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The main attention has been on bottles of 18th century Bordeaux purportedly owned by Thomas Jefferson.

The FBI investigation came to public attention via The Wall Street Journal on March 6. Their investigation followed a high-profile lawsuit filed in New York by the billionaire collector William Koch. He claims he paid $500,000 for four bottles belonging to the German oenophile Hardy Rodenstock, which he now believes were fakes. Mr Rodenstock, 65, denies the claims.

Auctioneers who also had dealings with Mr Rodenstock and the ‘Jefferson’ cache have been asked to provide information to the inquiry.

Both Christie’s and Sotheby’s have received subpoenas requesting information and both auction houses have made statements to ATG saying they are cooperating with the investigation.

Sotheby’s said: “We received a subpoena in November 2006 in New York relating to the sale of fraudulent wine. It is Sotheby’s understanding that its conduct is not under investigation in any way. Rather, the subpoena primarily seeks information relating to wine that Sotheby’s declined to offer for sale.”

Christie’s said: “We take all appropriate steps to establish authenticity, and work with the leading experts, authorities and institutions in the relevant field to research the property that we sell.” They said they were cooperating with respect to recent reports regarding the investigation, but would not comment further while legal proceedings continued.

The market for rare wine has been booming in recent times. Worldwide sales doubled last year to £124m, thanks primarily to the rising level of City bonuses and Far Eastern interest.

However, the issue of fakes has been a growing threat to the legitimate market as it risks undermining confidence. Specialist journal Wine Spectator recently estimated that as much as five per cent of rare vintages on the market are fake. Tempted by greater financial rewards, the fraudsters have become increasingly sophisticated in their techniques.

In preparing his lawsuit, Mr Koch has assembled a team that includes ex-Scotland Yard detective inspector Richard Marston and the former head of wine at Sotheby’s, David Molyneux-Berry. They have raised doubts as to the provenance of the wine.

He has also hired specialists to examine the Th.J engraving on the Jefferson bottles, which he believes was made with a modern high-speed diamond drill. And Mr Koch has recruited another specialist to check the molecular content of the glass.

The problem of counterfeit wines can come to light years after bottles were faked since they often lie undetected in the cellars of innocent collectors.