If you aren't yet aware of the fact that fake wine is a big deal, you will be soon. It's coming to a theater near you.
Billionaires getting swindled by fake bottles of wine purportedly belonging to Thomas Jefferson aside, as the world's greatest wines continue to climb in price, wine fraud continues to increase in frequency and in value.
At this point, the fakery of wines has become a big business. No one knows just how large, but some wine experts say the real figure is probably shudderingly large: millions of dollars worth, to be sure, and perhaps even tens of millions. Wine Critic Allen Meadows told writer Michael Steinberger that he believes perhaps 10% of the pre-1960 wines he comes across these days might be fakes.
And it all may be due, in part, to things like this:
A bottle of 1994 Grace Family Vineyards Cabernet, a bottle 1995 Tignanello Red Blend from Tuscany, and a bottle of 1996 Screaming Eagle, all empty, of course.
Together they may sell for between $10 and $60 on eBay. Filled up again with some red wine, re-corked and re-foiled, these three wines would sell for a total of about $2224 according to WinePrices.Com.
And that, of course, is the problem.
As mentioned last week in the New York Times Freakonomics blog, a recent paper by a member the American Association of Wine Economists (see the PDF abstract) suggests that online auction sites like eBay may be significantly contributing to the problem of counterfeit wine.
The logic presented in the paper is quite simple: after watching a bunch of sites like eBay, it's quite clear that the sale price of empty bottles directly correlates to the price of that bottle were it to actually be full. In short, those willing to pay $100 for an empty bottle of Petrus must be getting some value from the bottle that is completely out of whack with its real value in the marketplace (as a glass container with a paper label on it).
While eBay certainly can't be held responsible for people doing illegal things with innocuous items that they buy perfectly legally online, I wonder whether it might be in everyone's interest for them to prevent people from selling bottles that are particularly prone to counterfeiting.
This wouldn't be easy, of course, and may be unreasonable to ask, but they've got a lot of controls in place already to make sure that people don't break the law in a million other different ways (like, for instance, selling dangerous chemicals online). How hard would it be for them to pay a little more attention to the empty bottle problem? It certainly would be good for the wine world.
A wine book like no other. Photographs, essays, and wine recommendations. Learn more.
Warm Up: The North Fork of Long Island I'll Drink to That: Kareem Massoud of Paumanok Vineyards 2015 Family Winemakers Tasting: August 16, San Francisco I'll Drink to That: Ryan Looper of T. Edward Wines Lost Treasures in the Sierra Foothills: The Wines of Renaissance Vineyards Warm Up: The Wachau I'll Drink to That: Leo Alzinger of Weingut Alzinger Petaluma Gap Wine Tasting: August 8th, Petaluma, CA I'll Drink to That: Monica Samuels of Vine Connections Vinography Images: Cool Climate Chardonnay
Wine Will Never Smell the Same Again: Luca Turin and the Science of Scent Forlorn Hope: The Remarkable Wines of Matthew Rorick Debating Robert Parker At His Invitation Passopisciaro Winery, Etna, Sicily: Current Releases Should We Care What Winemakers Say? The Sweet Taste of Freedom: Austria's Ruster Ausbruch Wines 2009 Burgundy Vintage According to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Charles Banks: The New Man Behind Mayacamas Wine from the Caldera: The Incredible Viticulture of Santorini Why Community Tasting Notes Sites Will Fail Chateau Rayas and the 2012 Vintage of Chateauneuf-du-Pape A Life Indomitable: The Wines of Casal Santa Maria, Portugal Bay Area Bordeaux: Tasting Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernets Forgotten Jewels: Reviving Chile's Old Vine Carignane The First-Timer's Guide to Les Trois Glorieuses of Hospices de Beaune