Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

He will serve no wine until he serves time

Fraudulent merchant exposes global counterfeit problem

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Forged works of art, fake currency, doctored passports, phoney high-end watches -- it could be the stuff of James Bond movies.

Add wine to that list. Over the last few decades, wine fraud or forgery has become more of a regular occurrence.

UNCORKED

Fret not -- that $15 bottle of Aussie Shiraz you're picking up this weekend is completely legit. Rather, it's in the international collectible market of rare, high-end wines where the problem exists.

Forged or counterfeit wine, quite simply, is a bottle that says it's one thing on the label but something quite different on the inside. While this has, on occasion, been undertaken by wineries themselves, it's far more common for a malicious merchant to create fake labels and affix them to less expensive wine.

Rudy Kurniawan was one such fraudster, arrested in 2012 after many in the wine world suspected he was passing off wine made of new and old juice in bottles that purported to be older vintages, and from premium producers.

Burgundian producer Laurent Ponsot became suspicious when Kurniawan was set to auction some bottles of his Domaine Ponsot wine. There was just one problem -- the vintage of Domaine Ponsot to be put up for auction never existed.

In December 2013, a federal court jury in Manhattan found Kurniawan guilty of fraud. When he was arrested, authorities found stacks of forged labels of premium French wine Kurniawan had made using a laser printer. He had apparently been buying older vintages of relatively average French wine and blending it with newer juice, then packaging and auctioning the wine to some of America's top collectors, including billionaire Bill Koch (brother to deep-pocketed conservatives Charles and David Koch).

The demand for high-end wine in Asia is massive -- for many premium producers, it's easily the largest market. Demand is high for first-growth Bordeaux, fine Burgundies, high-end California wines and super-premium Italian wines -- both old and new vintages -- and buyers are willing to pay top dollar. But there isn't enough of these wines to go around.

Enter the wine forgers. According to a recent report in Decanter, one senior Chinese government official noted nearly half of all Chateau Lafite Rothschild, one of only five Bordeaux reds classified as a first-growth wine, sold in that country is counterfeit. Fraudsters construct these wines on boats moored in international waters, then have them shipped to the Chinese mainland.

There are a number of ways premium, in-demand wineries are fighting back, making their products less forgeable. From etched bottles to invisible markers on labels to radio-frequency identified (RFID) corks, there is all sorts of technology being employed to assure buyers that the juice in the bottle matches the name on the label.

***

If you attended this year's Winnipeg Wine Festival and didn't get a chance to pick up your new favourite find, it's worth your while to pop by the Grant Park Liquor Mart, as they've been shipped leftovers from the on-site store.

While many of the 100 or so wines brought in just for the fest sold out at the on-site store, there are plenty of great bottles left over, especially from Italy, Canada, France and Australia.

uncorked@mts.net

Twitter: @bensigurdson

Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Nature Reserva (Cava, Spain -- $13.95, Grant Park Liquor Mart)

A festival leftover, this sparkling wine is light gold in colour, with aromas of chalky limestone, lemon zest, crabapple and a toasty/bread-dough note. It's a light, crisp, citrus-driven bubbly, and there's plenty of green-apple to bolster the tart flavours. 3-1/2 stars

 

Gunderloch 2011 Fritz's Riesling (Germany -- around $16, private wine stores)

Mineral, red-apple skin, lemon curd and classic German Riesling petrol/wax/flint notes are expressive aromatically. It's a light-bodied, zippy, off-dry Riesling with a hint of spritz, and brings plenty of fresh green-apple, lemon-candy, honey and tart peach flavours. Great for warm weather, salmon, salads and/or sushi. I picked this one up at Kenaston Wine Market. 4 stars


Errazuriz 2011 Single Vineyard Carmenère (Chile -- $23.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)

Jammy blackberry, licorice, spice, cocoa, cassis are intense on this big red. There's a great balance between dark-chocolate and bell-pepper flavours -- sounds strange, but when done right in a Carmenère it's something. Grill up some big meat for this bad boy. 4 stars

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 24, 2014 D14

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