Counterfeit and Fake Wines
Questions - Qualitative Inspection -
Techniques of Recognition and Prevention
It is said that approximately 20% of the wines in the world are fakes and/or counterfeits and/or are made from fraudulent sources.
As stated by counterfeit wine authenticator and fraudulent wine specialist Maureen Downey (www.winefraud.com) (that I hope to meet one day to learn more from her wisdom on the subject) and other professionals like by Master of Wine Jeannie Cho Lee, whom I had the pleasure to meet many times and even work with for a short while (www.jeanniecholee.com):
Fake wines come in many forms but generally they fall into 4 major categories:
1. Original chateau bottle but with different vintage without refilling
2. Original chateau bottle that has been refilled with an inferior/cheaper version
3. Fake bottle but original label
4. Fake bottle with fake label and fake capsules and cork
Throughout my 25 years career as a Sommelier and Wine Buyer for restaurants, retails, corporate and private clients, I encountered many of them, and more especially during these last 5 years as the Wine Quality Control Director for the Wine Division of a big corporate Hong Kong Group, buying countless amount of cases of the world Top high-end 200 wines, I have learned how and developed processes to detect and recognize fake/counterfeit wines.
For those of you who might wonder what “Wine Quality Control Director” is, well, my job consists predominantly of checking and counter checking
- Provenance: reliability and integrity of the source (people/business) we buy the wines from (negociants, brokers, merchants, wholesalers, retailers) and the conditions the wines were kept prior buying them (to insure the quality and authenticity of the wines - i.e. we prefer to buy wines directly at the winery if possible or from a reliable source that buys the wines directly at the winery) (i.e. no wine that has traveled 10 times around the world or from a retailer where the bottles have been stored standing up under bright lights and/or (even worst) cooking as displayed on the window and with the air conditioner switched off at night...)
- Prices: Comparative Market Analysis (to make sure that we buy at fair prices) between the prices of
- Wine-Searcher (Retail Prices),
- Other sources if needed
- Logistics: cooperate with our internal Cellars & Logistics department to insure (prior and during transit until final destination) that
- Transport/logistic/shipping is done via a reputable or preferably a specialized shipper/freight forwarder
- The wines have been kept, prior departure and when in transit during the shipping, in the most ideal conditions (i.e. Reefer container with additional Temperature/Humidity Control device recording data from departure to final destination inside, container air quality control, etc…)
- Quantitative and Qualitative Inspection of the wines prior buying (if possible) and more especially Inspection at goods receiving, which is probably the most important phase, in order to insure that
- The order is complete quantitatively at arrival
- nothing is missing,
- correct amount of pallets, cases and bottles
- The order is in good condition at arrival
- no broken cases or bottles,
- no seepage or leakage,
- pallets well put together,
- cases clean without mold or bugs or anything else,
- Temperature / humidity checked at container doors opening
- If anything wrong with (a.) and/or (b.), follow up with shipper, freight forwarder, insurer and original source (negociants/brokers/merchants) is done first to inform them, then to deal with the situation, make sure that the insurance cover the particular incident (if the wines has been insured for this kind of problem), then eventually negotiate
- a discount
- a reimbursement
- An exchange
- a return of the damaged goods
Despite these 4 points, my job also extend to supervising and checking wine movements (IN - OUT), inventory, stocktaking, cycle count, random inspection to check the state of the cases and bottles in the warehouses, and most importantly supervising and monitoring the stock’s and the warehouse’s conditions, climate, environment, security, staff training and education. I’m also responsible for the writing and maintenance of the internal SOP (Standard Operation Processes).
But let’s stay focus on the subject of this post which is the “Qualitative Inspection” of the bottles at arrival to determine the quality and integrity of the received wines via various methods and processes.
Many of these processes have already been briefly explained as “Tips” in many articles, yet with this post I would like to develop them a bit more to bring you more in depth insights on the subject.
I divided this post in 5 chapters:
- Questions to ask yourself and to be answered prior buying an old/rare/expensive bottle
- Qualitative Inspection Method (What to check?)
- Techniques of Recognition (How to detect and recognize)
- Prevention (Disfiguring/defacing the label and braking the cork)
- Security (Anti-Fraud Technologies)
Questions to ask yourself and to be answered prior buying an old/rare/expensive bottle
As part of my job consists of checking the background of each bottle we buy for the company, I always have to try to answer the multitude of questions that come prior and/or when buying an old/rare/expensive bottle of wine, whether being bought via Suppliers, Distributors, Negociants, Brokers, Merchants or Auction Houses.
