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Wine counterfeiting is a thing — is your bottle a fake?

Wily wine counterfeiters are fooling wine lovers with fake versions of the world’s rarest and most expensive wines.

According to a report by NPR, the criminals run their own home factories, where they fill bottles with cheap wine and slap on labels for expensive wines. Then they sell those fraudulent bottles to collectors who are desperate to get their hands on those rare bottles, some for hundreds of thousands of dollars. But if you think your ordinary mortal budget means you’ll never fall victim to wine fraud, think again. Supposedly even $20 and $30 bottles could be fake too. “You can produce them at huge quantities, and nobody is likely to catch you,” Frank Martell, director of fine and rare wine for Heritage Auctions, told NPR.

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Oh great! So now even your special date night wine is suspect? We talked with Karen MacNeil, author of newly updated The Wine Bible, to find out.

“I would say the issue of counterfeiting wine is very much more a concern with super-expensive wine than with any Wednesday night wine you or I would drink,” MacNeil says. “Counterfeiting is not easy to do. Criminals will take a risk if they stand to make thousands of dollars a bottle,” she adds. “If they stand to make $10 on a bottle, it’s much less likely.” Not to mention a wine counterfeiter can face 10 years in prison — way too high a risk for your $15 cabernet.

This isn’t to say no one has ever done it. Counterfeiting has happened on the lower end, but it’s extremely rare. “The urgency now is with expensive wines sold in Asian countries to collectors, so the real problem is far away and involves wines that most of us will never drink anyway.”

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The wine industry and collectors have gotten smarter about counterfeiters lately. Even auction houses, aware that more collectors are buying directly from wineries instead of from them, are putting new systems in place. MacNeil says when they do tastings now, they break the used bottles to prevent counterfeiters from reusing them to fill with inferior wine. (Seriously, they were going through the garbage and collecting them!) 

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But the persistence of wine counterfeiting is actually good news in a way, MacNeil tells us. It shows how desirable wine has become here, and that has made wine a lot more accessible for the rest of us. “The culture of wine in America has become very exciting. We have become a wine culture, where there’s a great appreciation for wine much more than there was decades ago,” she says. Even for that weeknight wine most of us drink, “the options from all over the world have become very exciting.” And yes, you can trust those options.

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