This article was written for us by fine wine expert and sommelier Stuart George. Founder of Vins Extraordinaire, Stuart is an expert in all things vino and teaches several wine tasting classes, courses and events with us on Obby.
The fake fine wine has a market much larger than you'd expect. It was something that was always known about in the drinks industry, but in 2013, when Rudy Kurniawan, was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for selling fake high-end wines, it became a national news. It makes sense, that something as expensive as fine wine has a criminal and counterfeit underbelly, as with everything in the same price remit. It does, however, seem unbelievable that people are able to fake a bottle of wine, but apparently, it can, has and is being done! This guide on how to spot a fake wine at auction or even online. It will keep you safe from dealers and traders that are knowingly, or unknowingly, selling fake fine wines.
A label is the first place you should check when looking to spot a fake fine wine. There are a lot of tell-tale signs that can give a fake away at the first hurdle, you just have to know what to look for.
• Is it torn? If so, are the tears credible (e.g. small tears caused by careless handling with bottles stored in metal wine racks) or less likely?
• Should there be a neck label? If so, what is the standard for this?
• Do the damp stains, if any, look correct for the age of the bottle? Do they look genuine and not printed or drawn?
• Is the label scuffed? If so, this suggests – at least – careless handling or – possibly – a forgery
• Is the label faded? For a younger wine, this suggests exposure to (strong) light or – possibly – a forgery
• Is the label the right size and shape?
• Are the fonts correct?
• Is the ink colour correct?
• What is the printing process? Check that the label is not photocopied or – for old bottles – from a modern inkjet or dot-matrix printer: Inkjet will scrape off; dot-matrix will show under a microscope• What type of paper? Are there any watermarks or embossments?
• Are there any glue stains around the labels? For example, a recently applied forged label might not have been glued properly and is already peeling away from the bottle.
• Are there any creases?
• Check that all names are spelled correctly: Misspellings and misplaced or missing accents are telltale signs of a fraudulent bottle.
• Check for any writing on the label e.g. winemaker/celebrity autographs – not necessarily evidence of fraud but usually is not welcomed
• Check for the US or non-EU strip labels, which are evidence of where and how far a bottle has traveled
• Check for signs of a strip label having been removed
• Check that vintage is correct and that wine was made and sold by the relevant producer in that year: Some wines have been offered that were never made, such as Pétrus 1991, Romanée-Conti 1946-1951, or Château d’Yquem 1964
• Smell the label: Old wine bottle labels, like old books, have a pronounced “old smell”Packaging• Is the wooden or cardboard carton original?
• Check condition of packaging for signs of tampering e.g. second-hand cases that have been sanded down and reprinted with a new vintage year
• Check size, shape, punt, and colour are correct for the producer and for the vintage: For example, wartime vintages were sometimes bottled in clear or blue glass; old Bordeaux bottles often have deep punts
• Check if machine or mouth-blown
• Check for bottle marks and/or codes to help identify the manufacturer and date of production Bottle fill level or ullage
• Check ullage: High ullage in an old bottle is suspect because with age some wine is lost to cork absorption and to evaporation
• Do “reverse ullage”: turn the bottle upside down and measure the gap between the wine and the bottom of the bottle. This is particularly useful for Champagne bottles, which often have a foil that extends some way down the bottle’s neck
• Is it correctly branded with the name of the wine and its vintage? • Is the font and seal/image correct?
• Does it look correct for its age? For example, an old wine should have a cork that shows some absorption
• Check the cork for signs of sanding, which would suggest an attempt to remove details before rebranding with new – and potentially more lucrative – details
• What is the colour? Old red wines are light-coloured; old white wines are deeper-coloured, with old Sauternes and Barsac often the darkest of all
• Old wines throw sediment, so the wine will be cloudy if the bottle is shaken
Wine Taste and Aroma
• Tasting the wine itself can only be done by opening the bottle, which, as it were, destroys the evidence and its value as a collector’s item…
• At any rate, very few people have the experience and ability to declare that a bottle of, say, Pétrus 1921 is the real thing. Since few people have tasted fabulous old bottles, it is difficult to challenge the authority and integrity of a possible “expert” fraudster
• Even then, old wines vary tremendously according to where and by whom they were bottled and where and how they have been stored.