction last year. It’s in there DNA. https://www.wine-searcher.com/m/2020/06/drc-withdrawn-from-auction-after-protest

    14. lorem says:

      judged by social media! it is so unfair and it happens more and more. We have a legal system in place to judge people and in this country, we are innocent till we are proven guilty, do you remember?

      Acker has consistently be good to us for the 43 years we have been here. this means to me much more than a bottle for which there is no proof that they were at the source of the fraud.

    15. JerryV says:

      Does it mean that the bottles of “Two Buck Chuck” I squirreled away as an investment may have actually lost value?

    16. Annie says:

      Wine67 for the win in terms of best local wine shops! Acker went downhill in my esteem years ago due both to their service as well as their being mixed up in the counterfeit wine scandal.

    17. Nick says:

      They sold me 6 bottles of fake 1995 Bordeaux once. They were clearly fake bottles as the labels were brand new and the fill on the bottle was impossibly high for a (then) 23 year old wine. I made them take the bottles back as they are obliged to under terms of the Rudy Kurniawan fraud settlement. It’s sad to read that they are still pulling these kind of tricks on their customers.

    18. David Schwartz says:

      Acker is a great store, and I would still go there for any wine or spirits and buy from them with complete confidence.

    19. RGT says:

      For those lecturing on doing due diligence and not jumping to conclusions about Acker, have you actually researched John Kapon’s involvement in the Kurniawan fraud? Excuse me but, even if you do not have the time to read about that case, you can simply watch the documentary ‘Sour Grapes’ and get a good sense of an auction house doing anything it can to make a sale, with Kapon pushing the fake goods more than anyone other than Rudy.. That is why this new story is so concerning.