AN UNSCRUPULOUS 18th-century Irish wine merchant ripped off the British authorities in Dublin Castle by supplying “vile” plonk disguised as high-quality Burgundy.

The scam has come to light after more than 260 years in a letter which has turned up at Sotheby’s in London. The letter is included in a collection of correspondence which sheds light on the difficulties encountered by the British administration trying to govern Ireland.

Many deal with serious political matters, but one missive reveals some rum goings-on in the state cellar. In the summer of 1751, officials in Dublin were preparing for the arrival from London of newly-appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland, Lionel Cranfield Sackville, the Duke of Dorset.

The Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh was delegated to check out the “lodgings” in Dublin Castle for the duke and, more importantly, the wine cellar.

The archbishop, named George Stone, arranged a wine tasting and was dismayed by what he found. He quickly discovered that the castle had been duped by a dodgy merchant and the wine supplied was, in fact, “a vile infamous mixture” and “fundamentally bad”. The archbishop, whose musings show him to have been quite a connoisseur, tasted various samples, and concluded that the castle had been “scandalously abused”.

He described the contents of bottles “sealed with black wax, and falsely and impudently called Vin de Beaune” as “the worst, and is, indeed, as bad as the worst tavern could afford”.

He found that “the four barrels of Burgundy are almost equally bad” and was “sure that no person will ever drink a second glass of either”. He didn’t just rely on his own nose but invited a select group of “eight or nine” to the tasting which turned into a “melancholy operation”.

The cleric wrote to the lord lieutenant’s secretary to tell “his grace” the “disagreeable news” and said: “I am very apt to conclude the whole business has been dishonestly transacted. I am confident that not a drop of the wine, so-called, was ever in the province of Burgundy”. The name of the cheeky Dublin wine merchant who concocted the fraud is, sadly, not recorded.

The letters will be sold in an auction of rare books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s on July 10th,2012.

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