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Rod Byers: Mixers and fakers

Once a wine is in the bottle there is no scientifically reliable way to verify the vintage, origin, or grape varieties used.

That makes wine among the easiest of luxury items to fake.

In contemplating a successful career as a wine counterfeiter there are two ways to go. Change what’s on the outside of the bottle or alter what’s in the bottle. Either way you’re misrepresenting the content of the bottle.



There are several things in the faker’s advantage when it comes to forging old wines.

First and foremost, nobody samples the bottle at the time of purchase. Open the wine and you kill it. You can’t peel the capsule, you can’t examine the cork. That destroys the value.




It might be years before the bottle is opened. Many investors never intend to open them, either to create a show-and-tell cellar or to resell the wine at a later date.

Secondly, how would you know if it tastes the way it’s supposed to?

Very few people are truly acquainted with old and rare wines.

There are so many variables with wine. Two bottles of a recent vintage, from the same winery, same vineyard, same year, can taste different.

It’s called bottle variation. What if you magnify that over 30, 50 or 70 years of aging time? What about variations in storage conditions? Even if you could trace your bottle back to where you got it, the seller could shrug and plead ignorance.

One technique for faking a wine is to change the label of an existing bottle of wine, perhaps even with one from the same winery but of lesser value. With the availability of quality scanners and printers, reproducing a label from a famous vintage is not that difficult.

The other option is to find a really valuable empty bottle. Even empty bottles are traded on a secondary market.

Use a cork from the same producer, either sanding off the vintage or sanding enough of it to change it. Fill the bottle and use wax to reseal the cork.

As far as content, make a blend with enough young wine to make it pleasing and enough old wine to give it credibility. A little Port wouldn’t hurt.

Hopefully this all sounds like a joke. But according to Serena Sutcliffe, the head of Sotheby’s international wine department, there was more 1945 Mouton (one of the legendary vintages of the entire 20th century) consumed on the fiftieth anniversary of the vintage, in 1995, than was ever produced to begin with.

One of the clichés about old wines is that there are no great wines, only great bottles.

So if you start with a decent wine and put it in a great bottle, give it the right pomp and ceremony, perhaps you end up with greatness.

The funny thing about that is that old wine typically tastes, well, old. They are too often frail and feeble.

A younger wine masquerading as an old wine will be praised for its youthful demeanor, even if it is totally out of character.

Jancis Robinson, a celebrated wine expert who attended three of Rodenstock’s annual wine weekends wrote “Thanks to Hardy Rodenstock however, I have had some of the most extraordinary tasting experiences of my life. I have no idea whether the bottle of Yquem 1811, the famous year of the comet, served in Munich was genuine, but I assure you it was one of the most delicious liquids I have ever tasted, even if strangely raspberry-flavoured. Anyone who could create that has my respect.”

How do you spell sizzle?

Rod Byers is Director of Marketing at Nevada City WInery, is a CSW certified wine educator, teaches wine classes at Sierra College and is a California State certified Wine Judge. He can be reached by e-mail at wineonpine@sbcglobal.net or by phone at 530-913-3703.


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