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food & drink

All that glitters...

Scams of all kinds are becoming more common in the wine business, and there are rich pickings for the fraudster. The most famous of them all, Rudy Kurniawan, is serving a 10-year prison term in a US penitentiary for selling fake wines to super-rich collectors.

In one auction alone he offloaded $40 million-worth of rare bottles. His regular customers included the likes of former Vornado Realty Trust chief, Michael Facitelli (lost $3.6 million); Quest software founder David Doyle ($15.1 million); film producer Brian Devine ($5.3 million), and Andrew Hobson, former chief financial officer at Univision ($3.1 million). A bottle of grand-cru imitation Bordeaux sold for $10,000 will have cost Kurniawan about $20 to knock up in his kitchen, where police found a veritable 'old' wine factory.

It may be hard to feel much sympathy for victims who could easily afford the money they lost, while for Ginafranco Soldera, the day he opened his winery doors and found five entire vintages, 62,000 litres, swilling about on the floor, was bitter indeed. Whoever committed this vandalism had waited four years to get his revenge for Gianfranco's public revelation that his fellow Brunello-makers were illegally mixing wine from other regions with what should have been 100% Sangiovese.

Wine faking goes back centuries, and even Rome's Pliny wrote that what was described on the label was often not a correct description of the bottle's contents.

For many years it was normal to dilute sherry and port with water and fruit juice, and the Austrian wine scandal of the 1980s, exposing the use of antifreeze to bulk up wine volumes, hit the trade hard. Even big names are not scandal-free. Georges DuBoeuf, Burgundy's best-known producer, was fined in 2006 for mixing top Beaujolais wines with cheaper blends, and the winery boss was jailed.

Unsurprisingly the real victim was the region, taking a decade to recover from this blow to its credibility.

And while fakers like Kurniawan make the headlines, the man-in-the-street wine buyer will hand over his eight euros without really being sure whether he is getting what he thinks he is paying for.