Last month we placed the fake wines coming out of China under the microscope, asking our followers if they could spot the two fakes from the real deal. Alarmingly, very few people could tell the difference. Counterfeits are a big concern for all wine brands, and not just for Australia’s most iconic brand Penfolds. According to fraud experts, 20% of all wine currently circulating the globe is fake.
With that in mind, I reached out to Australia’s Scott Evers of www.wineauthentication.com.au to help us understand the world of counterfeit wine. Scott is one of only eight people globally to be mentored by the world’s leading wine fraud expert, Maureen Downey. When fully qualified, Scott will become a TCM Licensed Wine Authenticator. With Maureen’s unparalleled training backing him up, Scott offers this invaluable advice every winelover in the world should heed.
Drew (Wine Wankers): How prevalent are fake wines these days?
Scott Evers: 20% of all wine currently circulating the globe is fake (which is in line with all luxury goods). This is actually a conservative figure and the number is growing each year. It’s not just rare wines that are counterfeited, many more ‘commercial’ wines are now also being counterfeited.
Drew: What’s the easiest way to tell if a wine is fake?
Scott: A bad fake is obvious on first look…. Poor print, wrong paper, misspellings, missing info etc. ‘better’ fakes require experienced authenticators to examine bottles more closely.
Drew: Which wine is the most forged in the world?
Scott: For older wine, the most counterfeited producer is between DRC & Petrus, but Lafite and d’Yquem are up there as well. For a particular bottling of wine, 1945 Mouton is probably most counterfeited. In Asia, Penfolds Grange and Bin 707 are the most highly counterfeited, along with Lafite. The counterfeit trend today is for more current vintages and recent releases of very high-end Burgundy and Bordeaux.
Drew: Is it easier to forge wines these days with the advent of digital printing?
Scott: Yes of course
Drew: What are the top tips for buying genuine wine?
Scott: I have a number of tips but most of it is common sense
- Purchase direct from the producer;
- Only purchase from merchants who have zero history of selling counterfeits;
- Only buy from vendors (auction houses, retailers etc) who can prove the stories of provenance they are telling or have trained authenticators either directly employed or who are a third party consulting to them. (Remember a piece of paper claiming provenance can easily be counterfeited too and this generally is NOT enough proof!);
- Only buy wines that have been formally authenticated and registered in the Chai Wine Vault block chain as this guarantees the provenance for the lifetime of that bottle. Also, look at who merchants are associated with and the company they keep. People who stand alongside merchants/people that knowingly sell counterfeits is a cause for alarm.
Drew: Why is Maureen Downey the world’s best wine fraud expert?
Scott: Many reasons, but this will give you the best info on her https://www.winefraud.com/about-us/team/maureen-downey/. [You cannot cut and paste this exert unfortunately]
Drew: What’s one secret that she’s taught you that you were blown away by?
Scott: That most infamous wine counterfeiters (Rudy Kurniawan etc) unknowingly leave a mark/footprint on their work that is evident across all of their counterfeits. So, experienced authenticators often ascertain as to where/who that fake has come from once they stumble across that common mark.
Drew: What kind of wine are counterfeiters putting in the bottles?
Scott: It varies. Some use other, lesser vintages of the same wine. Some use a combination of cheap wines and flavour additives. Some use a blend of other valuable, but certainly lesser than the bottle they are purporting to represent as authentic. Here are a couple of specific examples that Maureen Downey has come across – I.e. – Marcassin Pinot Noir + other wine, for 1945 DRC Romanee-Conti. Or Duckhorn merlot + Liberty Bay Cellars merlot, + something old for 1940’s/50’s Pomerol. One important point to note is that an unsuspecting buyer does not know what is in a counterfeited wine. This is scary when you consider there are cases where people have died from drinking counterfeited wine! I’ve had very wealthy businessman say to me “oh well, even if it’s a fake wine our VIP guests at the table will see this DRC bottle as being authentic, its more about image and impressing our clients so we will enjoy drinking the wine regardless” – You could imagine the look on their faces when I tell them the story of people dying from drinking fake wine!
Drew: Do you ever use a Coravin to test a wine to see if it’s the real deal – and if so, does it decrease the value of the wine or increase because tasting reveals the quality if good [note: Coravin is a wine preserving system that inserts a needle into the top of allowing wine to be extracted from a bottle without uncorking – it replaces the wine with an inert gas]
Scott: No never, and this is a very important point – Taste is not a measure of authenticity. No one can taste for authenticity. If they could, convicted counterfeiters like Rudy Kurniawan, Hardy Rodenstock, Kahled Rouabab, and Alexandre Lubov etc would not have been able to be so prolific! And yes – piercing with a Coravin destroys the value. Sadly, it is also now a counterfeiting technique by which people drain and refill bottles! Also, again reiterating my point above, you do not know what has been put in a counterfeit bottle of wine, so I for one would certainly not want to taste it if there were red flags to its authenticity.
Drew: Which wine brand has the best security measures in place to stop counterfeiters?
Scott: Ha, the ones counterfeiters do not know about! Maureen and all trainees are abundantly protective of the information we know, and as mentioned Maureen is teaching the very small group of TCM Certified Authenticator trainees (myself included), about the measures producers are using to counter fraud. If we make that public, it is a huge disservice to the producers we are trying to assist! In general, what I can say is that many producers layer anti-fraud technologies, and do not rely on one thing to protect them.
Drew: What’s an average day for a wine fraud investigator look like?
Scott: Not as glamourous as some people may think! Long hours, hard, exhausting and repetitious work, often dirty… but also intriguing, fascinating and you get to meet many fellow wine lovers and incredible cellars around the world! There is a lot of paperwork and repetition required for formal authentication of wines (and sadly not enough drinking), so it’s not all glamour and romance!
Drew: What are some of the tools of your trade?
Scott: Lighting, magnification, measuring, cutting, cleaning, photography…..and a deep knowledge of wine, producers, packaging, technologies/changes, classification systems, food and beverage laws in respective countries, forensic techniques etc
Drew: How expensive are you to hire?
Scott: I am not yet fully trained, so am not yet taking clients for authentication and charging yet…. It is currently being worked out in our business model, but it will be in line with what Maureen and her company charges. I will be offering many different services at different price points. My company called Wine Authentication is registered and we have a website www.wineauthentication.com.au, however I will not start taking clients until I am TCM Master Authenticator qualified and licensed.
Drew: Have you ever been wrong?
Scott: I haven’t started ‘formally’ authenticating yet. That said, I am learning from the best in Maureen Downey who to date has not been proven wrong! The TCM Formal Reporting Methods we use are thorough and exhaustive. We use a 90+ point system to authenticate each bottle, along with other inspection methods required in a laboratory.
Drew: Do you offer a money back guarantee – if so, how does that work?
Scott: Authentication is an art, not a science. I will offer my professional opinion of authenticity. Each client will be presented and agree to a personalized/tailor-made job contract. What I will do is assure clients that I will render findings that I have formally prepared to defend in a court of law, for insurance purposes etc if required. It is our expertise and the rarity of the skill set that our clients are getting.