In the table below, I put some of the questions that I have to ask myself and try to answer each time we receive a new offer and/or want to place a new order. Getting the answers to these questions is not always a fun experience, as, as you can imagine, some suppliers do not necessarily want to reveal too many details about how they acquire the wines or sometimes they simply do not know… not an easy task.
LeDomduVin - Questions to be answered
prior buying an old/rare/expensive bottles Table
Questions prior buying an expensive bottle
Suppliers, Distributors, Negociants, Brokers, Merchants
or Auction Houses
Are they honest, serious and reliable?
Do they buy the wine directly at or from the winery?
Or do they buy the wine on the market?
From whom? private collectors? stores? or other suppliers?
Do they store the wine in good conditions?
Do they have their own wine storage facility or warehouse?
If Yes, do they store only their wines?
Or do they share it with other suppliers or clients?
If No, is the 3rd party storage company they use reliable and trustable?
Does the wines come directly from the winery?
Or does it transit first via a 3rd party company (warehouse, negociants, etc…) for storage prior being shipped?
How has it been shipped? (reefer truck or container?)
And when? (during winter or summertime?)
Which route did it take?
Was the temperature level in the reefer truck or container recorded during transit?
Are the data available?
Can Temperature / Humidity data recording device like eProvenance or similar available and/or requestable?
Was the container always plugged in and at ideal temperature all along during the transit?
And more importantly during the few stops in between departure and arrival at final destination? (change of transportation, during waiting time period for formalities at customs, etc…)
Does it come directly from the winery?
How is the bottle conditions? (label, capsule, bottle, cork, sedimentation, aspect of the wine, level of the wine, etc…)
Was it reconditioned at some point?
Was it sent back to the winery for relabelling? recorking? or even refilling? Or the 3 of them?
When and where was the reconditioning done?
Was it previously owned?
A store? A private collector?
How many times was it sold?
And at what price?
How many times did it go around the world?
How was the storage condition used by the previous owner?
Private cellar? Storage Company? In the garage?
More importantly, after having asked myself all these questions (and some more), another aspect of my job is to proceed to do the Qualitative Inspection prior buying the wine (if possible) or prior or at good receiving prior storage.
Qualitative Inspection Method
Physical Qualitative Inspection is the most crucial step of wine buying as long as it can be done prior buying the bottle, which is not always possible. Sometimes the supplier will send pictures of the bottle, however it can be difficult to judge depending on the quality of the pictures (sharpness, light, position of the bottle in the picture, etc….).
Therefore, it is important to proceed to the physical qualitative inspection at good receiving prior storage in order to define the quality of the bottle and its genuity, to eventually detect and assess if a bottle is a counterfeit/fake or not.
In order to thoroughly inspect the quality of a bottle, I follow the inspection points and steps within the following table that I created 5 years ago when I started as a Wine Quality Control Director.
The table is based on my previous 25 years experience as a Sommelier and Wine Buyer for Restaurants, Retails, Corporate and Private Clients, as well as on my multiple experiences with Auction Houses Inspection practices and jargon described in their catalogues (i.e. Christie’s “Level/ullage Descriptions and Interpretations” or Acker’s “Bottle Description”).
The list in this table is non exhaustive and more details could be added, yet it is a very good base of what should or must be checked prior buying an old and/or rare and/or expensive bottle of wine.
LeDomduVin - Qualitative Inspection Method Table
Inspection abbreviations & details
OWC (original wooden case)
WC (wooden case)
OC (original carton)
CB (carton Box)
SB (shipping box)
GB (gift box)
Case Packing Closing
OWC with previously opened Lid
OWC without Lid
OWC with original winery straps
OWC with metallic straps
OWC no straps
OWC Branded or Not
WC (non original wooden case)
OC Taped + Stapled
Case Packing Inside
Plastic tray dividers
Bottles Straw wrapped
Bottles Tissue paper wrapped
Styrofoam compartments or dividers
2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 12 or 24 Bottles
Security Tape (Chateau or Supplier)
Original Chateau Strip
Bottle Authenticy System
QR Code (on back label or at capsule base)
NFC closure Tag technology
Plastic Sealed Cap
Engraved ID (on or in the bottle)
Fluorescent security strip or ink or encryption
CC (Corroded Capsule)
TC (Torn Capsule)
CUC (Cut Capsule)
NC (Nicked Capsule)
WC (Wrinkled Capsule - or Creases)
WXC (Wax Capsule)
OW (Original Wax)
CW (Cracked Wax)
RC (Rusted Capsule)
SOS (Sign of Seepage)
SSOS (slight Sign of Seepage)
FSOS (Fresh Sign of Seepage - Wet)
OSOS (Old Sign Of Seepage - Dry)
NOC (No Capsule)
DC (Depressed Cork)
SDC (Slightly Depressed Cork)
PC (Protruding Cork)
SPC (Slightly protruding Cork)
Original Cork (new or Old)
Tartrate crystals at bottom
(prefix: S=Slightly L=Lightly H=Heavily)
HF (High Fill)
LF (Low Fill)
IN (Into Neck)
BN (Bottom or Base Neck)
TS (Top Shoulder)
VHS (Very High Shoulder)
HS (High Shoulder)
HSMS (High to Mid Shoulder)
US (Upper Shoulder)
MS (Mid Shoulder)
LS (Low Shoulder)
Level from Cork bottom to wine level
depending of vintage and wine type
(3cm, 4cm, 5cm, 6cm, etc,..)
New or Old
Look genuine for the vintage
DTL (Detached label - dry due to storage conditions)
LL (Loose Label)
DSL (Discolored Label)
FL (Faded Label)
DRL (Dirty Label)
BSL (Bin Soiled Label)
TL (Torn Label)
NL (Nicked Label)
SCL (Scuffed Label)
TAL (Tattered Label)
WRL (Wrinkled Label)
TSL (Tissue Stained Label)
WL (Writing on label)
IL (Illegible Label)
STL (Stained label)
WISL (Wine Stained Label - Dry)
WASL (Water Stained Label - Dry)
DSL (Damp Stained Label - Wet - Water or Wine)
GS (Glue Striped)
GSL (Glue Stained Label)
GM (Glue Marks)
Label Paper Genuity
Label Printing Genuity
Ink Color and Quality
Label stuck in angle
Label not fitting the old label frame mark
NOL (No Label)
(prefix: S=Slightly L=Lightly H=Heavily)
Cloudy or Hazy
Correct color for the vintage
Brown (for Red - altered/damaged/oxidized)
Golden (for dry White - altered/damaged/oxidized)
Lots of Sediments
No Sediments (bad sign depending on vintage)
Tartaric Precipitation (tartrate crystals or flakes)
New or Old
Handmade / misshaped / defaults
Rust marks or stains
Chipped / Dented
Brand Engraved on bottle
Label Engraved on Bottle
Wine Stains (dry old seepage/leakage)
Unusual Punt (bottom of the bottle)
Punt too deep or not enough
Punt not showing usual engraved Marks
Engraved bottle ID or Code
Embedded bottle ID or Code
Source / additional Label (more especially for older vintages prior 90s)
US Importer's Label
UK or other Importer's Label
Auction House Label or Sticker
(Christie's, Acker, Sotheby's, etc..)
US, UK or Other Distributor's label
French Negociant Label
Integrated Label to main label
Techniques of Recognition
Over the last 5-8 years, many detailed articles have been written on the subject of counterfeit wines and the techniques to detect or recognize them, more especially after the arrest of Dr. Conti, alias Rudy Kurniawan (birth name Zhen Wang Huang), probably one of the most talented counterfeiters of Top-tier wines, arrested back in March 2012 and sentenced to 10 years of prison for producing and selling counterfeit wines through auctions.
Rare were these articles showing the labels of these counterfeit and/or fake wines, therefore, instead of writing another long article about them, I decided to gather some examples of counterfeit and fake wines and their labels and bottles.
Yet, before dressing the list of the techniques to detect and/or recognize counterfeit/fake wines, I must say that the best technique is to know your wines, as if you do not know them or are not very acquainted with the label and other details variations through time (label and/or capsule differences between vintages, or details changing due to owner decision or change of ownership, etc…), you might get fooled believing you are buying a genuine bottle.
NB: Some of the techniques already cited in the Questions and Qualitative Inspection Tables above will not necessarily be repeated or detailed below.
LeDomduVin - Techniques to detect and/or recognize
counterfeit and/or fake wines table
Details / Pictures
who you are buying your wine from?
where the wine has been before?
where and how it has been stored previously?
(see more details in the “Questions to be answered prior buying an old/rare/expensive bottles” table in chapter 1.)
If the price is too low, it is usually a sign that the bottle might have a problem (bad conditions, damaged label or capsule, old seepage, etc…), but might also indicate a counterfeit or fake wine with dubious origins
Therefore, as explained above in my job descriptions, it is important to do a comparative Market Analysis (to make sure that you buy at fair prices) between the prices of long established reliable websites to estimate the trend:
Here is an example of a dubiously low price:
For the capsule, if it appears
then it is probably the case that the capsule has been previously removed or tampered with, and it might indicate a counterfeit wine.
