How to Spot a Forged Wine
Herme’s Handbags. Rolex Watches. Twilight DVD’s. Chateau Latour 1982.
Forgery, fakes and imitations have probably been around as long as the luxury goods they copy. And while most people know about knock-off handbags and dodgy Rolex’s, they are probably not so aware of the growing trade in forged wines.
With bottles of rare wine trading for up to £20,000 a bottle. It is not difficult to see the attraction for the unscrupulous. At the moment, many in the auction world have to confront the accusation that one of their biggest consignors, Rudy Kurniawan, off-loaded millions of pounds of fake wine, including an array of vintages that didn’t even exist, on to the market. When the FBI raided his house in March 2012, they found a veritable production line in his basement, including laser-printed labels of Lafite 1899 as well as machines to insert corks into refilled bottles and seal them with wax.
So, how does one tell one’s genuine bottle of Petrus 1982 from one’s forged bottle? Below are some guidelines.
1. Is it too good to be true?
Beware wines in better condition than they should be given their age. Beware wines sold cheaper than the market price. Watch out for the well known targets. The most expensive wines in the world are usually the most attractive to forge. Oh, but an exception here is if you are offered a bottle of Petrus in an East End boozer. Then, it might be a real bottle, but is probably stolen.
2. Who are you buying it from?
In the complex world of fine old wine, bottles have often passed through many hands. Ask where wines come from. Has it been stored ‘in bond’? Most collectors of fine wine store ‘in bond’ which means bottles are kept in government controlled storage. Access is prohibited so the wines should be in pristine condition.
3. What does it look like?
Again, if it looks too perfect it could be suspicious. One key indicator is something known as the ullage level. This describes the distance between the level of the wine and the cork. This distance is important because it is an indicator of the age and the condition of the storage. As wine ages, a tiny percentage is oxidised through the cork. As it gets older, the level should fall. Therefore, very old wines with levels into the neck should arouse suspicion – there is such a thing as ‘too perfect’.
Look at the label and compare it to other genuine bottles. Look at the capsule, if necessary, cut it to look at the branding on the cork (but get permission first). Look at the glass. If it’s an old bottle, the glass should look thicker and less regular than you are used to. If in doubt, ask an expert. Corney and Barrow, the distributers of Domaine Romanee Conti and Petrus are often asked to authenticate bottles. They know what to look for.
Above all, know the risks. Depending on who you believe, there may well be many fake bottles out there, so if you are in the market for the real thing, do your homework, talk to a trusted merchant and be certain that bottle of 1982 Petrus is the real thing before you part with any cash.
Joe Gilmour blogs about wine and has worked in the industry with wine merchants for 9 years. He has a particular interest in Californian wine. When he’s not online or at a tasting he enjoys running, eating and shouting at the TV.