I. How to Identify Fake Wines
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
Category 1: Original bottle, no refill, different vintage
The first category is by far the most expensive fake wine – here, the original bottle from the chateau, e.g. Chateau Lafite Rothschild, has been used but the vintage on the label has been carefully changed from a 1984 to a much more expensive vintage like 1982 for example (I have had seen this many times). This is extremely hard to tell by inspecting the bottle itself. The one clue is looking at the cork itself, which will reveal the genuine vintage. This bottle has not been tampered with, only the vintage has been changed on the label so it is extremely difficult to tell by looking at the bottle, capsule or even the vintage on the label which is often very well done. Either the entire label was very well copied and pasted onto the bottle or just one number on the original label was carefully rubbed off and then printed with a different number. In either case, from the label alone, it is very difficult to tell as this is a top grade, expensive fake. TIP: Before opening, remove the entire capsule and before opening, read the vintage on the cork to determine the correct vintage on the cork matches that on the label. If the label and cork are different vintages, it is possible to request a refund from the supplier.
Category 2: Original bottle, refilled, correct label and vintage
The market for empty bottles in Southern China is huge and the rate for top chateaux’ empty bottles can start from 500RMB upwards to over 1,000RMB. That is because these bottles are refilled and the capsules and corks are also replaced. It is relatively easy to replicate the capsule and cork so this is one of the most popular category of fake wines. TIP: Look out for the quality and colour of the capsule and compare this with those you know were ex-chateau products. The cork from top chateaux are usually of top quality with fine grains and are longer than standard wine corks. Become more familiar with the capsule and cork of genuine wines. The easiest way to judge wines from this category is by taste – the inferior wine pales in comparison with the original.
Category 3: Fake bottle but original label
Labels are easily removed from the original wines, so one needs to understand the type of bottle that wineries use since the bottle is a fake – for example, note the unique shape of bottles from Haut Brion or those of DRC, which is very expensive to replicate. Therefore wines using standard bottles easily found in other parts of the world are the most often replicated. This category is not as commonly found as category 2 and 4. TIP: The clues to look for are quality of the bottle (weight and dimension) and the correct colour/tint compared with original bottles; the capsule and cork will also be fake, so all 3 aspects of the wine’s packaging offer clues.
Category 4: Fake bottle, fake label, cork and capsule
This category is the most common and the cheapest type of fake so it is genuinely easier to detect these fakes. The bottle will be of inferior quality as will the capsule (often too new and the wrong shade), cork (short and grainy rather than long and fine) and most importantly for older wines (vintages from 1990 onwards), there will be no crust around the capsule when it is removed which is common in older wines. Also the label will be very new looking and because of the cheap ink that will likely have been used, the ink easily rubs off if rubbed with napkin and water. Capsule will also be large and round (rather than shriveled), which is a sign of a young wine not one with 20+ years of age for older vintages.
II. General Tips to Help Identify Fakes
Chateau-bottled wines have the correct vintage and brand printed on the cork. Before 1970, wine was often shipped in casks to wine merchants who bottled the wine themselves (leading to labeling such as ‘Belgium bottled’, ‘Berry Bros bottled’, etc). Recorking There is a tradition of recorking wines and refilling the bottle after about 30 years of age – generally from a recent vintage. In this case, the cork will indicate both the original vintage and the recorking vintage.
For old wines, some label damage is to be expected and perfect condition is a sign of possible fraud and/or storage in too-dry conditions. Wine stored within the correct humidity range can naturally lead to some label staining. It is common to find spelling errors, font changes, etc.
Laser etching, microchips, holograms, Prooftag & DNA are the most commonly found.
In 2012, Chateau Lafite Rothschild announced that all bottles from the 2009 vintage will use Prooftag anti-fraud seals. Prooftag is a capsule seal with a 13-numbered code authenticating individual bottles. Carruades de Lafite, the property’s second wine, will use the same system from the 2010 vintage, as will any earlier vintages coming direct from the chateau. Of the Bordeaux top wines, Chateau Ausone, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Latour all use the system. Other key properties include Palmer and Smith Haut Lafitte, Chateau Montelena in California, Domaine de Comte Lafon and Domaine Ponsot in Burgundy and in the Rhone.
Wines that have been traded many times, or where there is uncertainty about the ownership, are clearly more open to fraud. At the other end of the market, there are wines that have been cellared at a chateau since bottling. These command a premium in the market and in this case, the label can look pristine.
US Strip Labels
Wines imported into the USA must have a USA strip label on the bottle stating the importer’s name. A wine with a USA strip label should be dealt with carefully since it means that not only has the wine travelled from France to the US, it has crossed the ocean again to arrive in HK/Macau.
Be wary of wines that look too good for their age, labels that are too perfect, or fill levels that are too high for their age. Be careful of what seems to good to be true – it probably is too good to be true. Buy only from reliable merchants and not from small dealers who offer better prices – they don’t pay for the extra air-conditioning and better storage/transport systems, which cost more money.
Top 10 Faked Wines (According to WineAuthentication.com)
- Cheval Blanc 1921
- Cheval Blanc 1947
- Lafite 1787 Thomas Jefferson (single bottle format)
- Lafite 1870
- Lafleur 1947
- Lafleur 1950
- Latour a Pomerol 1961
- Margaux 1900
- Petrus 1921
- Petrus 1947
Examples of Anti-Fake Measures by Producers
DRC: All bottles are numbered and for the past nearly 10 years, a record is kept by all DRC’s agents around the world of the numbers and who they were sold to. Also, there is a secret identification method on the label which can be examined. The bottle itself is unique to DRC and very costly to replicate.
Chateau Petrus: A pattern appears on recent Pétrus labels under UV light.
Château Margaux: Laser-etching the glass with a serial number that can be traced back to the original seller/negociant. They started doing this in 1989.
Penfolds: Also laser-etches its bottles.
Reprinted with permission from Galaxy Macau