It’s All in the Label

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It’s All in the Label: Counterfeit Wine and Its Telltale Signs

Friends Having Dinner PartyIs that high-dollar 1922 bottle of chardonnay on your table really the wine you paid for? The wine counterfeiting business is ubiquitous; it’s thriving and making it difficult to determine the authenticity of your purchase. Wine collectors in the U.S., China, and other foreign markets are falling victim to counterfeiting, boosting the profits of this illicit business. Rudy Kurniawan, convicted counterfeit wine distributor, sold at least $50 million in counterfeit wine during his years of fakery. So how do you determine whether the bottle you’re buying is the real deal?

It’s what’s on the outside that counts

By the time you open and taste the wine, it’s too late. Wine can change over time, for better or worse. The only thing you can do is enjoy the contents, whether or not they’re what you thought. However, there are ways to determine the authenticity of your bottle before popping the cork.

Maureen Downey, wine consultant and founder of WineFraud.com, says labels are the best aid to sniffing out the fakes. Telltale signs include:

  • A 1945 bottle with a clearly pixelated label, despite the scarcity of laser printers in 1945
  • Splotchy patches of fake oxidation — forgers often use tea or tobacco to mimic label oxidation, while true oxidation affects all exposed paper
  • Wear marks that appear to be printed in ink

Downey also says to do the research to see if the wines were actually produced in the year on the label. It’s harder to fake the newer fine wines because many are outfitted with anti-counterfeit technology in the labels and bottles.

Keep it real

Maintaining authenticity can be as simple as applying good practices to your labeling. That is made easier by techniques such as optical variable coatings with changing colors, thermochromic inks, and watermarks. Bar codes and holograms are also useful tools to ensure the genuineness of your product.

One of the most effective tools for maintaining authenticity in labeling is radio-frequency identification (RFID). These tags store electronic information that allows the recognition of objects through wireless communications in a set frequency band. Unlike bar codes, RFID devices include batch information that can be interrogated at a distance without requiring the line of sight.

RFID is expensive, so, naturally, you’ll need to consider the cost of your product before implementing it. Sometimes a bar code or a simple, truthful label will suffice.