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Counterfeit Wine: 5 Signs You're Sipping on Fraud

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By Aditi Mukherji, JD on June 05, 2013 9:27 AM

Counterfeit wine is becoming the toast of the fraudulent town. As a recent lawsuit reported by Wine Spectator shows, damages can skyrocket into the millions.

If you're a business owner in the food or beverage industry, you'll want to do your due diligence to make sure you're getting what you paid for.

An insider's guide to counterfeiting wine featured in Businessweek gives a rundown of the collectible scam. Here's what to watch out for when it comes to five types of counterfeit wine:

  1. Relabeled bottles: Look at the cork. The simplest tactic used to counterfeit wine is to slap the label of a fine wine onto another, similar-looking bottle. Slightly more sophisticated counterfeiters will use a bottle from the same vineyard but of a less-acclaimed vintage, reports Businessweek. Fortunately, one look at the name and year on the cork, and the counterfeit curtain lifts.
  2. Recycled bottles: Know the taste. Some vino con artists use authentic, correctly labeled bottles and refill them with lower-quality wine. In some cases of wine fraud, a recorking machine is used, which makes evidence of tampering tough to spot. To combat this, know the taste of the fine wines you order for your business. Convincing substitutes can be costly for fraudsters, so you'll likely be able to spot the taste difference.
  3. "Reverse fraud": Know the bottle. This is a sneaky method used online that is relatively rare. A reverse fraud happens when a buyer orders an authentic bottle of a fine wine online but then, upon arrival, tells the seller to void the sale because the buyer suspects it's fake. The buyer then keeps the fine wine and returns a counterfeit bottle of wine.
  4. Blended wines: Research the seller. To make the deception more palatable, counterfeiters will often try to throw off a connoisseur's fine-tuned taste buds by adding a splash of a high-end bottle of wine. It can make the counterfeit juice taste quite a bit like the original. When the taste is really close, you should look into the production and distribution chain.
  5. Sweet water: Trust your sweet tooth. The Wine Institute in California allows winemakers to add a certain amount of water to wines. Amusingly, a code word for the water is "Jesus units," referring to the Biblical story in which Jesus turned water into wine. Fraudsters adulterate this practice by diluting wine with sugar water. If it tastes sweeter than it should, that should raise a red tannin flag.

Cheers to spotting the real deal!

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