Vino where you live - is wine crime rife on eBay?
In February of last year, a rather smart gent and two associates had dinner at Zafferano, a restaurant in Knightsbridge. Several weeks beforehand they'd pre-ordered a magnum of the magnificent Pétrus 1961 at an eye-bleeding cost of £18,000. Such was the grandeur of the occasion that the manager worked on his day off to personally pour the wine. And then one of those moments occurred that you don't believe when first told it:
The trio didn't like the wine and sent it back. Outstanding. Wouldn't you want to be sat on the next table when that happened? There'd be dilating sphincters in every direction.
In fact they declared it to be a counterfeit because the bottle's cork did not carry the official stamps of the winery. All was soon put right when they proceeded to get smashed on a £20,000 magnum of the Mouton Rothschild 1945, but the story highlights the presence of wine counterfeiting.
Freakonomics reports on a study of over 250 eBay auctions that sold empty wine bottles for suspiciously high prices; the evidence suggested that particular bottles sold at such a ridiculous price, that the only likely explanation was “the price a full and presumably authentic bottle could potentially fetch in the marketplace".
Wine counterfeiting is nothing new. One of the most famous examples was a bottle of 1787 Chateau Lafite Bordeaux with ties to Thomas Jefferson, auctioned in 1985 for $156,000 - it turned out to be an elaborate fake. But is the crime really being committed through eBay? After all, it's entirely possible that rare wine bottles are being collected for the purpose of collecting rare wine bottles. Admittedly, that's a slightly more expensive past-time than building pyramids of empty Stella cans in the living room. Another argument against the existence of wine counterfeiting operations is the necessity for an underground cork counterfeiting operation which has so far gone undetected, although absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
If eBay is the starting point for vintage wine bottles which are then topped up with a spot of Aldi Vino Tinto, we can't find them. But then we'd far rather be spending our time emptying them.