How to Spot Fake / Counterfeit Champagne
15th November 2021
As with most expensive and desirable items, there is always the potential that counterfeits are floating about. I am sure we have all seen for ourselves fake products be it those Gucci shoes at the local market or we have tried to watch a copied DVD and regretted that purchase.
The problem lays both in those trying to imitate and / or to copy (counterfeit) products – It is all well and good producing something not quite too dissimilar such as copying colours / shapes / fonts / logos so to tempt in buyers simply drawn in by the look, many times these products are challenged and in court eliminated from the market. There is nothing wrong by producing a competitor to a leading brand, how close you sail to copying them will depend on how exposed you are legally should you be seen as replicating with financial gain.
Producing counterfeit items is of course a whole different crime and this is purely to deceive the buyer as well as financially effecting the original producer. From Picasso’s to Lamborghinis, counterfeits exist which makes who you purchase from and what authenticity they come with ever so important.
We must also consider that detection is becoming harder as better counterfeiting methods evolve. We are not simply talking about a plastic counterfeit Rolex watch here, counterfeiters are producing replicas that are only detectable by the makers themselves fooling most consumers. Though many fake items are relatively cheap, the more expensive items that suffer from counterfeiting could be costing consumers £1,000’s.
Even in the wine sector, the subject is rife with many news stories on seized counterfeits. These can be smaller discoveries such as a handful of bottles rebranded in a restaurant to more professional set ups of 1,000’s of bottles produced on factory lines. Most occasions it is a cheaper Champagne or sparkling wine (even perry) that is the substituted expensive Champagne – Bottles and labels to include capsules and corks are slightly easier to reproduce on mass and of usually good enough quality to fool most consumers.
“A restaurant owner in West Bromwich is to be interviewed by officials following the seizure of 16 bottles of fake Moët & Chandon from his restaurant.” source thecaterer
Counterfeit Wines – A big problem in the wine industry
Some wineries are trying to combat the forgers by increasing the security in production of their wines to include trackable bottles, chips under labels and tamper proof capsules. Authorities to include the le Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne continue to work tirelessly to worm out fraudsters and protect the identity and quality of Champagne with global investigations frequently in process.
The biggest problem, and one which the FBI suffered when investigating Rudy Kurniawan, is that wineries are likely not want to get involved with court cases and of course the exposure and publicity for having fake wines out under their name – Sometimes wine professionals / buyers are also not wanting of the potential negative to their career PR.
How to spot fake Champagne:
Depending on how and why you are coming by a fake Champagne, be it you have purchased in bulk (ie for a wedding) or acquired a vintage Champagne at auction or maybe simply you are about to enjoy a glass at your local restaurant – There are ways to spot fakes:
- Taste – If you are familiar with Champagne and especially if you know the quality and standard of the label you are being served then you should be able to spot a problem. This would not be a fault as in the wine being corked, it would be that you can taste the difference and especially if served a lesser quality Champagne or another sparkling wine substitute such as a Cremant / Cava / Spumante etc.
- Bottle – Many finer Champagnes will come in a specially shaped bottle so make sure you are familiar with the latest design or the design relevant to the vintage.
- Packaging – Check the packaging to include label (back and front) and the neck of the bottle (foil / capsule / cork). Real Champagne will have the name of the producer on the label and also address to at least include the name of town or village. Check the likes of fonts / colours / logos as many copies are just a tiny bit different. Check also for the Professional Registration Code – NM or RM in the lower corner of the label followed by numbers.
- Showing it’s age – Does the bottle show it’s age especially if it is a vintage of many years ago. Does it look all too new or maybe it looks falsely worn / dirty / damaged? Study the bottle carefully and question anything that does not quite add up (especially if paying out big money).
- Weighing everything up – Sometimes you need to go with what your head says and then again sometimes it is a gut feeling that decides for us – Either way, if in doubt or it’s the good old too good to be true situation then politely decline the purchase. You should weigh up all the facts such as who you are buying from, the price, the rarity of the wine(s), the condition it is presented to you in.
- Check online – Many finer wines are spoken about online to include photos and videos. A quick check of the Champagne in question will likely bring up results in your search engine so take time to compare images and other relevant facts that are shared – At least take your mobile phone with you when purchasing Champagne.
- Second opinions – Sometimes you may wish to get a second opinion. If you are making a big purchase then the vendor should not have a concern if you are wanting of a second opinion.
Co-founder of Glass of Bubbly. Journalist and author focused on Champagne & Sparkling Wines and pairing them with foods.