Friday, December 9, 2016

Counterfeit Wine is Fascinating

Buying fake wine is not a problem you or I are likely to have, but it is fascinating nonetheless. Unscrupulous people have created fake bottles of rare, old, or expensive wines by blending together other wines and putting them into bottles made to look like the real thing. These counterfeiters age the bottles and labels, and sometimes buy bottles of the real wines to drink and refill with their imitation blend. To do this successfully takes a lot of wine expertise and a lot of startup money. These people are usually looking to make a buck, but they seem to also get a kick out of the prestige of circulating with the top collectors, critics, and writers of the wine world and offering up impressive (fake) bottles for tastings and auctions.

So many aspects of this are fascinating to me:  the process of creating a believable fake, the way the counterfeiters ingratiate themselves with collectors and experts so that the bottles they produce will be accepted as authentic, and the forensic detective work that can unmask the frauds. Another attractive aspect may be that I don't expect to ever have to worry that a wine I'm buying is a fake, for the simple reason that I doubt I'll ever buy a wine so expensive that a wine counterfeiter would bother to fake it. Creating a fake wine is only worthwhile at the very top of the wine market, where wealthy collectors are spending thousands per bottle.

I can recommend a great book and a great movie about fake wine. The Billionaire's Vinegar is an excellent wine detective story that begins with a bottle supposedly once owned by Thomas Jefferson. A wine aficionado will recognize many of the names and places, but no wine knowledge is necessary to enjoy the story. (A movie of the book has been listed on as "in development" for several years. Matthew McConaughey was set to star at one time.)

A great documentary about another massive wine fraud is Sour Grapes, which is currently available to stream on Netflix. Here's the trailer:

Either of these would be a great way to spend a few hours during your holiday time off, and the book would make a great gift.

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