By: Kenneth J. McCormick
There are a lot of counterfeit items in this world. Just to mention a few, there is counterfeit money, counterfeit credit cards, counterfeit identities and from what I have been hearing lately about some of the Chinese cars, there may be some counterfeit cars also. When one tends to think of counterfeit items, I really don't think they give much thought to counterfeit wine. I know that I certainly don't give wine much of a thought, but on the other hand I am not a wine drinker so I can't speak for them. I was very surprised to learn that there are quite a few bottles of counterfeit wine on the market. I really shouldn't have been, because some of the really old bottles are worth quite a bit of money and when money is involved so is crime. I have to wonder though, if somebody plops down a couple of thousand dollars for a rare wine and he and his friends drink it, if most people ever really know the difference? I just have to wonder how many people have done this? The reason that I told you that I don't drink wine is that I don't want you to think that this article is being written from the point of view of a wine expert, since I am anything but. I just wanted to clear that point up.
I was reading about wines the other day without really knowing why? In the article it talked about counterfeit wines and called them Château Faux. For some reason I felt that this was kind of intriguing. We all know about the big problems with Chinese imports that we have been experiencing, but how many people know that counterfeiting wine is also a big industry in China? Some of the wine bottles from as recently as 20 years ago are no longer manufactured the same way. In order to counterfeit some of these wines from that time, most counterfeiters would have to refill an original bottle. Here is the thing however, the bottle has to be perfect and the labels also have to be in order. One might not know that this was a counterfeit product even if he was an expert, until the cork was pulled. Most of the time, I have been told, that you can tell by the cork, if you know what you're looking for, if a bottle has been refilled. Here is something that I just learned, the corks in wine bottles may have a vintage burned into their side. I don't know if this exists on the older brands, but I do know it does exists on some. One dead giveaway is when you pull the cork on an expensive bottle of wine and this area has been smoothed out, if this brand usually had it burned into the cork. So here is the way that works, this type of wine would have the name and the vintage on the cork. .The particular bottle of wine I am talking about was said to have been purchased for $2000.
Just like US currency, some of the makers of very expensive wine are using high-tech labels and engraving, hoping that this will make counterfeiting their product, much more difficult. This doesn't hold true if somebody gets a hold of an empty bottle. There are some people out there that collect rare wines. Can you imagine how many of them think that they have the genuine articles stored in their wine cellar, when they really only have a counterfeit? About the only saving grace in wine counterfeiting is that the people that usually buy these expensive bottles of wine can afford the loss. This does not make the crime any less serious however. I have always said a crime is a crime is a crime. It doesn't lessen the crime just because you're taking advantage of the richer segment of our society. The counterfeiting of wine has become so widespread in the United States, that the FBI is now involved in it. Some feel that some of the biggest wine auction houses in the world are turning a blind eye to the question of whether bottles are authentic, or they are not. Perhaps this is because nobody wants to have to pull the cork to answer that question, they feel they would destroy the value of the wine. The truth is that even if you opened a bottle or two from a large consignment of wines to be auctioned, this certainly does not guarantee that the rest of the wine is authentic. This is truly a huge problem for wine connoisseurs and collectors. When wine collections are auctioned from completely honest people, that doesn't mean that they unknowingly don't have counterfeits in their collections.
So how much wine is sold at auction houses? Well, The Independent, states that last year Christie's is said to have sold about $58 million worth of rare wine from London and Paris to New York and Los Angeles. That's an awful lot of wine just from one auction house. It has been said that there is some kind of deal between the Italian Mafia and Chinese manufacturers of fraudulent wines. This problem is so bad that it is believed that some of the very old wines may have been forged many years ago and went undetected. I can see it all now, some multi-rich executive is hosting a dinner party and pops open a bottle of Château Lafite-Rothschild, which he paid thousands of dollars for and all his guests drink it and praise the flavor, but in truth it is a forgery and nobody has even noticed. I really don't know, but I do suspect that it just might be possible for a wine to be imitated in a lab. They may not get it exactly right, but it just might be close enough to fool many people. After all, if you gave a bottle of this stuff to somebody who had never tasted it, how would they know it was a forgery. So it seems to me that you would have had to have tasted the real thing at least once, before you could judge the next bottle.
When we talk about wine counterfeiting in China, we are not saying that the Chinese government condones this practice. As a matter of fact, they are actively cracking down on wine counterfeiters. The problem in China is that there are actually whole factories there dedicated to this. So these are not small operations, they are more like wholesale wine counterfeiting operations. As I said above, many of these factories have ties to organized crime and are working hand-in-hand with the Mafia in Italy, the Australian mob and many other gangster organizations. I guess one of the real big problems will happen when they have perfected counterfeit wines to the point where you wouldn't be able to tell the counterfeit from the real without a lab analysis. In this technological world of ours this cannot be viewed as an impossibility. Looking at the art community for example, it is now possible for a computer-controlled machine to make an exact copy of an original painting so perfect that a law has been passed that states that it must say on the painting that is a reproduction. It may just turn out that the same thing will happen in the wine market in years to come. In a way, while this might be a bad thing for wine collectors and wine aficionados, it might turn out to be the beginning of a good thing for the rest of us. What I am talking about here is food that can be manufactured without using real animals and yet be so close in taste that we would not know the difference.
We know that much of the foreign wine that is being sold in Beijing is not genuine.This is mostly a problem for the Chinese however. Europe has also been accused of high-end wine counterfeiting. Many believe that this is actually where wine counterfeiting began and that it is only recently that an Asian market has developed for it. You want to impress your boss so you got him a bottle of wine that cost a few hundred dollars. Later you begin to think about your purchase. You start to worry that the bottle may not contain the genuine product and that maybe you boss, who's coming to dinner at your house with his wife, has tasted the genuine article and will know the difference. What should you do? Should you take the chance and put this wine out on the table, or should you get something a little less exotic, that has less of a chance of not being genuine? This may be the choice that faces all wine drinkers in the future. It is nice to think that you have something rare, but it is not so nice when you have to worry about its authenticity. Well I have people coming over tomorrow. I guess I'll go out and get myself a box of wine, nothing is too good for my guests and I know for a fact that it is genuine Gallo.
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