Wine is one of the world's oldest luxury products; a product that has been in continual demand. Because of its allure, it has been a target for fraudsters of all kinds. Some sources suggest that between 10-20 percent of all wine has been tampered with. It is important to be aware of this fact both when we consider wine investments and, perhaps more importantly, when we consider the intellectual part of the meal...
A casual evening with a glass of wine is an enjoyment shared by many. But wine is also an investment product. To secure future value, it is important that you know specifically what you are trading and how fraud can occur.
Wine is an interesting investment asset if you want low risk and stable returns. Wine has an amazing ability to withstand crises compared to traditional investment assets. This can be attributed to several factors. The primary being, that there will always be people who are looking for status symbols, which the world's most exclusive wines are distinctly considered to be - not only because they are expensive, but because they are really difficult to obtain.
Over the past 30 years, the most exclusive wines in the world have generated an average annual return of around 8% percent. Seen over the same period, wines have outperformed several global stock indices and also offered investors significantly greater stability and security.
The world's most exclusive vineyards are fully utilized. The limited production is a key factor for attractive price formations in case of increased demand. The ongoing consumption of wine leads to a reduction in the available number of bottles on the market, which provides good conditions for increased value of investment wine over time. Wine is a luxury consumer product, where we see increasing demand as large markets such as China and India experience greater economic prosperity and thus higher purchasing power.
The popularity of wine was great in Ancient Greece, and it was the Greeks who pioneered the art of storing and preparing wine. They used so-called "amphorae", large clay vases with stoppers, that allowed wine to be stored in a cool and dark place. They added the first real additives to wine. For example, spices, tar, and resin. This was done both for preservation and for the sake of taste. Resin in Greek becomes, "retsina”, and is to this day found in many types of Greek wine.
In the grape seeds there are several different acids; especially tannic acid, which help preserve red wine, making it durable and at the same time giving it personality and character. On the other hand, white wine lacks the strength provided by the tannins, and these wines are less durable than red wine. Once fermentation has stopped, other substances begin to break down the alcohol and, if given free rein, will spoil the wine and turn it into a vinegar flavoured wine. There are rules for how much acetic acid a wine can contain, and for that reason it is necessary to be able to control the fermentation process.
You can avoid the conditions mentioned by sulphurating the wine immediately after pressing. Almost all wine today has sulphur added in the amount permitted by law. Sulphur dioxide is the most used additive in store-bought wine. The sulphur dissolves in the wine and expels oxygen (which if present destroys the wine’s durability). Conversely, sulphur dioxide can evaporate from the wine if the degree of acidity increases, which is why you can sometimes feel the stinging effect of sulphur dioxide when tasting. The effect of sulphur dioxide on humans can be negative and FAO/WHO have set a limit for daily intake, to prevent negative pharmacological effects.
A quality factor for wine is clearly the wine's colour. For many types of wine, there is a clear correlation between colour intensity and price. Again, the sulphur content of the wine comes into play. Sulphur forms compounds with the substance type; anthocyanins. This substance type is the reason for the deep colour in red wine. The more Sulphur Dioxide that is added, the less colour depth, and the less quality and price. Other substances are added to offset the negative effects of sulphur dioxide. Both ascorbic acid and sorbic acid are often added, although they have been banned in many countries.
A new problem is that ascorbic acid is light-sensitive, which is why the effect decreases with light degradation. It is clearly necessary to take care of the yeast from the start. Sulphur dioxide is often used because the taste can be masked. However, sulphur dioxide has impacts on the human body. Hangovers and other discomforts are attributed to the effects of sulphur dioxide.
Pesticides are often added to keep insects away from the grapes. Yeast is added to convert the grape's sugar into alcohol. Sometimes sugar is added for taste or to increase the alcohol content. The latter is a sign that the wine has a high alcohol percentage. Additives can improve the price, and sometimes the taste. A “barrel's ageing” can be replaced by "wood essence". This flavour can be set by selected phenols and esters.
With a natural process, a wine's aromas are formed with the background of fermentation and ageing (in the barrels). Shortcuts can be achieved by the creative addition of desired flavourings, and in so doing the origin and respect for the personality of the wine is destroyed. And thus also a difficult investment project.
Another area that can create problems for the wine's authenticity are label and bottle replacement. For example, a recent fraud involved a Californian wine which was labelled with names from top French wines, e.g. Chateau Petrus. Cheaper wines have also been pre-bottled. There have also been cases of vintages that did not exist, i.e. the field they were supposedly produced from did not produce wines at this time. Or cases where more wine was launched from a vintage than was actually produced. Several discount houses had to drop advertised wine promotions in the wake of such frauds.
Technology to prevent fraud
To maintain an assurance of high-quality wines, both a chemical and an analytical knowledge are necessary. Legal restriction against the addition of adulterant substances must be enforced.
Chromatographic analytical methods can ensure integrity and maintain wine as a real taste experience and a real investment. In addition, the development of wide and deep photo archives of labels, corks and bottles must be continued. Several companies are already doing this, and is creating security for us as consumers and investors. Furthermore, the paper for the label consists of fibre, which you can look at under a microscope and see the difference in the age of the paper fibres. The microscope may also reveal whether bottles have been resealed, i.e. perhaps refilled with cheaper wine.
To ensure authenticity, the numbering of the wine and the total quantity is sometimes kept secret, to avoid that extra bottles "arise" and the cork can usually be assessed in terms of age. Special labels are also used that change colour if, for example, a wine has been stored too hot or at fluctuating temperatures, so that a potential buyer is warned about the nature of the wine. Within analytical methods, Gas Chromatography is the most used; In a long column, up to 50 meters, a distillate is separated from the wine into fractions. With this method, it has been possible to separate and characterize up to 80 different components in a common wine. This method of analysis is ideal for monitoring the ageing of wine because the amount of each ingredient can be monitored and these typically change with age.
It is not unheard of, but nonetheless distressing, that empty wine bottles are sought after and sold for up to several thousand dollars each. It seems that an easy shortcut to a fine wine is to refill old expensive bottles…
One must hope that the Romans will also be right in the future:“In the wine is the truth. They regarded wine as a means of freeing man from his calculating and cold mind “.