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Fraud Prevention 101: What to Know Before You Spend $100K on Wine

Is your fancy wine a fake? Here's six ways to be sure you're drinking the real thing.

So, just when you're ready to stockpile your custom-built bunker of a wine cellar, along comes Rudy Kurniawan to spoil the party. If Kurniawan's name isn't familiar to you, be happy. Be very, very happy. Earlier this month he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for swindling wealthy wine collectors by upwards of $20 million in fake French wines that he concocted—get this—in his home kitchen. What's got collectors and auction houses so jittery is that Kurniawan's fakes—he made around 1,600 bottles—have infiltrated the wine market and may be sold at auctions for decades to come, according to prosecutors.

So how can a regular guy spot a fake, if even the experts are worried? Maureen Downey, DWS, CWE, of ChaiConsulting.com & WineFraud.com—"The Sherlock Holmes of Wine"—gave us some tips.

1) ASK QUESTIONS
"Ask about the Provenance of the wine. Where did it come from, and how has it been stored? After all, getting a real bottle of cooked or sun-damaged wine is just as bad as getting a counterfeit! If the response is "I have been in business for 20 years and I trust this source" Don't be OK with that. Before laying out hundreds of thousands of dollars, demand to know the source of the wine. Seeing receipts from the past owner is ideal."

2) IF A DEAL IS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT IS
"You get what you pay for. All too often people are willing to buy potentially problematic bottles because they are getting a "great deal" or there is a 100-percent return policy from the vendor. Well, if you are getting a deal, and the merchant is not standing behind the products they are representing by doing anything but agreeing to take them back (which is your right as a consumer if you are sold something and receive something else anyway!) there is a reason! No one is saving $3,000 on a bottle of wine because they're getting a deal. They are likely losing the money they are spending because they're getting a product the vendor is simply trying to "dump" on a sucker. Spend the extra money and be confident in your purchase."

3) DO NOT BUY FROM VENDORS WITH BAD REPS
"With a little digging you can find lists of vendors who've knowingly passed off counterfeit wines as the real deal, especially those related to the Kurniawan case (all a matter of public record). Do a little research and save yourself from buyer's remorse."

4) BE PREPARED TO WALK AWAY
"There is always more wine. No one has the last bottle, and if it is a last bottle all of the above should apply: verifiable provenance, appropriate pricing, and a vendor that is confident in what they are selling. If someone cannot meet these circumstances, save your money."

5) LOOK FOR CONSISTENCY
"Does the label look brand new but the capsule looks like it has gone through war? Is the label all scuffed up, ripped and stained—but the capsule looks fresh and new? If you see a 50-year-old lady with a 20-year-old face or body, it is safe to assume some work has been done. Assume the same with wine. If the pieces do not look like they have lived life together, they have probably not."

6) EXAMINE THE LABEL

  • "Make sure the label has not been printed on a home printer; there should not be any pixilation visible on a bottle of 1982 anything!"
  • "Make sure that if the bottle is foreign, and has allegedly been imported since 1986, that it has import stickers."
  • "If the capsule [the foil part at the top] looks like someone has previously removed it, proceed with caution."

—Follow Anthony Giglio on Twitter at @WineWiseGuy.

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Also on Details.com:
Ask the Wine Wise Guy: Does "Reserve" Really Signify a Superior Wine Bottle?
Ask the Wine Wise Guy: How Do I Get a Sommelier to Offer Me Off-the-Menu Wines?
Ask the Wine Wise Guy: Which Other Wines Taste Like Sancerre?

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
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