September 15, 2015
Uncorking wine fraud without opening the bottle
By Palate Press
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No one in this post-Rudy Kurniawan, post-fake Chinese Lafite wine world can remain ignorant about wine fraud. After decades of more or less ignoring the problem, lately it’s been all hands on deck. Legal authorities are systematizing how to punish offenders. Engineers are devising clever systems for keeping track of new bottlings. And scientists are working out how to answer the central question for collectors: is this bottle I’m holding what it claims to be? It’s challenging to run tests on something enclosed in several millimeters of glass. Standard wine chemistry relies on opening the bottle, which makes it less than ideal for verifying the identity of a super-expensive one-of-a-kind auction item that might really be last year’s Kendall-Jackson merlot with an artfully distressed label. But scientists can do things like harvest bacteria from deep sea thermal vents and look very hard for dark matter miles under South Dakota. Surely the only thing separating us from a way to identify the contents of an unopened bottle is the realization that we should be trying.