“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. 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?
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 a bottle in your possession, remember if a wine is old, a perfect label is often a worrying sign…
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 wines occasionally).
Capsules can be lead, wax aluminium, or plastic. Make sure your capsule is of a type (and colour) that the wine estate or Chateau uses (or used).
Look at the wine estate’s website again. Does the shape of your bottle concur with the bottle shape on the website? This is a crude method, but remember that fine wines are generally found in Burgundy (sloping shoulder) or Bordeaux (angular shoulder) shaped bottles.
Finally, make sure you buy from established, reputable sources.