The fine-wine boom is attracting forgers
Taste is a delicate thing
WINE buffs are like art collectors.
Few can tell the difference between a well-made fake and the real thing.
Yet whereas counterfeit art has been around for centuries, wine forgery is relatively new.
It started in the late 1970s when the prices of the best wines—especially those from Bordeaux—shot up.
Today, with demand from China fuelling a remarkable boom, counterfeiting is rife.
By some estimates 5% of fine wines sold at auction or on the secondary market are not what they claim to be on the label.
The simplest technique is to slap the label of a 1982 Chateau Lafite onto a bottle of 1975 Lafite.
Another trick is to bribe the sommelier of a fancy restaurant to pass on empty bottles that once held expensive wine, along with the corks.
These can be refilled with cheaper wine, recorked and resealed.
Empty Lafite and Latour bottles are sold on eBay for several hundred euros.
The margins are fruity.
A great wine may cost hundreds of times more than a merely excellent one.
Small wonder that oenophiles are growing more vigilant.
Bill Koch, an energy tycoon and avid wine collector, currently has five lawsuits pending against merchants, auctioneers and other collectors.
His grape-related gripes began in 2006, when he filed a complaint against a German wine dealer who sold bottles of Lafite he claimed had once belonged to Thomas Jefferson.
The case is unresolved.
There is a code of silence in the industry, says Mr Koch, who owns 43,000 bottles of wine and estimates that he has spent 4m-5m on fakes.
Some collectors are too proud to admit that they have been duped.
Others fear sullying a vintage's reputation and thereby reducing the value of their own collections.
So instead of speaking out, they dump their fakes into auctions or sell them to other private collectors, says Mr Koch.
Wine merchants and auction houses say they are doing everything they can to filter out the fakes.
Simon Berry, the chairman of Berry Brothers & Rudd, a British wine merchant, says his firm never buys wines from before 2000 unless they come from its own cellars.
Christie's, an auctioneer, says all the wines it auctions are inspected three times by different people, using detailed checklists for condition and authenticity.
Fear of fakery has not stopped the boom.
But the wines that win the best prices at auction are those whose provenance is certain.
In May, Christie's sold an impériale of 1961 Latour for $216,000 in Hong Kong.
It came directly from the cellars of Chateau Latour.