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A word about fakes: Maureen Downey

Following wine counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan’s sentencing last month, expert wine sleuth and founder of Chai Consulting LLC Maureen Downey speaks out on fakes.

Maureen Downey

Are producers doing enough to combat fakes?

I am incredibly impressed with the anti-counterfeiting measures employed by many of the most targeted producers, especially considering how small their production is and what a huge burden this is to them. The combination of low and high tech measures, and their discretion about what they are doing, is impressive. Assuring authenticity in the future should be much easier.

Do auction houses place too much reliance on ‘caveat emptor’ (let the buyer beware)?

I know of no reputable auction house who relies on ‘caveat emptor’. The fact remains that most auction houses do more to inspect wines and collect provenance information from sellers than most retailers and brokers. Counterfeit wine sales are not only, or even mostly an auction issue, outside of Hong Kong. I do believe Hong Kong is being used as a dumping ground for many counterfeit wines to be cleared out of US wine collectors’ inventories. Other than that, retailers and brokers are much more likely to be a source of counterfeits than live auctions. Many retailers do no diligence, and often brokers never even see or touch the wines. At least most live auction houses actually physically inspect the wines they are selling.

Are faked bottles a bigger issue than refilled bottles?

I do not have as much data about refilled bottles, but based on the availability of empty bottles on eBay, and cases that have been exposed with ongoing refilling of fine wine bottles, I am confident it is a huge problem. Rudy [Kurniawan] refilled and resold a lot of his own fakes after the empty bottles were shipped back to him by a New York sommelier/restaurant-owner.

Of the two, what’s easier to spot?

The easiest thing to spot is a poorly printed computer produced label.

What’s the best fake wine you’ve ever drunk?

Well now, I wouldn’t know. The best is likely one that I assumed was real!

Which three wines would you be most sceptical about?

1945 Domaine de la Romanée Conti. (There is only one possible real Magnum in the world. Three were made and the same man bought them all.)

1921 Château Petrus, Magnum or larger

1947 Château Lafleur, Magnum

1921 Château Petrus, Magnum or larger
1945 Domaine de la Romanée Conti
1947 Château Lafleur, Magnum


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