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THE VIN GUARD; Woman whose mission is to track down the fraudsters who cash in on fake wine; EXCLUSIVE.

Byline: NADA FARHOUD Consumer Features Editor

MEET the woman on the trail of wine counterfeiters behind global frauds worth an estimated PS800million.

Maureen Downey, dubbed the Sherlock Holmes of wine, says old bottles flogged on eBay help fuel the trade.

Empties that once held vintage wine are being sold with original corks for hundreds of pounds.

Swindlers then fill them with inferior wine and shift them to unsuspecting buyers for thousands. An estimated 20 per cent of all "fine wine" is fake - around PS800million-worth.

The problem has got worse in recent years as investors pour money into vintage wine, sending prices through the roof, says a BBC documentary.

Maureen, the world's top wine expert, said: "Counterfeit wine is far more prevalent than people realise, affecting every level of the industry.

"In 15 to 20 years we have seen this highly lucrative, low-risk business explode, especially across Europe, where organised crime gangs are involved."

American Maureen, who studies labels with a magnifying glass looking for the tiniest clues, helped put the biggest ever wine fraudster behind bars in 2013.

She was a prosecution witness in the trial of Rudy Kurniawan, who mixed fake vintage wine in his California kitchen.

Kurniawan was jailed for 10 years for selling PS400million of fake plonk - much of it believed to be still in circulation.

Experts say the industry is not doing enough to tackle the problem due to the embarrassment of being duped. Documentary presenter Susie Barrie said: "There are three ways to create a counterfeit bottle: refill an empty original with lesser wine, recreate an existing wine including the label, or make a vintage that never actually existed.

"While most of us don't buy superexpensive bottles of wine, there are also examples of everyday wines being faked."

She found a 1984 Romanee Conti - a top Burgundy - with the original cork for PS280 on eBay. Originals sell for PS13,000.

nada.farhoud@trinitymirror.com

The Wine Detectives, BBC Radio 4, tomorrow, 8pm.

How to spot a fake

Poor quality labelling, possibly with spelling mistakes.

If the seal is broken, don't drink it. Even if it's not illegal, it could have been tampered with.

Does it look its age? Shiny new labels are often stained with tobacco or dirt.

Bordeaux corks are typically 52-55mm long, and are branded, rather than inked. Check for corkscrew scoring marks.

CAPTION(S):

HUNT FOR CLUES Maureen at court

EVIDENCE Corks, labels in US wine fraud trial

RISK Bottles of top names are filled with cheap plonk

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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 25, 2017
Words:416
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