August 10, 2006

Wine Fraud On the Rise

The Wall Street Journal reported today that wine fraud is on the rise. (SeeSwell or Swill?,” subscription required.) Wine fraud is a form of counterfeiting—“bogus bottles bearing some of the most prestigious labels.” Detection has become more difficult because now the fraudsters actually put half-decent wine in the bottles bearing their fake labels.

Fortunately, U.S. winemakers have been largely untouched; counterfeiters usually target historic labels and wines that are in vogue.

To combat the problem, winemakers are experimenting with placing holograms into the wrapping that seals the cork and embedding microchips in the labels.

Most of us aren’t buying the type wine that people want to counterfeit. Nevertheless, here are two easy ways you can protect yourself, or at least look cool at a cocktail party:

  • Check the cork. A lazy counterfeiter may simply remove the label from a bottle of low-grade wine and replace it with a fake label bearing the name of a prestigious winemaker. To detect this type of fraud, check the cork for the name of the winemaker and compare it to the label. If the two don’t match, you know something screwy is going on. That’s actually why the server presents you with the cork after he or she has opened the bottle; it’s old school ceremony left over from when wine didn’t have labels. Oh, and by the way, don’t sniff the cork. You’re not going to learn anything from doing that. If the wine is tainted, you’ll know by tasting it before you accept the bottle.

  • Educate yourself. Spend some time learning about the types of wines a counterfeiter likely would target. As high-end wines become more available on the Internet by the bottle (including via Internet wine auctions), you may decide one day to splurge and buy an expensive bottle of wine for a special occasion. Knowing that the wine you’re considering may require closer scrutiny will be helpful. Even if you don’t plan to splurge, appreciating wine is a cerebral experience—learning about it is just as much fun as drinking it. Well…maybe not AS fun….

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In connection with a different sort of fraud, the NY Times reported yesterday (8/13/06 - front page, Business section) about the 100 point scale used to judge so many wines, the fact that many buyers (retail and wholesale) use those ratings in making purchasing decisions, and the "grade inflation" that has resulted.
-- A friend in Philly