Regrettably, criminal elements are present in all industries at one time or another and the wine industry is by no means exempt from this phenomenon.
Recently, there have been some startling revelations in the French press, concerning wine fraud in the Cotes du Rhône region.
Without seeing the details of such a case, it could be presumed that this involved a few dozen cases that were mis-sold or wrongly described.
However, the fraud was on such a scale that it is one of the largest ever discovered in France – and unfortunately there have been a few others in recent past history.
The discovery came last year, and it is estimated that 66.5 million bottles of cheap wine were falsely sold as Cotes du Rhône between 2013 and 2016, representing around 15 percent of annual production.
The incentive, as always, is extra profit and with so much wine swilling around it is easy to see how a few vats of cheap wine could be blended and passed off as something a lot more expensive.
Even more recently, another scam was discovered in Bordeaux, with tanks of wine being ‘mislabelled’ as more expensive types and wines from other regions being blended in and sold as Bordeaux. Thankfully, there is a vigilant team of government funded inspectors, who try to ensure that all wine sold is authenticated, whatever the source.
Hefty fines have been handed out to the culprits of this particular case.
Throughout history, wine fraud has come and gone. Many of us can probably remember the scandal with Algerian wines in the ’60s and ’70s and in recent times there have been the labelling frauds in China. Fairly ordinary plonk labelled as Chateau Lafite, for example. Thankfully from our viewpoint, most if not all of that stayed in China. Yet another fraud was discovered in the US a few years ago, where a seemingly reputable trader conned a fair number of millionaires into buying very expensive wines in auction, which were, in fact, fakes.
So, the question arises as to how to avoid these cons and be sure that what’s inside the bottle really is what it says on the label.
There is seldom a 100 percent guarantee of anything, but a few pointers may provide a guide to greater product authenticity.
Although not always foolproof, I look for the words ‘mis en bouteille au chateau/domaine’ or ‘mis en bouteille à la propriété’, indicating that the wine has been bottled at the source of production, hopefully where the grapes were grown.
If the owners name is also on the bottle with the words ‘Proprietaire-Recoltant’, so much the better, since his reputation is at stake.
The great majority of wine trading companies are, of course, perfectly law-abiding and proud of their wines and the way in which they handle them, with both care and professionalism. It is a shame that a few rogue traders dent the reputation of all.
For further reassurance when buying wine, deal with a company you know or ask an adviser whose opinion you trust.
You do it with your finances, so why not do it with your wines?
Whatever you do, don’t be put off French wines just because of a scandal or two. France still produces many of the best wines in the world.
Scams are an unfortunate part of commerce around the globe and wine fraud unfortunately has happened and will probably happen again, in many different wine producing countries.
Some are discovered and some aren’t.
Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit www.winewyse.com.
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