For decades, as labels were printed by lithography techniques, letter fonts used on wine label (and capsule) were usually difficult to reproduce, as they were very distinct to a specific winery name or brand, and as they were not necessarily available on the market and most of the time created specifically for a specific wine or winery.
“Ultrawhite” wine label paper that is fluorescent under blue light was only introduced to the market in the late 1950s; therefore, unless the bottle has been relabeled at the winery due to a necessary/requested reconditioning of the bottle, any vintages prior 1957 with an Ultrawhite label is surely a fake.
Nowadays most fonts can be found on the Internet and printing is an easy going process (Sheet-fed offset, Flexography, UV or water-based, Rotary-offset - (Conventional or waterless), Digital, etc..), so, to counter the problem, wineries use specific ink, shape and/or label paper that is made unique or difficult to reproduce through various processes.
Flexographic presses are preferred as they are much more versatile than digital presses, and allow for foil stamping, embossing and applying a variety of finishes that cannot be done on digital presses.
Therefore, you should keep a careful eye on the label for
This picture (courtesy of www.wine-searcher.com) of Rudy Kurniawan’s Petrus labels proves how easy it can be to reproduce the original
And how about this sparkling clean label of Petrus 1961
Small differences in letters fonts, size and/or color usually denote a counterfeit or fake wine. Will you be able to spot the counterfeit wine in the image below (posted by The Wine Wankers on instagram)?
Fake wines may use the same exact font and type or style of label but usually spelling mistake or obvious entirely different label color, name or other details on the label will definitely indicate them, like on the picture above and more especially this picture of “Pacurs” instead of “Petrus”
Sometimes, fake wines can be surprisingly absurd like this one below
Or for marketing reason, fake wines are lookalike of highly expensive wines like this one below (seen in China)
Or even this one below which is really messed up…
CHATEAU SUPERIEUR DE ROTHSCKILD (LAFITL) Haut-médoc
(screenshot of a video found on internet)
Unbelievable, isn’t it?
These are only a few examples but the market is flooded with these counterfeits and fake wines if you pay a bit of attention to the details.
Vintages not produced
Counterfeit wines are usually copies of the top Chateaux and Domaines of Bordeaux and Burgundy in the best vintages like 1900, 1921, 1928, 1945, 1947, 1949, 1959, 1961, 1964, 1978, 1982, 1990 and very speculative vintages like 2000, 2005, 2009, 2010
It is highly recommended to verify the source and inspect thoroughly each bottle with an expert eye when buying bottles from these vintages as many of the rare ones left on the market are probably fake.
People in the know tend to say that there are more bottles of these particular vintages circulating in China than the amount ever produced at the winery.
Therefore it is crucial to do some research about the wine and vintage first.
But counterfeit wines also come in vintages that were never produced at the winery. It is difficult to generalise to one region in particular, so it has to be taken on a case by case scenario depending on a particular vintage for a specific producer.
Also during certain bad vintages only small quantities from a handful of producers were produced and are likely not to be available on the current market.
For example, 1991 in Bordeaux was a bad vintage due to difficult weather conditions (ail storm, etc..); therefore most producers made little to no wine that year, and there is barely no availability on the market anymore.
Sizes not produced
Counterfeits for old vintages tend to come in sizes that were not produced at the winery or distributed by the negociants/brokers/merchants at the time. Here are a few examples:
Wrong Appellation or an Appellation not existing at the time
Counterfeit / Fake Wines may also mention the wrong appellation or even appellation that did not exist at the time.
In France, the AOC system was historically created to combat fraud. The concept of “Appellations d'Origine Controlée” was gradually built up at the beginning of the 20th century (law of 1905). The “Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée” was created with the Decree-Law of 1935 to defend the French Wine Market and more specifically the name of the regions and more precisely the various wines produced in these regions and their respective grape varieties.
For example, long ago, specific word like “Chablis”, “Champagne”, “Burgundy” escaped from that regulations and are or were widely wrongly used in the US. The American took these words for granted, standardize them and basically called their red wines as “Burgundies” and their whites as “Chablis”. The region of Champagne has won the battle, and US sparkling wines cannot write “Champagne” on their label anymore. However, Chablis and Burgundy are still widely used in the US and often represent cheap bulk wines.
The Decree-Law of 1935 was applicable to the wines and spirits, and the INAO (Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité) was responsible for their definition, protection, and control. Most of the French Appellations are dating back from 1936 and after. The AOC regulation was extended to all agricultural and food products in 1990.
Any bottle prior 1935 may have not indicated the appellation on the label, therefore, unless the bottle has been relabeled at the winery due to a necessary/requested reconditioning of the bottle, or if it was current practice at the time for the negociant/broker/merchant of that specific wine to mention the name of the region of origin, any vintages prior 1935 mentioning it is surely a fake.
Consult the list of the Appellation Controlee of Wikipedia for the date (I could not find the official list on the website of the INAO… an idea maybe for them to add)
Wrong Owner or Producer
Be aware of the owner changes. Counterfeit / Fake wines may state the wrong owner or producer on the label (due to lack of knowledge usually or simply counting on the credulity of some uninformed buyers).
It is quite hard to know the ownership history of most Chateaux, however, buyers should take on the effort to do some researches prior buying an old/rare/expensive bottle of wine.
For example, Cos d’Estournel changed hands several times since its classification in 1855
1810 - “Cos d'Estournel” was named by Louis-Gaspard d'Estournel
1852 - Purchased by the English banker Charles Cecil Martyns
1869 - Sold to the Spanish Errazu family
1889 - Sold to the Bordeaux-based Hostein family.
1894 - Louis-Victor Charmolue, who also owned Château Montrose, gained control of Cos d'Estournel
1917 - Sold to Fernand Ginestet
1970 - Became part of Domaines Prats, it was a combined holding of the Ginestet and Prats families and controlled by Bruno Prats.
1998 - Sold to the Merlaut Family
2000 - Sold to Michel Reybier
Prevention - Disfiguring/defacing the labels and destroying the corks
On a monthly basis, after doing the physical stocktaking of the various stocks in our restaurants, warehouses and cellars, I personally take a malicious pleasure to disfigure all the labels of all the old/rare/expensive bottles of wine used/consumed during the private business diners and in the multiple restaurants owned by the company I work for.
Disfiguring the labels, breaking the bottles and making sure that the corks are broken then discarded separately from the bottles, is surely one of the best solutions to prevent from these bottles and the corks to end up in the hands of a reseller on the gray market and eventually a counterfeiter.
|Bottles of Wine prior being defaced/disfigured - LeDomduVin ©|
|Bottles of Wine after being defaced/disfigured - LeDomduVin ©|
|Bottles of Wine after being defaced/disfigured - LeDomduVin ©|
Security (Anti-Fraud Technologies)
Anti-Fraud Technologies on wine bottles guarantee 4 crucial points (some sub-points may differ depending on the technology used):
- Assurance of non-reproducibility
- Assurance of unicity for each bottle
- Visual authentication by the consumer
- Automatic control with reader
- Proof of Integrity
- Prevent eventual opportunist refilling
- Prevent bottle recycling
- Proof of origin
- Regulation conformity
- Crisis situation management
- Unitary tracking
- Difficult to duplicate due to unique patterns
- Leave a mark on capsule (and/or bottle) if/when removed
- Can’t be removed if embedded in the label (or even bottle)
- Can’t be seen or detected easily without the adequate tools
Nowadays, there are plenty of choices for wineries when it comes to Anti-Fraud Technologies, including:
- Proprietary Paper
- Tagged and/or Invisible Ink
- Tamper-proof Capsule Seal
- Hologram and encrypted micro text or marks
- NFC / RFID Chips with QR Code
Below are some of the most common ones (click on the Brand title to go to the respective website for more Brand details and/or definition).
|Courtesy of SigNatures © DNA Protection|
|Courtesy of DNA-SmartMark™|
|Bubble Proof Tag Example - LeDomduVin ©|
|Screenshot of Selinko Website - Courtesy of Selinko NFC Tag Technologies|
|RFID Embedded Label for Wine Cases example found on the internet|
|Chart Picture courtesy of www.vinfolio.com (blog)|
- Code and/or Bottle number + date engraved in the bottle
|Example of Code + Date embedded in the bottle - LeDomduVin ©|
Work in progress....
I have a few more pictures and details to add, yet I wanted to post it as from a simple idea it became a much longer project than I thought...
I hope you enjoyed reading it so far and that you might have learned a few things on the way to the bottom of this article.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments field below.
LeDomduVin a.k.a. Dominique Noël
#counterfeitwines #fakewines #fraudulentwines #questionspriorbuyinganoldrareexpensivewine #vin #wine #wineantifraudtechnologies #winefraud #wineinspection #winequalitativeinspection #ledomduvin