A glass of wine is a hallmark of a good meal unless of course, you accidentally purchased a counterfeit. With the sheer variety of wines produced and the highly specialized knowledge needed to discern tastes and flavors, the wine industry has become a prime target for counterfeits.
Global demand for wine has seen a recent increase. This has been due to consumption and production of wine in developing markets, discovery of health benefits, and social trends leading to wider use in various demographics. As with many other industries, the increase in demand for wine has invited rogue sellers of counterfeits to the market, and it is now estimated that five percent of all fine wines in the secondary market are counterfeit bottles. The counterfeit alcohol market is responsible for an estimated $1 billion loss to the alcohol industry.
- China is the largest producer of counterfeit wine, with five percent of the $13.7 billion Chinese wine market estimated to be counterfeit.
- Due to the rarity of vintage wines, demand increases with the prestige of the winery and a high market value.
- To prevent counterfeiting of expensive vintage wines some wine merchants are now smashing empty bottles after tastings.
- Among the many revered labels, Chateau Lafite Rothschild vintage wines have been sold for as much as $5,900 and the empty bottle has garnered $1,500 on the black market.
How can you avoid purchasing counterfeit wine? Be on the lookout for:
- Cork tampering and/or Unusually high fill levels are often a sign that the bottle has been refilled
- Incorrect or uncharacteristic bottle shape
- Errors on the label such as misspelling and font abnormalities
- Corks with incorrect vintage stamp (most vineyards stamp their corks to match the bottle label or vineyard name). Corks that have been in a bottle for at least ten years tend to crumble or break easily when removed
- Make sure bottle markings/engravings match the label
- Watch out for bottles that look “too new” for their alleged vintage year. For old wines: watch out for wines with unusually deep color or without any sediment - This may be a sign of tampering.
- Label damage/staining: Vintage wines have been aged and the packaging should reflect this, thus presentation should not look brand new.
- Check market prices when buying fine wines to ensure it is consistent with your selection
- Wines imported into the United States MUST have a USA strip label on the bottle that lists the name of the importer.
- Compare wines of the same vintage year as they should have similar capsules - the foil of protective seal found on the top of bottles.
Counterfeit wines are not only illegal but can pose danger to consumers if the ingredients used are unsafe for consumption. Be sure to purchase wines from reputable merchants and be vigilant when purchasing online. Many large, bulk sellers source to independent sellers who create dubious store fronts and post listings on auction sites – making it all the more likely that counterfeit product makes its way into the hands of unsuspecting consumers. Locating authorized sellers and reading user feedback decreases the chances of buying suspicious goods.