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The International Wine Industry
Sniffing a Fraud
Thursday, 24th August, 2006  - David Farmer

Serena Sutcliffe MW, "Counterfeit wine common"

The wine equivalent of turning mutton into lamb has happened often enough in the past for most wine producing countries to have some sort of control, such as a paper work trail, for investigators to home in on wine fraud. Mercifully this has never been reported on a large scale in Australia. In the late 1970's when the joy of drinking chardonnay took off, the country did not have large plantings of this variety so we had suspicions over where it all came from.

This type of fraud will be with the industry for ever as the temptation is too great particularly in a country like France where an elaborate 'appellation' system also affects prices. Taking a cheap wine for example and blending it with a wine from an 'appellation' that is valued highly by customers happens all too often. Now however another type of wine fraud is spreading that preys on gullible consumers in a different way. A recent Decanter article, April, 2006, "Counterfeit wine common", reported Serena Sutcliffe, head of Sotheby's International wine auction department as saying:

It was "common" for her to turn down $1 million worth of wine which "just isn't right". "I am not prone to exaggeration", she said, "but given the amount of wine I see, it is absolutely horrifying".

And added; "..there are many more trophy wines around than there used to be... There were more 45s sold and drunk in 1995 (I wonder if this is misreported and she said 2005?) than had ever been made. A lot of the best wines were virtually finished 30 to 40 years ago, and now they're growing on trees."

To keep this in perspective we are reminded that; "this end of the market it is only relevant to a tiny proportion of very wealthy individuals". Indeed, as the closest most of us will ever get to the real thing is to enjoy a 'cut price' counterfeit.

With many new vintages now released at very high prices, for example the first growth Bordeaux 2005's, quite a few wineries have been concerned enough to build anti-counterfeiting measures into the labels.

This includes hidden marks as used in bank notes and initiatives such as that used for Penfolds Grange which has vine DNA in the label ink. Still for the factories that knock-out brand name watches and any type of hologram credit or I.D. card with ease they will surely find a way around these obstacles. This counterfeit problem will grow.

Thankfully some help is at hand. It was recently reported in the New Scientist that scientists from the University of Seville are able to 'fingerprint' wines using the variability of 16 trace elements in the wine. This is done with atomic spectrometry and they report is 100% accurate.

Not much good if you want to have authenticated a single precious bottle but good for those who are suspicious about a twenty case lot. This will only assist though in detecting fraud when the wine in the bottle comes from a different region to that on the label. If cheap Bordeaux is used in the counterfeits of expensive Bordeaux we are back to square one.

Please remember that the greatest fraud of all and the one you can fall for every day is not going away. This is the fraud of paying a lot of money for wine that is no better than a cheap every day wine.

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