Fake goods are a problem for many products, ranging from knockoffs of the latest popular toys to rare one-off items that belong in a museum.
Wine is an easy target for several reasons, and one serious decade-old scandal is still affecting the rare bottles market to this day. The limited production each year creates a natural scarcity which further erodes every time a bottle is opened. Throw in a fantastic vintage, where all of the elements in the vineyard and winery come together in perfection, and the increased desirability means the problem gets heightened even further.
Secondly, for French wine in particular, they follow a classification ladder, a pecking order of sorts. This runs from your basic table wine through to Premier and Grand Cru level. In Bordeaux things are taken even higher with their top 5 league table; The First Growths. Including such wine legends as Mouton Rothschild and Lafite, getting one of these in a great vintage means prices reach a whole new level. It’s asking for trouble.
If the intention of a fake is to deceive, that is clearly a malicious and criminal act. But what if the faker is absolutely honest with you from the off that what you’re buying isn’t the real deal?
Thanks to a group of US scientists working under the name Replica Wines, we’re about to find out. Initially as part of a bet, they started stripping down the flavour and aroma compounds found in wine to their constituent parts, eventually devising a roadmap of some 600 components.
They then set about choosing a collection of well-known or cult wines in price ranges outside of day to day purchasing to unlock their individual scientific make-up. Using their roadmap to deliver a taste profile for each one they now have something like 2,000 different wines available to replicate.
Consumers are now effectively able to taste a Chateau Margaux at a fraction of the retail price. Is this genius or is it a step too far? It’s tricky to say.
Would someone only willing to spend a token amount on a bottle of wine really care what a £450 Lafite costs? And, even though these faked bottles are reported to have been already fooling the experts, could a wine aficionado ever really feel that they’ve tasted the proper stuff. Although Replica claim a 95% match to the original there would surely still be a doubt.
As a wine writer I’ve often been frustratingly close to getting to try some of the top wines out there, but I don’t think I could trust something blended together like soup (the creations are amusingly referred to as ‘Frankenwines’). No, I’d rather become familiar with a well-articulated tasting note and fill in the blanks mentally.
The wines have, however, been such a success in the US that they are making their way to the UK so, if it’s your thing, you will soon be able to try for yourself. Branded under self-referential label names such as Knockoff and Pickpocket, these may well end up being the fakes that you don’t end up buying by accident.