Myths and Reality of the Current State of Counterfeit Wine

By: Siobhan Turner

It is interesting when I talk to people about what I do, what their reactions are.  Many people are surprised it’s a problem.  Most collectors assume they are far too savvy ever to get caught.  Wine trade people know it’s an issue, but many assume it’s nothing to do with them.  Keen wine drinkers who are not top end collectors assume that the problem is confined to auction wines and older wines.  Strangely enough, it is some of my less wine-knowledgeable friends who seem to understand most the true scale of counterfeiting, and the potential damage it can do.  So, it seemed to me like it was time to address some of the myths about the current state of counterfeit wine.

Myth: If I don’t buy old wine, I’m not at risk

 We are seeing more and more younger vintage counterfeits coming onto the market.  Certainly older wines are more risky, especially as it is easier to fake a provenance story for them (remember: there is no fake wine without an accompanying fake provenance story….)  But younger wines are far from exempt.  Just have a look at some of these…. 

“How can I make sure that I don’t have any counterfeit bottle in my cellar?” That is the question that many hoteliers and restaurateurs increasingly ask themselves. For premium outlets and large operations such as hotels that receive and sell cases of fine wines on a daily basis, the answer is not easy and concerned operators face many challenges to implement good practices. Firstly, unless you have a sommelier or buyer certified as an authenticator and able to dedicate at least half of his time to the task, inspection of each bottle upon reception is not a practical option. Outlets are meant to generate profit and the staff’s main efforts, once the buying decision has been made, should be focused on how to sell the wine rather than questioning its authenticity. On the other side, as in all industries, it requires a certain degree of skills and knowledge to sell the most expensive products (which are primary targets for counterfeiters) therefore training oneself and one’s staff to detect the most obvious fakes is a necessary first step to implement a vigilant mindset when dealing with premium and expensive items in the same way as a chef will cautiously inspect a delivery of Alba white truffles to make sure he gets the right stuff.

It is interesting when I talk to people about what I do, what their reactions are. Many people are surprised it’s a problem. Most collectors assume they are far too savvy ever to get caught. Wine trade people know it’s an issue, but many assume it’s nothing to do with them. Keen wine drinkers who are not top end collectors assume that the problem is confined to auction wines and older wines. Strangely enough, it is some of my less wine-knowledgeable friends who seem to understand most the true scale of counterfeiting, and the potential damage it can do. So, it seemed to me like it was time to address some of the myths about the current state of counterfeit wine.

Myth: If I don’t buy old wine, I’m not at risk

We are seeing more and more younger vintage counterfeits coming onto the market. Certainly older wines are more risky, especially as it is easier to fake a provenance story for them (remember: there is no fake wine without an accompanying fake provenance story….) But younger wines are far from exempt. Just have a look at some of these….

We are also seeing counterfeiters much more able to fake some of the antifraud now. Just have a look at this bottle of “Petrus”, complete with the embossed PETRVS on the punt…

But, in fact, one of our eagle-eyed authenticators, Domonal Young from Hong Kong, spotted that this was, in fact, moulded plastic adhered to the bottom of the bottle….

Vigilance is everything.

Myth: My wine buying is not at the £1000/bottle level, so I am not at risk

OK – this is not entirely false. You are certainly at much less risk if you are buying in the under £40/bottle range, especially if your purchases are from reputable merchants who source their wines direct from the authorised distributors.

That said, if you buy outside of these channels, whether through a broker or at auction, do not be complacent simply because your wine is less expensive.

Myth: Counterfeits are only found in auction houses

How I wish this were true. It would make my job, and that of all the WineFraud team, so much easier…

It is of course well known that certain auction houses DO have a problem with counterfeits: the “Swedish Nobleman’s Cellar” at Dragon8 in HK in 2015, the Spectrum/Vanquish auction from which lots were summarily withdrawn in 2012 when Don Cornwall went public with his proof of counterfeit, the “Billionaire’s Vinegar” wines sold by Christie’s, and multiple sales of Rudy Kurniawan produce at Christie’s and, of course, Acker Merrall & Condit. It is not just the major houses either – I have recently acted for a client who bought counterfeit wine from a small regional auction house in the north west of England.

But to believe that the problem lies solely with auction houses is to ignore the sad reality. This bottle was recently for sale by a UK broker and merchant:

Spot the problem? Have a closer look….

And they are far from unique. Across the world, wine merchants are at ever greater risk of counterfeit wine as expectations of financial returns increase, and knowledge of what to look for decreases.

Fact: Your best defence against counterfeits is knowledge and vigilance

Understanding where the risks are, what the current trends in counterfeiting are, and how to look for both fakes and authenticity is your best defence against fake wine, and the damage that can do to your personal wealth or your professional reputation.

WineFraud.com runs regular training programmes for collectors and people in the trade. More information is available here: