Tag Archives: wine fraud

Winebits 630: Two-buck Chuck, Italian wine fraud, winespeak

Two-buck Chuck

This week’s wine news: Two-buck Chuck costs $2 again in parts of California, thanks to the state’s grape glut. Plus, a 1-million bottle Italian wine fraud and the 2019 winespeak winners.

Just $1.99: Two-buck Chuck, the Trader Joe’s private label wine, costs $1.99 again in California, just like it did when it debuted in 2002. That’s a drop of about one-third for the wine, labeled as Charles Shaw. Credit the California grape glut for the discount, which has dropped the prices of the bulk grapes used to make the wine. However, the price remains $2.99 to $3.79 a bottle in the rest of the country, thanks to higher transportation costs.

A massive fraud: Italian police arrested five people, including two regional wine officials, and broke up a 1-million bottle wine fraud ring in the Oltrepo Pavese region near Milan in northern Italy. A wine co-operative in Oltrepo Pavese and several winemakers had worked together, combining sugar, additives and grapes from other regions to make fake Oltrepo Pavese DOC (PDO) and PGI wines for the 2018 vintage. This is the second major fraud in Oltrepo Pavese in the past five years; in 2014, police broke up a scam involving 200 people.

Good old winespeak: John Tilson at the Underground Wine Letter presents his annual list of the most stupid wine descriptions of the past year. As always, he brings a chuckle to the Wine Curmudgeon. My favorite descriptors this year are “treacle tart,” a sweet British dessert, and beef blood, which were used by two different writers to assess the same Spanish red wine. How, do you ask, can two completely opposite descriptions be used for the same wine? All I can say is that this is why wonder I wonder about the future of the wine business.

Winebits 613: Hangovers, Italian wine fraud, wine wildlife

hangoversThis week’s wine news: Are hangovers an illness? Plus, Italian police sting wine scammers and bears like their wine grapes

No, it’s not your fault: A German court has ruled that hangovers aren’t a function of stupidity, but an actual illness. The ruling came in a lawsuit against a hangover remedy company. The court said the firm couldn’t claim that its products cured a hangover because food products, including drinks, can’t be marketed as such under German law. This ruling probably won’t mean much elsewhere in the world, given it’s a German court ruling on a German issue. So no sense using it to call in sick after a weekend with too much alcohol and not enough common sense. Still, if I sold one of the myriad of new-breed “hangover cures,” I would pay attention.

Where are Redford and Newman? Italian police dressed as waiters arrested a would-be con artist who was apparently half of a team that had been scamming restaurants – selling the owners €15 worth of supermarket wine for more than €400. The story isn’t breaking news; the arrest happened in the spring. But I thought it was worth mentioning, given all we’ve written on the blog over the past couple of years about restaurant wine prices.

Where was Ranger Smith? Vinepair reports that a bear was recently caught on camera stealing pinot noir grapes from a vineyard in California’s Anderson Valley, one of the top pinot regions in the world. Closed circuit cameras at Navarro Vineyards & Winery in Mendocino County taped the bear, who may also have taken grapes earlier this year. It’s not unusual for wild animals to eat wine grapes, especially from more rural vineyards. No word, though, on how many points the bear gave the grapes, or if he preferred a riper, more California style as opposed to the traditional Burgundian approach.

Wine Curmudgeon mea culpa: There are two Baby Boomer pop culture references in this post that younger people may not get; I couldn’t help myself.


Ask the WC 18: Sweet red wine, varietal character, wine fraud

sweet red wineThis edition of Ask the WC: Why are so many dry red wines sweet, plus understanding varietal character and counterfeiting cheap wine

Because the customers always have questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. You can Ask the Wine Curmudgeon a wine-related question by clicking here.

Dear Wine Curmudgeon:
I bought a Spanish red wine from Campo Viejo the other day, and it was really sweet. I thought it was supposed to be dry. What’s going on?
Sick of sugar

Dear Sugar:
Welcome to the scourge that is sweet wine labeled as dry — mostly with reds, but also with some whites. I wrote about it here, and the situation keeps getting worse. A leading Dallas retailer told me a couple of weeks ago that it’s part of the plan to get Millennials to drink wine, and he agreed with me: it’s a stupid idea. I also talked about this with a younger man who works for one of the biggest distributors in the country, and he thought the whole thing was pretty funny. If I’m already drinking cocktails or craft beer, why am I going to switch to wine because it’s sweet?

Greetings WC:
I consider myself a fairly typical wine drinker. I buy a wine a second time based on how much I liked it and how much it costs. I have no idea if something is “varietally correct” and to be honest I have no idea what a chardonnay is “supposed” to taste like. I just like what I like.
A typical wine drinker

Dear Typical:
That’s a fine approach as far as it goes. But if you want to take the next step and get even more value for your money, then you should learn about things like varietal correctness and what a chardonnay is supposed to taste like. Otherwise, all wine tastes the same, and what’s the point of that? One of the things I love about wine is the differences, and how grapes can taste so many different ways.

Hey WC:
I saw something on the Internet the other day that wine fraud is a super serious problem affecting wine at all prices. Do I need to start worrying about it for the wine you write about?
Concerned about counterfeits

Dear Concerned:
No need to worry. This is another of those Winestream Media stories made to sound like it matters, but really doesn’t. Most counterfeiting is for expensive or rare wines that most of us will never see in a store, let alone buy. There’s no money in counterfeiting cheap wine because so much of it is made. It’s the same reason no one counterfeits dollar bills, but does $20s and $100s instead. If it costs $5 to make a phony bottle of wine, what pays more? Counterfeiting a $10 bottle or a $500 bottle?

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 17: Restaurant-only wines, local wine, rose prices
Ask the WC 16: Grocery store wine, Millennials, canned wine
Ask the WC 15: Wine consumption, wine refrigerators, wine tastings

Winebits 545: Alcoholism, Big Weed, wine fraud

alcoholismThis week’s wine news: Alcoholism in the restaurant business, plus Big Wine wants to move into weed and more Chinese booze fraud

Staying sober: Nation’s Restaurant News looks at subject rarely discussed – what it calls “the culture of alcoholism and substance abuse in the restaurant business. “ In this part of the on-going series, Bret Thorne talks to a prominent Atlanta-area chef who had a choice at age 30 – stop drinking or die. “The whole lifestyle — you’re in a place that has alcohol. There’s always alcohol in the kitchen, behind the bar, and after the adrenaline of an awesome service, it was typically followed by chasing that buzz with alcohol, and then usually cocaine.”

If it’s good enough for wine: Marijuana Business Daily (and no, I’m not making that up) reports that North America’s largest wine distributor will become the the exclusive product distributor for one of Canada’s largest licensed cannabis producers. Great North Distributors, a wholly owned Canadian subsidiary of U.S.-based Southern Glazer’s, will serve as exclusive representative for Aphria’s adult-use cannabis products in Canada. This is yet another foray by U.S. wine-related companies into Canada’s legal weed business, including Big Wine stalwart Constellation Brands..

$15.6 million worth of fakes: Chinese police arrested 15 people suspected of producing more than 55,000 counterfeit bottles of high-end booze, says Reuters. Police in the southern province of Fujian broke up three gangs running workshops that made fake bottles of several famous brands of baijiu, a fiery Chinese spirit. The gangs bought cheap liquor for about 10 yuan (about US$1.56) a bottle and pour it into the counterfeit bottles, which they would sell for up to 400 yuan (about US$62) each. To give you an idea about what they were doing, this is not unlike filling empty bottles of pricey white Burgundy with Two-buck Chuck chardonnay.

Winebits 534: Wine and teeth, wine fraud, wine labels

winne and teethThis week’s wine news: What does wine do to your teeth? Plus, another massive French wine fraud and an essay calling wine labels “little white lies”

Brush up: It’s the enamel – the thin covering on your teeth – that is most affected by wine, reports the Wine Spectator in a surprisingly well-done piece discussing the dreaded purple grin. And while red wine does tend to stain teeth more than white, both can cause the enamel to decay thanks to the acid that’s present in all wine. Interestingly, while white wine doesn’t stain teeth the way red does, it can make teeth more susceptible to stains. That’s because it has more acid, which breaks down the enamel more quickly. That leaves the teeth more open to thinks like coffee stains.

Not the real thing: More than 5 ½ million cases of French wine were sold as high quality Côtes-du-Rhône label in one of the biggest French wine scandals in years. Some of the wine was even sold as high-end Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which can cost as much as $70 a bottle. French officials saids that the 2017 involved a major wine producer, which they did not name. However, the company;s top official was indicted for deception and fraud.

Wine lies: “If you think that wine labels don’t matter, that they don’t affect the way a wine tastes, think again,” writes Felix Salmon on Vinepair. This short essay discusses the label’s “little white lies” – how labels are used to convince us that the wine we drink is consistent from vintage to vintage, even if it isn’t; to alter our perception with a cute label or fancy paper. It’s an intriguing piece, though I’m not sure Salmon needed to use the word semiotic.

Winebits 508: Wine fraud edition

wine fraudThis week’s wine news: Three cases of wine fraud from around the world, because $10 wine, apparently, isn’t enough for everyone

Beware trophy wines: A big-time bond trader has accused a big-time Napa Valley retailer of selling him fake wine, and he wants $1 million from the retailer. The Wine Spectator (who else?) has all the juicy details, which include claims of criminal fraud, some top names in the history of Napa wine, and famous wines that are so rare that only a handful of people in the world get to see them these days. This is one of those times when it pays to drink Bogle; I don’t have to worry about anyone selling me a fake bottle.

“Lavish wine trips”: How did three Dallas bankers allegedly indulge in the California wine lifestyle? Federal prosecutors say the trio stole $1.2 million; the money was spent on first-class airfare, luxury hotel rooms, expensive wine and restaurant dinners, and private wine tours in Sonoma and Santa Barbara. The Wine Curmudgeon has noted before that wine is not worth corruption charges; again, there’s so much nice wine that is affordable that there’s little reason to steal to buy more expensive wine.

Even the English: A local church official stole more than £35,000 (almost US$50,000) from the restoration fund for a 12th century English church, and he used some of the stolen money to buy 76 bottles of wine for a what was apparently one of the greatest lunches of all time. The Telegraph in London reports that the man “used his trusted position to siphon off … restoration funds to bankroll a luxury lifestyle.” The story does not detail the wine served at lunch, but anyone who would steal money from a church fund probably spent more than Prosecco from Lidl.

Winebits 484: Boxed wine, wine crime, wine foolishness

boxed wineThis week’s wine news: Sound advice about boxed wine, more wine crime, and why people who don’t understand wine shouldn’t write about it

Bring on the box: Americans, for whatever reason, still don’t think much about boxed wine. Thls post, from the Lifehacker site, explains why that’s not a very progressive attitude. “… while boxed wines have long been associated with poor quality, they’re just like traditional cork and bottled wines—there are good ones and there are bad ones.” Which, of course, is true for wine no matter what it comes in and no matter what it costs. Lifehacker comes in for a lot of criticism on the blog for its wine posts, but this is not one of those posts. Yes, there is a bizarre reference to the wine and arsenic scare as well as the implication that Two-buck Chuck comes in boxes, but the boxed wines it recommends are mostly worth buying and the advice is spot on.

A wine scam: One day I need to write a post about wine crime, and why so many people are taken in by grifters who have a smooth line of wine patter. As, for example, the various English men and women who gave a long-time villain £104,000 (about US$129,000) to pay for fake wine packages. The criminal posed as a multi-millionaire wine dealer named Lars Petraeus, fleecing his victims, including what the story describes as a prominent food blogger.

No, no no: As noted in the item above, people who don’t write much about wine too often don’t do a very good job of it. Case in point is this line, from a website called Digital Trends that is shilling for a wine purifier: The gadget helps in “removing sulfites and restoring its natural taste.” Which is patently untrue, since sulfites occur naturally in wine and are part of its natural taste, whatever that is. Or how about this one? “Sulfites tend to give wine an unpleasantly bitter taste,” which also seems odd, since tannins (as well as bad grapes and bad winemaking) give wine a bitter taste. My guess is that the writer cut and pasted the news release for the gizmo, accepting as gospel whatever the release said. Which is bad form, regardless of whether you are writing about wine or politics or whatever.