One of the things I have learned lately in reading about wine fraud is just how insular and arrogant a lot of these so-called wine journalists appear to be. I can’t take any sides here – I can’t drink the stuff (as I mentioned in an earlier post) so I don’t buy it and my perspective is entirely as an outsider looking in. If this is the impression I get, how would an interested layman feel – excluded? Put off by the unabashed snobbery? Some of the cattiness exhibited within the world is, frankly, breathtaking; admittedly, I am reading of events in the 1990s, but I get the distinct impression that things haven’t changed much over the years. No wonder wine critics are easy targets for comedians looking for a cheap joke.
Knowing that I’m never going to taste a decent wine – let alone an exceptional one – renders such things as tasting notes meaningless to me. That said, there is still a lot that can be picked up from a bottle of wine without bothering to open it. What has been completely revelatory for me is just how easy it is to fake vintage wine, the amounts of money that can be made from it, and just how easy it is to escape detection if you’re clever enough. The seals, the corks, the labels, the glass of the bottle – they all have very distinct signatures which, if correct, can render a particular vintage wine priceless. There’s a fighting chance anyway that after a period of time the contents are pretty undrinkable anyway, so as long as nobody opens it, it’s fairly possible that the fakery could go undetected for years. I’m still trying to work out how these things can command such eye watering prices, but then I’m no expert on auctions either.
A lot of the aura that surrounds certain bottles of wine has a lot to do with the opinions of wine experts. I’m not suggesting for a moment that some of them are anything other than extremely knowledgeable – they will forget far more than I will ever know – but reading about how they behave towards those who dissent from their learned opinions does not make them look like very nice people. No wonder there are those out there determined to make them look ridiculous; it must be so tempting to want to bring down a particularly pompous oenophile in a spectacular and dramatic fashion, like faking a wine. I hope things have changed; I really do. But given that wine fraud seems to be a growing industry, I’m afraid I fear the worst.