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lundi, 21 octobre 2013



Claude Gilois


With the enormous increase in the price of fine wine over the last 25 years this problem was inevitable, but it is only recently that the trade has become to understand the extent of the problem. A survey organised by the management consulting firm Price WaterhouseCoopers that was reported in the magazine Decanter reveals that 20% of people who took part in the survey had bought counterfeit alcohol. English Customs have seized 15 million bottles of counterfeit alcohol since 2005; needless to say this is only the tip of the iceberg. Whilst most people thought that counterfeit wine was essentially confined to fine wines, Customs and Excises have reported that it touches all price segments. Counterfeit bottles of Jacob’s Creek from Pernod Ricard and Blossom Hill from Diego  from have been discovered and seized by the authorities.


However, it is the counterfeiting of fine wines that has recently attracted the media, as the value of fine wines is now so important. Rudy Kurniawan, today in prison and awaiting his trial (while his partner has vanished) has admitted his fraud and has described in detail how he was making Mouton Rothschild 1945.  His explanation is worth its weight in gold; ½ Pichon Lalande 1988, ¼ oxidised Bordeaux and ¼ Napa wine and the trick was done.  Presumably the Pichon gave a certain quality, the oxidised wine the old character and the Napa wine the opulence of the Mouton. A brilliant somersault when you think that a Mouton 1945 fetches about £10,000 a bottle.


rudy ku.jpg

Rudy Kurniawan

More insidious, but equally disturbing, is the complaint filed by a customer against the well-known American ex-restaurateur Charlie Trotter who allegedly sold 45,000 US$ of wines that he knew were counterfeit to his customers.  Charlie Trotter denied the allegation claiming his innocence and arguing that he was himself the victim of a fraud when he bought the bottles.


Laurent Ponsot from the eponymous domain, who was the main person in getting Rudy Kurniawan arrested estimates that 80% of Burgundies from vintages before 1980 are fakes. Needless to say China can claim the world title for counterfeits and the National Bureau for Industry and Trade claims that 70% of the wines sold in restaurants in the larger cities were fakes.


So how is it possible to protect buyers from counterfeit wines? Not easy, and at least, if not more difficult, than protecting sport against doping. Until recently all that was available was the nose, the smell and the taste of wine experts.  Today, technologies are appearing to help the professionals, but as we will see we are a long way to getting on top of the counterfeit problems.


The Ponsot domain inserts small pellets composed of codes made of bubbles between the cork and the capsule. When you see the disconcerting facility of the fraudster to imitate much more complicated technologies, it is doubtful that this will have much future and the bubble code gives no indication of the content of the bottle.


The introduction of a QR code, a form of barcode in two dimensions, is becoming more popular to access information as it can be done with a smartphone. It is quite possible to include such a code on the label of every bottle, a scan of this code could indicate that this bottle has been opened and the wine consumed, thereby warning a potential buyer that the full bottle he has in front of him is a fake. But how many people, having drunk a fine bottle, would be prepared to scan it and send the information to the database?


QR code 


Then, one has to rely on analyses of wines to try to find out more about the contents of the bottle but this is no mean task.   The most widely used technique is the isotope analysis that consists in identifying close variants of the same components in wine; the principle is simple and resembles DNA fingerprinting.  As with DNA fingerprinting, an isotopic analysis of a substance is unique, but unfortunately not to the same degree of accuracy as DNA analysis and this is the sticking point of the technique.   Additionally this type of technology uses complex and expensive instruments, mass spectrometers costing in the region of £150,000 and requiring highly trained staff. Another related less expensive technique, (a third of the price) consists of measuring the quantities of isotopes by transforming a very small quantity of heated wine to produce a gas then subjecting this gas to a laser beam which absorbs the various isotopes at different wavelengths.


The development of the Coravin system that allows the sampling of a small quantity of wine without damaging the bottle may well give this technology the boost it needs. However, if counterfeiters want to make  bottles of Musigny  by using some Chambolle-Musigny, the geographical proximity of the two sites will not permit detection of different isotopes. Then, you have to resort to other tests such as the measure of volatile acidity, amino acids or mineral composition. All these techniques are not yet able to provide a full picture or to identify counterfeits accurately and quickly. Until technology I improves experts will have to continue to use their human qualities, so guaranteeing a bright future for counterfeiters for a few years to come.






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