A victory in the war against fake wines

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2012-03-05


Decanter reported this week that an alleged wine fraudster, Rudy Kurniawan, has been arrested in the USA after indefatigable efforts by Laurent Ponsot of the great, eponymous Burgundy estate.

Ponsot's efforts were aided by European sommeliers who were able to confirm the names of people who had approached them, and paid for, empty wine bottles. The idea that trade in illicit fine wine is abetted by professionals whose careers are often driven out of personal passion was an initial shock. It's all too easy of course, offering bribes to relatively poorly paid restaurant workers in the knowledge that the cost of acquiring empty bottles and carefully drawn corks to be reused and resealed is a bagatelle compared to the returns at auction of increasingly rare, ageing wine stocks.The problem is significant enough for Ponsot to assert that 80% of pre 1980 Burgundy sold at auction is counterfeit.I do hope not, as I think back to an Averys bottling of 1934 Amoureuses that was particularly ethereal, combining sweetness, silkiness and surprising intensity of flavour. But then, that's hardly the sort of bottling that your average global fine wine fraudster would select for maximising returns. In a world driven by brand, elite producer names are the inevitable target.

And whatever the percentage, there's no doubt that the risks of coming across fake wine is increasing, making it more important than ever to insist on photography for great names pre-2000, inspection, and where provenance is not impeccable, to either pass or recognise the risk that you may be running. There are some precautions that stop well short of being foolproof. Look for capsule tampering, capsules and labels that look too clean and unusually high fill levels. Once the bottle has been opened, check for incorrect vintage stamps, unusual depth of colour, an unexpectedly young taste or a wine that hasn't thrown any kind of sediment. However, this cannot be the answer. A new system of provenance is surely needed, where older stocks can be traced back, at least some of the way, through transfer of title, movements, location and inspections. Traceability and reliability of source will increasingly justify much higher prices for the best stock, and lead to a greater disparity of value between two bottles of the same wine. We are already seeing the gap widening between direct from producer, ex cellars or chateau older wines, and secondary market sources whose history is opaque. It is well worth the investment in time and good discrimination to buy secondary market stock with good provenance. Education on informed buying is urgently needed.


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