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Wine fraud is more prevalent than most of us care to think. After all, it was not too long ago that the UK supermarket giant Tesco was found to be unknowingly stocking counterfeit wine. This story emerged when two bottles of the white Burgundy, Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuisse, were reduced from £14.99 to £5 and ended up leaving a sour taste for one observant shopper.

According to the source, the label seemed to have been photocopied and the bottle had a screw cap instead of the usual cork.

It may seem hard to believe that fraudsters would attempt to run a campaign based on creating fake variations of £15 bottles of wine. However, the fact that a company as large as Tesco is capable of unwittingly investing in counterfeit wine suggests that there is not as much awareness around wine fraud as there should be.

It’s also important to remember that wine fraud goes far beyond supermarket wine. In the fine wine industry, investors have been convinced to part with life-changing sums of money only to discover that their wine is worthless.

So, how has wine fraud managed to propagate, and crucially, how can we arm ourselves against it?

Wine Fraud Predates Ancient Rome

Wine has been faked, diluted and adulterated in the name of profit ever since it was invented. It’s a commonly shared story in the wine industry. It’s even a well discussed topic that wine contaminated with lead may have contributed to the downfall of the Roman Empire.

Throughout the ages, the fundamental aspiration behind wine fraud has remained unchanged: unremarkable wine is sold as a far more valuable variety. Although empires aren’t exactly crumbling, vast sums of money are still gained and lost in surprisingly high-profile scandals where even wine experts get fooled.

For example, Acker Merrall & Condit’s 2008’s wine auction at a New York restaurant was the beginning of the end for one particularly notable fine wine fraudster. At the time, Rudy Kurniawan was known as a wine enthusiast who had made $35 million through previous Acker fine wine auctions. However, when the proprietor of Domaine Ponsot (a major Burgundy wine producer) attended the 2008 auction to examine what he believed to be 97 Ponsot counterfeits, a four year criminal investigation was launched that ended with Kurniawan’s arrest by the FBI.

Kurniawan was eventually found to have possessed a fine wine “counterfeiting factory”. Among other shocking finds, he had manufactured huge volumes of fake labels for some of the world’s most prestigious wines. Needless to say, Kurniawan’s millions most likely came from his counterfeit wines, but specifically, his fortune was made from fooling some of the world’s biggest fine wine collectors.

Wine Fraud is Difficult to Investigate

Unfortunately, wine fraud can be difficult to investigate and the stories above provide a perfect example of why this is true.

When fake wine comes onto the international fine wine market due to willfully fraudulent behaviour, it is often perceived as the genuine article by another party who will either keep the wine or distribute it in earnest even further. Eventually this cycle ends with somebody who has been duped and often left out of pocket. 

With free wine inspection guidelines from wine experts like The London Wine Cellar, it’s possible to make an informed decision about wine by yourself. But if you’re ever in doubt, you should always contact industry professionals.

To prevent wine fraud occurring in the future, major wine producers themselves are marking bottles with unique serial numbers and ensuring there is a detailed audit trail that can be tracked when they distribute their wine. However, there are no methods for completely proving the authenticity of old wines without opening the bottle - and understandably, given the value, most fine wine owners would be reluctant to test this option.


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