Spotting Counterfeit Wines

"Keep clear of wine I tell you, white or red, especially Spanish wines which they provide and have on sale in Fish Street and Cheapside. That wine mysteriously finds its way to mix itself with others." Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales (14th Century). Chaucer, evidently a suspicious man, would no doubt be amazed at the sophistication of counterfeit wine production in the 20th and 21st century, and in turn the steps necessary in spotting counterfeit wines. As in both the art and antique world, rogue elements have been attracted by fine wine's high prices, so much so that wine counterfeit trading on the secondary fine wine market has risen to a worrying 5%, according to Wine Spectator magazine. It's important to note of course that counterfeit or fake wine can also cover doctored or illegally blended wines. For the purposes of this article we are concentrating on the particular band of black marketers who devote themselves to the manufacturing, distribution and selling of fraudulent fine wines. So how do you spot a counterfeit bottle? The label Many leading estates have their wine labels posted on their website. Failing this you can search for the wine label via Google Images (take care to ensure the website you end up on is reputable). Benchmark the website label with your own. In the case of the bottle in your possession, remember if a wine is old, a perfect label is often a worrying sign... The cork Does the cork look unusually young? Corks, like bodies, become brittle with age. If your bottle purports to be 15/20 years old, does the cork look of a similar age? To complicate matters slightly, wine collectors can, and do, recork certain wines. The famous wine brand Penfolds has a travelling wine clinic, in which they recork old vintages for wine collectors under anaerobic conditions. We have also seen recorked Vintage Ports. Although there is nothing inherently wrong in recorking, some authorities believe it can encourage fraud, and, in some instances, "shock" old wines. Capsules (or foils) Capsules can be lead, wax aluminium, or plastic. Make sure your capsule is of a type (and colour) that the wine estate or Chateaux uses (or used).Bear in mind also that lead and wax are almost never used in current wine releases. Bottle shape This is another opportunity to check the wine estate's website. Does the shape of your bottle concur with the bottle shape on the website? This is a fairly crude method, but remember that fine wines are generally found in Burgundy (sloping shoulder) or Bordeaux (angular shoulder) shaped bottles. It's also relevant to note that since 1982 glass making has changed considerably, and this should be factored in to your investigation. Worried? You shouldn't be. Counterfeit wine is still largely irrelevant to the fine wine markets, and the world's top estates are wising up to the techniques of the fraudsters. Make sure you buy from reputable, established sources, and your chances of being caught out are very slim indeed.

Pip Martin is the Founder of The Tasting Quarter, a Corporate Wine Tasting & Specialist Events Company. After management positions in Harrod’s Foodhall, Pip became Corporate Events Manager at Richard Branson’s online wine merchant, Virgin Wines, where he hosted over 200 wine events in a little over 15 months for companies including BBC, Morgan Stanley, PricewaterhouseCoopers and JP Morgan. Since 2002, via The Tasting Quarter, Pip and his team have produced and hosted tastings in Spain, Russia and South Africa and co-hosted events in Ireland, Holland, Belgium, France, Denmark and Switzerland for groups of 10 to 3000+. He has run virtual, hybrid and AI augmented tastings for companies including AVMI, Oracle, Adobe, Google and Cisco. He also counts all the Magic Circle law firms in the UK as repeat clients for in-person events. Pip’s media work has included wine presenting on Sky One’s Taste programme and BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen. Writing credits include wine articles for Condé Nast’s Gourmet Travel and Esquire.