As Mr. Kurniawan, based out of California, was found guilty of manufacturing fake wine some wine connoisseurs have been left wondering whether their rare wine is indeed that…or nothing more than a U.S. bootleg knockoff.
It’s an increasing problem given the amount buyers are willing to pay for sought after vintages. It’s also one that’s hard to solve, as unlike a painting that can be examined, a vintage wine is sealed within a bottle, and once the bottle’s opened the game’s over. If we buy a bottle from an authorized merchant or the winery direct we can feel confident that what’s in the bottle will be reflected by the label, it’s when we start pursuing premium, or older vintages, that the picture becomes murky.
So what can wine buyers do to protect themselves from falling victim to such unscrupulous vendors? There are no hard and fast rules to determine whether a U.S wine is real or fake, instead there’s only detective work and the first step in solving the case is to understand how counterfeiters try to dupe buyers. Once we understand that we have a better chance at buying an authentic rare wine, instead of a bootleg knockoff.
As with any tangible item that has been counterfeited its success or failure will largely ride on appearance. This applies to the label, the bottle, and the cork. Sounds simple, but when you factor in new methods in label reproduction, the willingness of wine estates to resell old bottles, and the basic porosity properties of cork and we’re left with a measure of doubt. Sometimes the discrepancies are obvious, such as labels that don’t reflect the age of a vintage, or bottles that differ in shape and size. In other cases it’s not as obvious and the bottles presented can appear very authentic. To counter any doubt auctioneers may offer documentation establishing the provenance of the wine. This is a good start, but just as with the label, they too may have been fabricated for our viewing pleasure.
Discerning whether a U.S. wine is a rare wine or a bootleg knockoff is a mystery that cannot always be solved. Unless the buyer was present when the wine in question was bottled there is no way to guarantee whether it is real. There are tests, hypodermic needles and extractions of wine that can determine whether a wine is definitely not a certain vintage, but those same tests can’t guarantee it is the vintage. All wines are constantly evolving and depending on their age, the way they’ve been stored, and countless other factors no two bottles of the same vintage will be identical.
Within lies the irony, even if a wine passes all the detective work and a provenance has been established, there’s still the chance it could be a bootleg knockoff. So what should we do? Well, we should drink it, bien sur, and depending on the depth of our palate we may, or may not, ever know whether it was real or fake! Find solace in the fact if it goes over well it was authentic, and if it doesn’t we can look at our friends and pass it off as a rare U.S. bootleg knockoff. Time for another bottle, different vintage please!
By Scott Wilson