Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Wine Nuked for Thomas Jefferson... a Job for the Pink Panther?

One of Britain's top rare wine merchants and nuclear scientists have jointly unveiled a 21st-century tool for unmasking counterfeit vintage wines.

The technique consists of zapping bottles with ion beams generated by a particle accelerator.

The beams are directed at the glass, not the wine, and can distinguish how old the bottles are and, roughly, where they originate.

"We compare the suspect bottles with those that we know come from the chateaux," explained Herve Guegan, a researcher at the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Bordeaux.

"The chemical composition of glass used to make bottles changed over time and was different from place to place," he told AFP.

The Antique Wine Company in London, which asked Guegan's Centre for Nuclear Studies to develop the fraud-busting technology, handles more than 10,000 bottles of rare wines every year for thousands of customers around the world.

"We sell bottles every day for between $US2000 and $US10,000," said the company's managing director, Stephen Williams, noting that the exceptional grand cru can fetch up to $US100,000.

At these prices, "counterfeiting is something we have to be very diligent about," he said by phone.

France's most prestigious Burgundy and Bordeaux chateaux are notoriously reluctant to discuss fraud or its prevalence, but wine experts say it is a growing problem.

In a recent and spectacular case, American collector William Koch sued a German wine dealer, claiming four bottles - allegedly belonging to US President Thomas Jefferson - he had purchased for $US500,000 were fake. The case has yet to be settled.

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