Helen’s blog

Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

Atom bombs and wine fraud

Australian scientists claim to have discovered an accurate, scientific test to determine the age of fine wine.  The team at the University of Adelaide headed by Dr Graham Jones noted that atmospheric atomic bomb tests, which ended in 1963,  released significant amounts of radioactive carbon-14 into the atmosphere. This is absorbed by grapes as they ripen and can be measured in the lab, in a similar way to that already used by archaeologists to date organic remains. Dr Jones hopes that his research, using a highly sensitive accelerator mass spectrometer might offer one more tool in the fight against wine fraud.

Representatives of the top auction houses will be delighted, especially in Hong Kong.  They will probably be already beating a path to Dr Jones’s door. They recognise that their hugely lucrative trade might collapse overnight if their rich clients, especially those in mainland China, discover that wine they’ve bought might not be the genuine article. Vast sums of money are spent by investors in the Far East on wine: £54,476 was paid at a Hong Kong auction in December, for example, for a case of 1982 Pétrus.

Attempts to deceive are probably inevitable when so much money is at stake; but I imagine that the tests themselves won’t run cheap. And each test will, I’m sure, necessitate the opening of a bottle of potentially precious liquid. Will the worried client be on hand to drink the rest? Will the lucky scientists be treated to a glass too?

At least it might mean that some of a few bottles of these ridiculous commodity wines might actually end up being consumed. Or were they created for some other reason?

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