Wine Scandals, Fakes and Forgery with Maureen Downey



In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, we’re chatting with Maureen Downey, a.k.a. the Wine Detective, about wine forgeries, fakes and scandals. You’ll learn tips on how to spot a fake wine based on the label and more. Enjoy!



  • Why did Maureen become interested in wine fraud?
  • What role did Hardy Rodenstock play in Maureen’s journey as a wine fraud expert?
  • What aspects of the wine does Maureen consider to determine its authenticity?
  • How does Maureen use technology when testing a wine’s authenticity?
  • Why are cosmetic fraud detection techniques insufficient?
  • What are the issues associated with detection techniques that go beyond cosmetic fraud?
  • How useful is Caesium-137 dating for wine?
  • Is wine tainted by radioisotopes?
  • How pervasive is wine counterfeiting?
  • Why is the wine re-selling process so resource-intensive?
  • What is blockchain and how can it help us to trace the provenance of a bottle of wine?
  • Why is RFID technology so well-suited to preventing wine fraud?
  • What are some of the simple information mistakes wine counterfeiters have made?
  • What are unicorn wines?
  • How can the average wine buyer avoid becoming a victim of wine fraud?
  • What’s next for Maureen’s blockchain solution for combatting wine fraud?
  • Has Maureen experienced backlash from the wine community because of her work to fight wine fraud?
  • What role does the wine industry play in perpetuating wine fraud?


About Maureen Downey

Maureen Downey, DWS, CWE, FWS is known as the Sherlock Holmes of wines and is considered the world’s foremost expert in counterfeit wine identification. She is an expert on rare wines and an authority on wine fraud, counterfeit and fine wine authentication. She earned a degree in hospitality from Boston University and she took the advanced sommelier exams at the age of 23.

Over the past 20 years, she has inspected hundreds of millions of dollars worth of both authentic and counterfeit wine. She advises some of the world’s top collectors in purchasing, selling, and managing their collections with her firm Chai Consulting based in San Francisco. She has assisted the government prosecution in the biggest wine counterfeiting cased, ever tried by the US government and continues to work with law enforcement to investigate wine fraud cases. You can also catch her in the Netflix film, Sour Grapes.




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Transcript & Takeaways

In today’s episode, we’re chatting with Maureen Downey, aka the Wine Detective, about wine forgeries, fakes and scandals. You’ll learn tips on how to spot a fake wine based on the label and more.

A companion episode to this is the interview is the very first episode with the New York author Pete Hellman who wrote about one particular wine fraudster Rudy Kurniawan in his bestselling book In Vino Duplicitas: The Rise and Fall of a Wine Forger. If you missed that one, go back and have a listen to episode one as he tells a gripping story about human greed.

This interview yielded such terrific insights and fascinating stories that I didn’t want to delete the parts where Maureen’s audio isn’t great, as her connection was choppy, especially at the beginning. I think you’ll agree with me if you stick with it. Enjoy!


You can also watch the video interview with Maureen that includes bonus content and behind-the-scenes questions and answers that weren’t included in this podcast.


What a terrific discussion! Here are my takeaways from this discussion:

  1. I’m fascinated by how the industry is using CSI techniques to identify fraud, such as the analysis of ink and paper with infrared, banknote and radioactive dating technology. Even the lip of the glass bottle is a tell.
  2. There are some exciting new developments on the horizon that’ll help to reduce wine fraud such as hologram infused capsules, invisible ink and blockchain technology.
  3. Fraud isn’t just rampant among expensive wines, it’s also now prevalent among affordable wines that we drink every day because the consequences are so low compared to the potential payoffs. That’s going to get even more likely with wine damaged by the wildfires coming on to the market. That’s something we’ve discussed in my private Facebook group for my online course students.
  4. It’ll be interesting to see if the wine industry can counteract fraud from gadgets like Coravin that can empty a pricey bottle without ever removing the cork, then refill it the same way with inexpensive wine. That trifecta of the label, capsule and fill level will pass the current tests. Perfect diamond dust that settles in a certain way and/or RFID chips will help. But who knows.
  5. As Maureen says, if it’s too good to be true, it usually is. There are no unicorn wines: their mythical. We only keep them live because we want to believe that they’re true.

You’ll find links to Maureen’s company and to her social media handles in the show notes at

Did you know that you can now listen to this podcast on your smart speaker? Just say: “Hey Google” or for Amazon’s Echo, use her name that begins with A … I won’t say it now as it’ll set off your device and mine so I’ll say Madame A as in “Madame A — play the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast.” I’d love to chat about wine with you while you’re doing the dishes, the laundry, having breakfast, lunch or dinner … it’s always wine time.

What was your favourite tip or quote from this episode? Share that with me on Twitter or Facebook and tag me @nataliemaclean, on Instagram I’m @nataliemacleanwine.

If you liked this episode, please tell a friend about it, especially one who’s interested in wine and true crime. My podcast is easy to find, whether you search Google on its name Unreserved Wine Talk, or on my name.

Finally, if you want to take your ability to pair wine and food to the next level, join me in a free online video class at

On next week’s show, I’ll be chatting about Canada Day wines just in time for your July 1st celebrations!



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