Top 5 Wine Frauds

winefraudRecent events within the wine industry remind us that fraud can impact its participants and patrons. The question is where does or can the fraud lie in the world of wine? At the very least, certain areas deserve watching.

1. Counterfeit Wine
If you are in the market for the most coveted wines, the First Growths of Bordeaux, or the Grand Cru of Burgundy, the recent “Kurniawan Affair” should inform you that it is a Buyer Beware marketplace. Your best defense against counterfeit wine is a good education, significant research and a reliable vendor.

2. Natural Wine
The idea of a wine being “natural” and the trendy marketing of “natural wine” is fraudulent in the extreme. The term itself, when applied to any wine, is pure marketing and describes nothing concrete. If someone insists the wine they want to sell you is “natural”, turn and run.

3. The “Three Tier System” as the Savior of Consumers
It is no longer uncommon to read that the “amazing” choices possessed by wine consumers in the U.S. is a direct result of the state mandating wine be sold by producers to a wholesalers then to a retailer before it gets to the consumer—otherwise known as the “three-tier system.” This is a fraudulent claim and a perfect example of what is known as the “big lie”. The fact is, the only way for consumers to possess real choice is by going around the state mandated three-tier system and using both remote and local sources to find wine.

4. Fraudulently Labeled Wine
There have been various examples of a wine label claiming the wine in the bottle to be of a particular varietal or from a particular region, when in fact it is not, or the wine is composed only partially of said varietal or region. It’s exceedingly difficult to suss out this kind of fraud.

5. Absurdly Price Restaurant Wines
Some will claim that overpriced restaurant wine is not technically fraud. But I don’t care. It is. When a bottle of wine cost the restaurant $15 and they are selling the same bottle for $60 or $10 a glass (neither is uncommon), then “fraud” is about the kindest thing you can call this practice. Your defense against this kind of fraud is your handy cell phone. Think you are getting ripped off? Look up the retail price of the wine, multiply by .75 and that’s what the restaurant paid—give or take. Then make your own decisions.


6 Responses

  1. Rich - December 23, 2013

    Hey Tom – just a slight comment on “5” – I sell some wine and restaurants get it for “wholesale” in many instances – and that is 1/3rd off, that is, a $50 bottle will be sold to them for $33 and in some cases even less. I have had some ask for “half price.” Retailers get the same deal but cannot sell for more than the actual price.

  2. Ron Marsilio - December 23, 2013

    I find your most recent blog concerning the top 5 wine frauds interesting in several aspects. Number 1 (your number 1) concerning counterfeit wine, yes, you are correct in stating that it is “buyer beware”, so stated also by the uber wealthy Mr. Koch, in purchasing either old collectable First Growths or Grand Crus. The idea that a good education may prevent this, when in fact, many “experts” were also dupped by Mr. Kurniawan, is kind of like saying, if you know how to fix elevators, then you will never fall down the shaft. How likely is it that one would not be a victim of fraud if in fact if your number 3 statement came to fruition? Believe it or not, many wholesalers and distributors protect the consumer from various aspects of fraudulent products. If consumers where left only to there own devices, the likelihood of purchasing items that are not what they are supposed to be is much more possible. I am not an ardent supporter of the three tier system, however there are some good things to be said about it.

    In regards to item number 4 in your fraud list, I am wholeheartedly in favor in stricter labeling in potable products, especially wine. The Food and Drug Administration has very strict laws regarding consumable products, but since wine is regulated by the TTB, those FDA laws are not applicable. It is time to get the TTB on board. Lets stop using the words, Natural, Reserve, Special Selection, Old Vines, etc. until they have specific meaning. Let’s put the ingredients of every bottle on the label including nutrition information for every consumer to make an educated decision on what they choose to put into their bodies.

    Finally, in regards to number 5, absurdly priced restaurant wines, I somewhat agree. Being an employee of the restaurant industry for close to 30 years, I realize that to stay in business, most restaurants must rely on the income garnered from the sale of wine and other alcoholic beverages. The profit margin on food is far too small and the waste is far too high. Besides, no one forces the diner to buy something they do not want. If the price is too expensive, don’t order it. Again, mark-ups should be kept within reason.

    It seems that our society runs on fraud. It is hard to find manufacturers, services and suppliers any more that just want to sell you an honest product for an honest price, but lets not be too harsh on those that can prevent fraud, or those that need to do what they do in order to stay in business.

  3. Tom Wark - December 23, 2013

    Ron:

    I think a well (wine and auction) educated person is much more likely to ask the right questions when pursuing investment grade wines.

    Also, no one doubts wholesalers provide value. However, their role in providing consumers with a the best choice in wine is slight at best.

  4. mort Hochstein - December 23, 2013

    TOM…LIKE YOUR FIVE FRAUDS LIST. YOU MIGHT SUGGEST THAT IN STATES AND VENUES THAT PERMIT BYOB THAT THE CUSTOMER MAKE A RESERVATION AND INQUIRE ABOUT CORKAGE POLICY. . iF IT IS OVER $40 I TAKE MY BUSINESS ELSEWHERE, morr ”” AKA HOCK.

  5. Alison Crowe - December 31, 2013

    Hi Tom,

    Right on with your #2! I think this will be an issue we continue talking about in 2014!

    The most popular blog post of 2013 at girlandthegrape.com was my take-down (http://www.girlandthegrape.com/wine-myths/409/) of that fraudulent bit of “journalism” on The Daily Beast claiming that “natural wine” doesn’t get you drunk like “all that other un-natural wine” (or whatever that stuff is, being the author couldn’t clearly define either term in his article).

    Thanks for persisting in pulling back the silly green curtains that some in the wine industry/wine internets keep trying to hang back up!

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