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Australia Science

Carbon-14 Dating Reveals 5% of Vintage Wines May Be Frauds 336

Posted by timothy
from the better-than-backdating-a-check dept.
Carbon dating isn't used only for such academic pursuits as trying to determine the age of the Shroud of Turin, or figure out how old some rocks are. An anonymous reader writes "Up to 5% of fine wines are not from the year the label indicates, according to Australian researchers who have carbon-dated some top dollar wines."
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Carbon-14 Dating Reveals 5% of Vintage Wines May Be Frauds

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  • by geoffrobinson (109879) on Monday March 22, 2010 @12:03AM (#31563412) Homepage

    I've had a $400 wine before (obtained at a decent price and then aged). The difference between a decent $20-$40 wine and a $400 one is minimal relative to the price.

    I doubt anyone without a really refined palate would be able to notice. And even if you did, you would probably chalk it up to poor storage or oxidation or something.

    • by ravenspear (756059) on Monday March 22, 2010 @12:12AM (#31563472)
      I agree. While price matters to a certain extent (a cheap $10 bottle from the grocery might not be as good as a nice wine), spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a bottle of wine is a proposition with extraordinarily diminishing returns.

      When you see how absurd some of those prices are, it's not surprising that you have people trying to fake it for a quick buck.
      • by Aargau (827662) on Monday March 22, 2010 @12:25AM (#31563580)
        It's always more interesting when there are multiple viewpoints on an issue, and I'm happy to take the contrary one. I've tasted 2 buck Chuck (quite good), and tasted $100-$1000 dollar bottles. There is actually a difference that's discernable by I'd guess at least 40% of wine drinkers, and while I'm open to the idea that we can replicate some of the properties of the top wines cheaply, and that certain top wines are counterfeited, I still posit that the top, expensive wines are an experience that are worth paying for, at least once or twice in one's life. To test, I'd recommend splitting among a few friends an Opus One from Costco for around $100, which can be 40% of the retail price. It's consistently a top wine and will enlighten you if you're in that sad, obsessive, minority of folks who care enough to spend crazy money on good wines :)
        • I'm from Argentina. We produce some of the finest wines in the world, specially in Mendoza.
          t,
          Here, a cheap, average wine that most people drink at home with dinner retails at ~$9 (That is, 9 pesos, or 2.3 Dollars.)

          A relatively good wine retails ~$20 (5.2 dollars). At $150 (39 dollars), you can get one of the finest wines you'll ever taste.

          The funny thing is, while traveling to the USA, I've recognized bottles that Retail here for ~$35 (9 dollars), with tags of 250 dollars!

          So, leaving that aside, yes, you can definitely tell the difference, but it's not all about money. You can definitely tell the difference between any two wines. But, with wine, price is not always = quality. I've tested $200 wines that I didn't like (like the Lamadrid Gran Reserva Malbec) , and $20 (5 dollars) wines that I loved (Like Benjamin Nieto Cabernet Sauvignon)

          So, money plays a big role, but there's not a clear relationship between price and quality. It's more of a threshold ... you won't find really good wines very cheap. But above a certain price, there are good and bad wines at a very ample price range

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by CrashandDie (1114135)
            Mod parent up. The exact same thing is noticeable in France.

            I love cooking with wine in quite a few different dishes and styles. I always used the cheapo wines I could find, and in southern France (as in, 30 miles from the Spanish border), a cheap wine is something you get between 1 EUR per 750ml bottle and 3-4 EUR per 5 litre box.

            When I moved to the UK, the cheapest I could find began at 6-7 GBP. In France, most people drink (or should I say, absorb) 3 EUR bottles. They'll go for a 12 EUR bottle when
            • The other reason wine is so cheap in Argentina/France/Spain is that we drink way too much red wine ;)

              The only places in the world where I've seen people drinking red wine at a bar at 10 A.M are Buenos Aires, Madrid and Paris.

              I've got to hand it to you people the finest Wine, Woman and Cheese are French.

              • by JWSmythe (446288)

                    That's because every time you've seen me in a bar at 10am, I'm still drinking from the night before, and it's a whole lot stronger than wine. :)

                    Thank god for airport bars, or I'd never survive a trip sane.

                • I could never survive to trip without tripping either ;)

                  And, agreed, the official Airport drink is Johnny Walker, BL

                  • by JWSmythe (446288)

                    I've found it looks best when I order for 3 people, and then take the drinks to the table as if I were expecting them. They catch on when all the drinks are gone within a minute or two, and I come back for the next round. Maybe they think I'm just a little crazy. It's usually two shots and a strong mixed drink. Bourbon, Scotch, Whiskey, Rum or Vodka. Whatever they may happen to have that's a decent brand (decent flavor, not necessarily expensive, for the sake of this thread)

                    Of co

            • by Mr. Freeman (933986) on Monday March 22, 2010 @02:19AM (#31564136)
              "that way if it tastes like crap and you don't know if you ought to start shouting, your mate will make that decision for you."

              If you don't know whether or not it's crap then how on earth can you say that drinking a $1000+ wine is something that you should pay for EVER? It's not a memorable experience if you have to be TOLD that it's a memorable experience. If you can't recognize the difference between a $20 and $1000 wine by yourself then there isn't any damn point in buying the $1000 bottle.
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by frenchbedroom (936100)

              I'm French and I mostly agree about your quotes... under 3 €, it's everyday wine, good for cooking or drinking over everyday supermarket cheese. Above 3 € I can be confident that it'll be enjoyable, with a nice meal. But then up from 15€, I begin to wonder if it's really worth it, and that's where you really need to know something about it.

          • by crazybit (918023)
            At Peru you can get a 2 lt. bottle of a fine Rose for about US$ 50, from one of our award winning companies. They are cheap because in this area of South America the climate and soil are exceptionally productive and abundant. One of them, Santiago Queirolo, has a 100 km2 Vineyard, in which they produce: Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah, Merlot, Chardonnay, Petit Verdot, Trebiano Bianco, Quebranta, Torontel. They produce wine since 1880.
            You can see pictures here [santiagoqueirolo.com].

            As Argentina, we sell great quality wines f
            • Yup, I know. I've been to Peru. Beautiful country, and truly good wines.

              But, to be honest, wine is not my favorite Peruvian export, if you know what I mean ;)

              • Peruvian wine is terrible, they don't really drink it unless it's terribly sweet or after it's been amazingly fortified into their version of Grappa, called Pisco. Pisco is actually worth drinking though.
          • by adolf (21054) <flodadolf@gmail.com> on Monday March 22, 2010 @01:49AM (#31564016) Journal

            Hmm.

            So, it's like beer, cigars, women, clothes, and cars. You often get what you pay for, but if you try a bit, you'll find that you can save a lot of money while getting a lot more.

            Nothing to see here, folks.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by JWSmythe (446288)

              You sir, need to be modded up. :)

              I agree totally. For a while, I was around a cigar smoking crowd. The smoked Cubans. I'd smoke them occasionally, but found some really great cigars just as good for $6/ea. While I won't say every one was a winner, it's a lot more satisfying to experience what's out there, rather than be told "You must do this, because it's the best, because it's the most expensive."

              If I drank my alcohol, dated women, wore clothes, and drove c

          • But, with wine, price is not always = quality. I've tested $200 wines that I didn't like (like the Lamadrid Gran Reserva Malbec) , and $20 (5 dollars) wines that I loved (Like Benjamin Nieto Cabernet Sauvignon)

            If cost != quality, why do your examples cite what like and don't like? Your likes != quality.

        • I have tasted high end wines. I do enjoy wine. I just find the diminishing returns of price to be seriously in play once you get past $50-$100 or so. Is a $500 bottle of wine better than a $50 bottle? In most cases yes. Is it actually 10 times better? Almost never.
          • In London, I heard a standard rule of thumb that it costs about £100 to get an enjoyable bottle of wine. This breaks down as about £10 for the bottle you actually enjoy, and the remaining £90 for the nine other bottles you bought. Really, there are a lot of nice wines in the £10 price bracket, but they are surrounded by many less nice ones, and it's a matter of taste as to which ones are nicest.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by m509272 (1286764)

          We have wine nearly every day. There's no need to spend more than $100 and there's plenty of wines under $60. I'm talking wine store not restaurant. The number of wines that I've had over $200 that I've went wow this is amazing is pretty much zero. There were a handful of wines in the $100-$200 and those wines are at that price because they got high ratings which drove them up. Before that they were sub $100. I've spoken to numerous winemakers and quite a number of them say we have to have a >$100

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by teh dave (1618221)

          Diminishing returns applies to most products though. Cars, computers, mobile phones, food, houses, clothing... And audio equipment. Most people can't appreciate the quality and faithful sound reproduction of a good audio system, which is a shame because if more people could, then more people would buy better equipment, and consequently, the really expensive stuff wouldn't be as expensive as it is.

          Like with wine, I believe that most people would be able to hear the difference between the cheap $0.05 shit tha

      • by jrumney (197329) on Monday March 22, 2010 @01:05AM (#31563832) Homepage
        In many ways the wine market is similar to the hifi market. If only the butler had opened the wine using the correct polarisation of the Oxygen Free Corkscrew, you might have noticed the difference.
    • by Cryacin (657549)
      Why is the parent modded troll? This is the concensus even amongst wine connoisseurs. There is a huge difference between a very high end wine such as a Grange Hermitage, and say a lowly poets corner, but that difference is still smaller than $12 compared to $599 (2000 vintage).

      And what's the difference between a Grange and a Mouton Rothschild? Very subtle differences in pallete flavour etc, but quite a bit of price difference. $1107 for a 2000 vintage, (one of the best since 1986).

      Seriously. You show me
    • by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Monday March 22, 2010 @12:25AM (#31563586)

      The refined palate is the key, and while some people definitely have it, most people don't taste nearly enough wine to develop it (and I mean sip-spit, not sip-sip-sip).

      For most people a $400 bottle of wine is nothing more than a status symbol, they'd probably enjoy a less complicated $20 wine a hell of a lot more.

      Note: personally, I can barely remember which types of wines I like, let alone get all snobbish on age and vinyard.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Barlo_Mung_42 (411228)

        If I spend that much on wine I'm not going to spit it out. That's just crazy talk right there!

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Mashdar (876825)

        Spitting is only for when you are tasting several varieties and are trying not to get drunk before bottle #14.

    • by Archangel Michael (180766) on Monday March 22, 2010 @12:32AM (#31563626) Journal

      $400 dollar wine is much like gold plated ethernet cables. Only less so.

    • by MishgoDog (909105) on Monday March 22, 2010 @12:42AM (#31563718)
      I drink a lot of wine, with a wide range of prices, and disagree.
      While it certainly isn't a linear relationship to price, or indeed certain, I have had a lot of very expensive wine which I am more than happy to pay for because I can taste the difference.

      I can find a $15 I like and drink, a $30 a love and drink a lot, and a $70 I savour and purely enjoy. The >$300 bottles I've had (not paid for by me, I'm a young professional supporting a student wife!), are usually better than the lot - just not (say) 10 times better than the $30 bottle.

      To translate into geekspeak: a top of the line i7 processor might cost 10 times what a midrange 775pin would cost, but doesn't perform the same as 10 of the cheaper processor. Indeed, the majority of users (i.e. browsing & word processing) may not notice the difference.
      But some people who are into their computers will definitely notice the difference, and will pay the extra.
      I know the metaphor isn't perfect, but you get the gist.

      All of that being said - aging wine can be a bit of pot luck unless the conditions are perfect.
    • by Dahamma (304068)

      I've had a $400 wine before (obtained at a decent price and then aged).

      Well, that's your problem. It tastes much better when you pay $400 for it upfront!

    • There is a wine worth paying extra for - where you can definitely feel the difference - and it's icewine [wikipedia.org].

      But then, that doesn't reach the $400+ territory, either, so your point still stands.

  • by wjc_25 (1686272) on Monday March 22, 2010 @12:06AM (#31563438)
    95% of carbon datings may be inaccurate, says new wine grower-sponsored study.
  • by voodoo cheesecake (1071228) on Monday March 22, 2010 @12:07AM (#31563446)
    This is why I only drink Jolt and 151.
  • Old Enough? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BobPaul (710574) * on Monday March 22, 2010 @12:08AM (#31563448) Journal

    As I understand it, carbon dating doesn't work well for young items. Are vintage wines old enough for accurate carbon dating?

    • Re:Old Enough? (Score:5, Informative)

      by rnaiguy (1304181) on Monday March 22, 2010 @12:14AM (#31563488)
      There is a trick that can be used to date things from the 2nd half of the 20th century. Nuclear bomb testing caused a spike in atmospheric C14, which is rapidly decreasing as it equilibrates with the oceans (among other things). The actual radioactive decay is insignificant on this timescale, and so we can get a pretty good idea if the grapes used to make the wine were plucked after nuclear testing began, and if so what year they were harvested. This technique has also been used in biology to date the "birth" of cells in human tissues.
      • by EL_mal0 (777947)
        It sounds like you're thinking of tritium (3H).
        • Re:Old Enough? (Score:5, Informative)

          by rnaiguy (1304181) on Monday March 22, 2010 @12:26AM (#31563594)
          No, I'm thinking of C14. Which is produced when all the excess neutrons from a nuclear blast smash into atmospheric nitrogen: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon-14 [wikipedia.org]

          here's the biology reference: http://www.pnas.org/content/103/33/12564.long [pnas.org]

          these guys pioneered the tech for use in biology, but then it was popularly applied to wines.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by interkin3tic (1469267)

            GP isn't completely wrong though. Tritiated thymidine [wikipedia.org] was commonly used to label cells which were actively taking up DNA and were therefore proliferating. BrdU is more commonly used today. Both are somewhat more convenient than utilizing nuclear bomb tests.

            I find the article very interesting given the history of adult neurogenesis. Pasko Rakic, who communicated the paper, was initially very skeptical of those results:

            At the time, the new technique of labelling a cell with thymidine to determine the birth date of neurons was used in newborns, since adult animals were not thought to create new neurons. But Altman decided to try the technique with adults. He published several papers in the most reputable scientific journals, claiming that new neurons are formed in the brains of adult rats, cats, and guinea pigs–a discovery that Nottebohm later made with canaries. Because the techniques Altman used were primitive, however, they were open to reasonable doubt. It was a classic example of a discovery made ahead of its time. At first, Altman was ignored, then he was ridiculed, and finally, after failing to receive tenure at M.I.T., he moved to Purdue. With no recognition, he was quickly forgotten. The field almost dried up. A decade later, Michael Kaplan, a researcher at Boston University and later at the University of New Mexico, used an electron microscope to supply more compelling evidence that several parts of the adult brain, including the cortex, also produced neurons. He, too, met resistance from researchers who did not find his work convincing. ("Those may look like neurons in New Mexico,'' Kaplan remembers Rakic saying at the time. "But they don't in New Haven.") Kaplan had published his findings in important journals and even suggested a novel way to test the phenomenon in humans, but he, too, was ignored, and he left the field.

            source [michaelspecter.com]

            Rakic has admitted he was wrong, and I think his criticisms weren't unfounded.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by rgmoore (133276)
          No, he's right that it's 14C. Tritium gets incorporated into water, so it gets spread around very quickly and regularly. It also has a relatively short half life (~12 years). 14C released in nuclear testing mostly winds up as CO2, which gets pulled out of the air fast enough to serve as a useful marker but not so fast that it isn't still useful decades after the end of atmospheric testing.
        • by BobPaul (710574) *

          No, some brief Googling along with the second page of the article confirms hist statements.

        • by geminidomino (614729) on Monday March 22, 2010 @12:45AM (#31563734) Journal

          I saw that episode of White Collar too! ;)

  • by deniable (76198) on Monday March 22, 2010 @12:08AM (#31563450)
    1. Buy a bunch of expensive wine
    2. Carbon date a small sample.
    3. Dispose of the rest thoughtfully.

    Some days I'm proud to be an Australian.

  • by zogger (617870)

    Ya know, they'd get way more accuracy measuring these fine wines age if they used oxygen depleted gold plated monster cables on their equipment...

  • Dammit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Colonel Sponsz (768423) on Monday March 22, 2010 @12:20AM (#31563544)

    Carbon dating isn't all used for such academic pursuits as trying to determine the age of the Shroud of Turin, or figure out how old some rocks are.

    The summary writer fails basic science. Carbon dating isn't used, and can't be used for dating rocks. Various forms of radiometric dating can be used, but carbon dating? Hell no. In the words of Youtube's creationism debunker Potholer54 [youtube.com], "because there's no f-ing carbon in it!".

    • Re:Dammit (Score:5, Informative)

      by rgmoore (133276) <glandauer@charter.net> on Monday March 22, 2010 @12:49AM (#31563754) Homepage

      "because there's no f-ing carbon in it!".

      There are plenty of rocks that contain carbon. Good examples include limestone, marble, coal, and oil shale. The problem isn't lack of carbon. The problem is that the half life of 14C is very short compared to the age of most rocks, so there isn't enough radiocarbon left to date.

    • What would you call coal? Or diamond? Or graphite? A fluid?

      Carbon dating isn't used for coal because it's typically far older than the roughly 50,000 years carbon dating is usable for, and because for most of it the source of carbon may be far, far older, rather than containing C14 released into the biosphere, especially via the atmosphere, from radioactive decay. It's not not because there's "no carbon".

      The mishandling of C14 claims used by creationists is its own amusing topic: please don't confuse the tw

  • From TFA:

    The researchers think carbon-dating fine wines could help nip in the bud the growing practice of vintage fraud.

    According to the study, wine experts have estimated that up to 5% of fine wines sold today are not all they are cracked up to be on the label or in the price tag.

    Nothing about the researchers estimating that 5%: that's made up by the "wine experts". (They should know.)

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      American Chemical Society Press Release [acs.org]

      The scientists used a highly-sensitive analytical device called an accelerator mass spectrometer to determine the C-14 levels in the alcohol components of 20 Australian red wines with vintages from 1958 to 1997 and then compared these measurements to the radioactivity levels of known atmospheric samples.

      None of the articles I googled actually says if they found any fakes in their sample size of 20.
      And as usual with lazy reporting, it seems like most the articles are 95% based on that American Chemical Society press release.

  • misleading summary (Score:4, Informative)

    by SuperBanana (662181) on Monday March 22, 2010 @12:31AM (#31563618)

    According to the study, wine experts have estimated that up to 5% of fine wines sold today are not all they are cracked up to be on the label or in the price tag

    The carbon dating didn't find 5% of wines are frauds. A bunch of "wine experts" they talked to said it.

    Also, it's not based off the age of the carbon in the wine; it's based off the percentage of radioactive carbon from nuclear tests. Unless they have a precise idea of exactly how much radioactive carbon ended up where after each test, the whole thing is a load of crap.

  • BS Article (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rozthepimp (638319) on Monday March 22, 2010 @12:34AM (#31563644)
    Certain vintages (same grapestock, same vineyard, same winemaster) vary in perceived taste and value from year to year, depending on weather, harvest time, sugar content, etc. 1999 may be great, 2000 shoddy. Is C-14 dating accurate to within one year? Hmm...
    • Absolutely. Wine is definitely nothing like Whiskey or Beer. You can get a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label at mostly the same price anywhere in the world, and at any point in time, and it'll taste mostly the same. You can't say the same about wines, even when they have the same label.

    • Yeah buddy, actually that's what the article is all about, that they can narrow it down to a single vintage with C-14... Doesn't actually say they found 5% of the wine was fake. Shocking that the title would be inaccurate and a poster wouldn't have RTFA on Slashdot, huh? ;)

  • Today almost everything is adulterated - from Spanish and Greek olive oil (which is often either not virgin (cold-pressed) or not even olive), to milk and everything in between. Think that "100% pure Mysore Sandalwood" is actually from Mysore, or 100% pure - or even Sandalwood? Considering that Mysore Sandalwood has been illegal to harvest fr a number of years... and that Sandalwood is one of the most often adulterated essential oils... and that the great majority of people could not distinguish a 100% from

  • Not much data (Score:5, Interesting)

    by blamanj (253811) on Monday March 22, 2010 @01:36AM (#31563964)

    That story doesn't leave much to go on, it's pretty low information content. However, it should be noted that a vintage wine [answers.com] can contain up to 15% of its grapes from another year. That would obviously skew any carbon dating results.

  • by Leemeng (970560) on Monday March 22, 2010 @01:59AM (#31564050)
    1. Don't chew gum while tasting wine.
    2. Delicate grapes on a vine can be a metaphor for your life / personality, or something.
    3. If anyone orders Merlot, leave.
  • by Creosote (33182) on Monday March 22, 2010 @03:45AM (#31564452) Homepage

    The Australian researcher quoted in the story was co-author of a paper involving forensic use of C-14 dating of wines published in 2004:

    U. Zoppi, Z. Skopec, J. Skopec, G. Jones, D. Fink, Q. Hua, G. Jacobsen, C. Tuniz, A. Williams, Forensic applications of 14C bomb-pulse dating, Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section B: Beam Interactions with Materials and Atoms, Volumes 223-224, Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference on Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, August 2004, Pages 770-775, ISSN 0168-583X, DOI: 10.1016/j.nimb.2004.04.143.
    (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6TJN-4CDWMNK-F/2/b2a003d44396872bd06d5c80443167cd)

    and I'm nearly certain I saw published research in the 1990s using C-14 dating to establish wine adulteration, but as it's 3:40 in the morning insomniac me is not going to run down the reference

  • When I read the article I came up with over a dozen questions, none of which were adequately explained. Thus:

    Other sources of carbon in the batch- You've got oak, the toasting process, blending of different types of oak/wines, reuse of barrels, different toasted barrels, different types of oak in the barrel, the possibility of a really old oak barrel (neutral) used for fermentation and combination of items such as StaVin's Oak Cubes or Oak Staves, (two different sources of carbon)...

    Oak is aged anywhere from 2-3 years before toasting. Toasted oak could be years different than what the year of the vintage is. Oak Trees are significant sources of variability. (Toasting oak releases sugars and flavours into the wine).

    Chaptalization is another source- sometimes wines are started with diluted or various mixes of sugar and water to strengthen the yeast growth. You have a grape must that is a little low in sugar- so add more sugar. Where did it come from? Who knows. Probably not beet sugar, if you know what I mean.

    Say you have a stuck fermentation- you take some wine out, dilute it, add more sugar, wine, repeat- eventually bringing up the level until the yeast are strong enough to take back over.

    Finally, you have blends. To the best of my knowledge a blended wine doesn't have to state the year or can state the year of the major component - depending on the laws of the region.

    All in all... not the best article.

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