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The Fake Wine Epidemic

The Fake Wine Epidemic

From old and rare to new and easy, the world is overflowing with wines that aren’t quite what they seem.

Even when educated about counterfeits, consumers may feel that fake sneakers or handbags are harmless. Or at least harmless to them. But what about fake wine and spirits?

Counterfeit wine has become more prevalent together with increasing demand. It is estimated that wine around the world accounts for billions of dollars, and the wine market size is expected to grow. In today’s global and digital world, counterfeit wines are a troubling issue for the wine world, be it in Europe, the U.S., China, or elsewhere around the world.


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Wine fraud

Wine fraud has many forms, from fraud in the production of wine to fraud in wine investment. Here we take a look at the type of wine fraud in which scammers lead consumers to believe they are buying a specific wine when they are in fact getting an inferior, sometimes harmful, drink.

There are two ways to do this: fake the bottle or the wine inside.

Perhaps the most common type of wine fraud is the adulteration of wine by substances that have nothing to do with grapes. If the label says “wine,” it means that it is made with the fermented juice of grapes. What scammers do is substitute wine for cheaper substances, which may be harmless, but may also be harmful chemicals, toxins, and sweeteners, such as methanol.

Another way to fake wine involves cheaper wines that are labeled and sold as more expensive wines. One common way is the misattribution of origins to raise the price of the wine.

In 2018, for example, authorities discovered 66 million bottles of fake Côtes du Rhône wine were sold by fraudsters. Also in 2018, about 4.6 million bottles of Spanish rosé wine were found to be labeled as French.

This month, Italian police seized 4,200 counterfeit bottles of Bolgheri Sassicaia wine. To combat fake labels and the misattribution of origins, countries developed appellation systems and protected designation of origin (PDOs), especially in Europe.

This type of intellectual property protects local wine brands, such as Chianti in Italy.


The Fake Wine Epidemic


Another way is misdating vintages so that the wine appears to come from a popular vintage. For this fraud, counterfeiters must copy bottles, corks, and packaging.

Wine fraud goes beyond mislabeling. It often involves refilling empty authentic bottles with a lesser wine and selling it as the authentic vintage. In one case investigated during the coronavirus pandemic, Europol working with Italian police had discovered low-quality wines refilled in bottles under original labels and then sold on an online platform.

The wine world is known to have “unicorns.” Unicorn wines are wines that are highly coveted but rare and very hard to find. Fraudsters sometimes create a story of such a rare and precious bottle and sell it to collectors. They can quote the name of a famous dead winemaker or tell of an old wine miraculously found. Counterfeiters may also offer a fake provenance story to increase the price of a wine.

The intoxicating mix of passion and profit has not only created unicorns. The wine world has its share of notorious counterfeiters.

One is Rudy Kurniawan, who sold bottles of fake rare wines with copied labels of blends he made in his house. It is estimated that counterfeit wines of his valued at hundreds of millions of dollars are still in circulation.

Hardy Rodenstock was also accused of selling fake rare wines, including the well-known sale of four bottles of wine allegedly owned by Thomas Jefferson for $400,000, later found to be counterfeited. The story had it all: the most expensive bottle of wine sold at Christie’s at the time (1985), a made-up story of a collection discovered in an old Paris cellar, wines from top vineyards, the initials Th.J. As rare and old as they were, the bottles were said to have a high level of wine and deep color. The New Yorker reports the wine’s value was listed as “inestimable.”

Counterfeits of older, expensive wines are just part of the fake wine story. Counterfeits of younger wines are also out there, and the trend is growing. Counterfeiters are moving away from only the high-end wines to mid-range bottles and recent vintages that do not require to fake the aging process. Remember, if there is money to be made, the product is surely counterfeited. It is as simple as that.


Buy wine from a trusted source

If you purchase wine from trustworthy sellers or the wine producers themselves, the risk of the wine being fake is much lower. Buying outside of channels is riskier. Collectors who have purchased fine wines in the secondary market, such as at auction houses, or from sellers who use a secondary market source to buy the wine, are more likely to have purchased counterfeits.


The Fake Wine Epidemic


Buyers beware

Wine is easy to fake. A closed bottle cannot tell the whole story, and counterfeiters are becoming more sophisticated in making the wine, bottle, label, cork, and packaging believable and very hard to spot.

There are many levels of fake wines. Like with other counterfeited products, sometimes fakes are easy to spot due to misspelled wine names or other errors.

However, it is often difficult to know if you have a counterfeit wine, although there are things to beware of. First, buy from a trusted source. In addition, if you want to buy a unique one-of-a-kind bottle or any other old, expensive wine, do your homework. There are ways to look at bottles, labels, history, and other subtle signs to try and verify that the wine is authentic.

For example, an old bottle with a recycling logo. Many wine labels are almost impossible to recreate, yet super-fakes are incredibly hard to spot. Also, label examination is useless when authentic bottles are refilled and sold with original labels. Therefore, in some cases, it is best to seek expert advice to authenticate the bottle.


Online wine 

Wine is sold online on generic marketplaces, specialized websites, and wine apps.

The wine industry has seen a change due to COVID-19. Wineries, especially small ones, are looking for ways to make up for lost revenue. Instead of wine tastings, wineries are going digital with online sales, instructional videos, and Instagram accounts.

Online retailers such as Naked Wines saw a spike in demand during the pandemic. Wine.com has also experienced unprecedented growth, and so did Yesmywine.com, the largest online wine retailer in China. Wine apps such as Wine Searcher (WS) and Vivino are also becoming more popular. Wine-Searcher enables price searching and comparison, while Vivino allows users to scan a wine label for information about the wine.

However, online fake wine is particularly hard to spot.


Wiser Market Online Brand Protection


Wine brand protection

Wine, especially valuable wine, has become a target for counterfeiters and even more so as wine is increasingly offered online.

Wine brands face a growing threat from counterfeiters. The need to take action is more crucial than ever due to the shift in consumer behavior during COVID-19, as wineries and customers alike turn to online wine sales.

We believe in being proactive and stopping those who damage your brand and revenue.

Wine is a world in itself, yet there is a lot to be learned from online anti-counterfeiting efforts in other industries. We work with clients across various industries and offer a comprehensive online brand protection solution, from detection to taking down fake products.

The Wiser Market solution combines cutting-edge technology and unique eCommerce know-how. Our advanced monitoring system and dedicated experts provide you with an automatic brand protection solution, designed to take the pain away – we do the hard and sizific work required to safeguard your brand online, so that you can focus on growing your business while knowing that your consumers get the real deal – without falling to piracy or fraud.

Whether you wish to fight counterfeiting, prevent intellectual property infringements, track your supply chain, or combat gray market selling – Wiser Market is your ideal partner.



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