A Guide to Detecting Counterfeit Wine

Even in the wake of the high-profile conviction and imprisonment of notorious counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan, wine fraud remains a problem in the marketplace. Below is a list of eight ways to determine the authenticity of a particular bottle of wine:

1.  Beware of so-called “unicorn wines” - extremely rare, highly sought-after bottles that most people would be lucky to see or taste once in a lifetime. According to our sources, the ten most counterfeited bottles of all time are Cheval Blanc 1921 & 1947, Lafite 1787 & 1870, Lafleur 1947 & 1950, Latour a Pomerol 1961, Margaux 1900, and Petrus 1921 & 1947.

2. Carefully examine the front and back labels of the bottle. First, ensure that the information presented there corresponds with the history of the wine and the producer. Second, note the quality of the printing on the label - wine labels are produced with a plate press, so any color separation from a screen printer or squared edges from a dot matrix printer can indicate a fake. Finally, examine the paper on which the label is printed - from 1957 on, a special type of label paper called ‘ultrawhite’ that fluoresces under blue light has been used to make wine labels (as such, if the label on a bottle of 1947 Cheval Blanc glows under blue light, you’ve most likely got a fake on your hands).

3. Does a back-vintage bottle appear authentically aged? Counterfeiters use a variety of techniques to make bottles appear older than they actually are including staining with tobacco, dirt from shellac, and sanding.

4. Classic “white” glue has been used on wine labels since the 1960s, and like ultrawhite paper, that substance fluoresces under blue light. Beware glue stains around the edges of a label or around the capsule of the bottle, indicators that those components have been surreptitiously reapplied.

5. Speaking of the capsule, check for signs that it has been reapplied including multiple creases or residue from a previous closure. If a bottle has a wax capsule, check for thumbprints or irregular shaping. As a general rule, older bottles do not display recycling logos.

6. The typical length of corks in Bordeaux wines is 52-55mm, while some producers like Domaine de la Romanee Conti & Leroy in Burgundy and Gaja in Piemonte are famous for longer corks that fill the necks of the bottles. In either case, corks should be physically branded, not inked. Look also for ‘ah-so’ marks - two vertical grooves left on both sides of the cork caused by a tool used by sommeliers to pull fragile corks out of older bottles.

7. Observe the glass of the bottle - hand blown glass from the 19th century tends to wobble on flat surfaces. After 1930, all French wine bottles had their capacity embossed somewhere on the bottle.

8. Sediment naturally forms in wine over time as molecules in the solution bind to one another and precipitate out of the liquid. Older bottles will have more sediment than younger wines, so ensure that the amount of sediment is consistent with age. Fake sediment might appear to be too chunky, and may also sparkle when exposed to light.