A Counterfeit Champagne Workshop.
Richard Juhlin, perhaps the world’s foremost authority on Champagne, has tasted literally thousands of bottles of the sparkling golden liquid over his prodigious career. Indeed, his book – 4000 Champagnes — is regarded as the definitive tome on the subject. But he thought he never had encountered a counterfeit bottle until one weekend this past spring. At a large Dom Pérignon tasting in Denmark, he was caught off guard.
“Two bottles of really old DP Oenotheque were really good looking fakes, at least at first sight. But the wine was not even close to Champagne, nor wine,” Juhlin recounted over email. “By taste it was undrinkable – just a bubbly chemical mix smelling of coffee and vanilla extracts in an awful way.”
How could an expert like Juhlin taste so much Champagne without ever encountering a fake? Is it because counterfeit Champagne is so rare, or because those who practice such dark arts are so proficient at fooling people? If it’s because there aren’t many fakes in the market, why?
Another noted Champagne expert, Peter Liem of ChampagneGuide.net, also tells me that he has never to his knowledge tasted counterfeit Champagne. As Liem explains, “the logistics of faking Champagne seem daunting: it requires much more complicated machinery for re-corking, including affixing the cages and foils. Anyone who’s ever opened an old bottle of Dom Pérignon knows how maddeningly stubborn those foils can be.”
In the wake of the Rudy Kurniawan scandal, counterfeit wine has come to the forefront of the wine world’s consciousness. Countless articles have been written, movies have been pitched, and record web traffic has been achieved. But nowhere has Champagne been mentioned. Perhaps this is because Rudy K. himself was not involved. On that, the evidence is inconclusive. Champagne labels were not mentioned among the materials seized from Rudy’s house. However, Don Cornwell, the Los Angeles attorney credited in part with blowing open the scandal, has said that his understanding is that Rudy “was also alleged to sell counterfeit Champagne” and that “this was accomplished by means of label switches.”
Wine critic Brad Baker, known as “The Champagne Warrior,” is a bit more diplomatic at first. “Rudy was definitely a Champagne geek, though, to me, he seemed far more interested in talking Burgundy,” he says in an email. Baker later admits that he’s starting to believe there may be a fake Champagne “problem in a certain circle” and he “would make an educated guess that somehow Rudy is in the chain.”
If Rudy didn’t produce counterfeit Champagne to the same extent as his infamous older Burgundy and Bordeaux, it likely is because of the difficulty inherent in the sparkling wine product. In addition to the difficulties Liem mentioned with respect to corks, cages and foils, there’s the simple problem of faking what’s in the bottle – sparkling wine, especially in its maturity, just isn’t that easy to reproduce authentically. Read the rest of this entry »