The Billionaire’s Vinegar

Slate has followed up the much-talked-about New Yorker story on counterfeit wine with an update of its own, pegged in part to an upcoming book about a spectacular wine fraud, The Billionaire’s Vinegar.

Slate’s twist on the story is that some of the supposedly fraudelent wine may actually be legitimate stuff imperiled by accusers with ulterior motives. Burgundy critic Allen Meadows of Burghound.com offers a fascinating take:

[Meadows] suggests that some wineries are embarrassed by the fact that economic circumstances once obliged them to sell in bulk and are thus eager to disavow older wines that they didn’t bottle themselves. Intriguingly, he also thinks that claiming fraud has become fashionable in certain wine circles—a mark of connoisseurship. Some collectors, he says, now throw around these allegations as a way of showing off their knowledge and the acuity of their palates.

The problem of doctored or “reconditioned” wine also complicates the issue; wineries once routinely spiked older vintages with fresh stuff to enliven the flavor and color, and sorting out what’s been pumped up, what’s outright fake, and what’s pure and natural is a very difficult—and potentially impossible—task.

All in all, muddy waters for the collector with less than gargantuan pockets. Personally, I’ll stick to the “If it’s over $20, it’s overpriced” rule of thumb for wine skeptics and concentrate on buying really great beer.