Introducing our wine detective: Philip Moulin

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An illustration of Philip Moulin, our wine authentication expert
An illustration of Philip Moulin

We were the first UK wine merchant to have a wine authentication expert. Ours, Philip Moulin, is one of only two today. We speak to him about the background of wine fraud and how to spot a fake bottle.  

Rewind to 2012. A young man named Rudy Kurniawan is arrested in California, accused of selling 100 million dollars-worth of fake wine over a 10-year period. His arrest – and the story that emerged – revealed the vast scale of fraud in the fine wine world.  

Around the same time, Philip Moulin began learning all he could about wine counterfeiting. In the early 2010s, the launch of BBX (our fine wine exchange), combined with the events unfolding in California, demanded the urgent need for a wine authentication expert. And so, Philip embarked on a journey to become Berry Bros. & Rudd’s very own wine detective.  

Now, nearly 10 years on, Philip talks us through the role of a counterfeiting expert in a wine world rife with fraud.   

How did your role first come about?  

In 2010, we launched BBX – our fine wine exchange – which was the catalyst for needing a fraud specialist to check the quality of the stock. And so, I began working in wine authentication in 2011. By then, the need had become greater: we began accepting stock into the company which hadn’t been sold by us, as we were allowing customers to bring their own wines into Berry Bros. & Rudd for storage.  

If it was of sufficient quality and real, we’d allow it to be listed on BBX and traded on the platform. The fact that customers could list their own stock opened up the potential for reputational damage. So, Simon Berry (our former Chairman) and Max Lalondrelle (our Bordeaux Buyer) decided that we needed someone to be as clued up as possible on wine fraud. I was tasked with getting myself as up to speed as possible in the field. 

In the beginning, I genuinely didn’t know where to start. In 2012, I enrolled on a course with the University of Portsmouth on counter-fraud studies – absolutely fascinating, most of it not connected to wine, but it gave me a grounding in counterfeiting and fraud law.  

During the same year, there was an increased awareness that counterfeiting in the fine wine world was becoming more of a problem. It coincided with the arrest of Rudy Kurniawan, who was accused of counterfeiting millions of dollars’ worth of fine wine over 10 years.  

While all this was happening, I became aware of a lady called Maureen Downey, who is the world’s foremost expert on wine counterfeiting. She had been helping the FBI behind the scenes, as they were preparing to arrest Kurniawan. I approached Maureen and asked, “Would you mind coming to Berry Bros. & Rudd and teaching us what you know?” Thankfully, she agreed.  

We worked with Maureen for around two years. She came over to England and taught me everything she knew. She went through a lot of our potentially dangerous stock in the warehouse with us, teaching the warehouse guys what to look for and what equipment we needed to be using. She really helped us make a head-start on this: I was the first person doing this job in the UK.  

How do you determine which wines are accepted into our warehouses?  

Day to day, I determine whether wines are good enough to be allowed into the business and onto BBX. A lot of the wines we deal with are worth tens of thousands of pounds a bottle, and hundreds of thousands of pounds a case.  

We have a check-in process for all customers’ wines coming into the business. Where we have a direct relationship with a producer, we’re not so concerned. Our potential Achilles’ heel is customers’ stock: the wines have often been sold by another merchant, and they’re sent to us with the intent of being listed on BBX.  

When a customer says, “We’d like to send this in for storage and sell it on BBX”, firstly we check if it’s come from a listed bonded UK warehouse that we know and trust. The wine must be In Bond with a paper trail behind it.  

We say “no Duty Paid goods”, because that’s when the paper trail breaks down (you can’t list Duty Paid goods on BBX). If we have any doubt as to where the stock has come from, then it doesn’t come in at all. 

If we’re aware that the wine has come from another country, or from certain European destinations, it raises a “red flag” and we are less likely to let it into the business. We’re not talking about anything that comes directly from the producer, rather anything coming to us via the secondary market.  

What do you look out for in a fake wine?  

The first stage of checking is knowing where the stock is coming from. Once the wines arrive at the warehouse, our team look over the stock meticulously.  

One of the first things that alerts us that a wine might be a fake is the case. It might be stamped incorrectly, or it might not be secured with the right band. If it has the wrong type of band, that suggests that the case has already been opened. We’re also looking out for any signs of tampering on the exterior of the case. Sometimes, we’ve discovered that vintages have been sanded off, with a new stamp applied over the old vintage. It’s not always the end of the world, but it suggests that it’s not the original case; therefore, it’s not allowed onto BBX.  

That’s before we’ve even opened the case. Once open, we go through a checklist of looking at the capsules, the labels and the fabric of the glass. That includes the imprinting on the punt (the bottom of the bottle), as each property has its own unique way of stamping and we know what to look for.  

Then, we look at the capsules, looking for any tell-tale signs that it’s been tampered with. Has it been chipped? Has the wax been reapplied? For instance, Rudy Kurniawan would sometimes cut a tiny slit into the capsule to make it easier to take off, before reapplying it using glue. These cuts are done very well, and are incredibly hard to see. 

Next, we look at the labels. That means analysing the quality of the paper, the quality of the printing and the fundamentals of what is actually on the label. Sometimes, the counterfeiters will make mistakes with very basic details – misspelling French words, for example.  

We have an electric microscope, which we use to examine the labels in greater detail. We have a blue light tool for checking holograms and holographic flecking within producer labels. We also use an old Rudy Kurniawan fake bottle of Château Lafleur for training purposes. It came to use via an old Berry Bros. & Rudd employee in Hong Kong, who worked for Christie’s at the time. Kurniawan sold a lot of wine through Christie’s in Hong Kong, and the colleague managed to get that bottle back from a dinner that Kurniawan had held the night before an auction. We have a case of these fake bottles in the warehouse which we use for training. 

What are producers now doing to protect themselves from fraud?  

One of the techniques used by producers to make it hard for fraudsters to replicate their bottles is called “microprinting”. For example, we compared a real and fake bottle of 2009 Le Pin. One of the things that stood out to us on the real label was a border of miniscule text, printed between two red lines forming a border. 

To the naked eye, it looks like a filled-in red border. But when you magnify it 300 times, you’ll see that it actually reads the names of the owners’ children, repeated over and over. The fake label, on the other hand, shows just a red blur. The fake is good enough to pass on a quick glance, but when you compare the two beside each other, they stand in stark contrast.  

Other anti-fraud techniques being used include QR codes, invisible inks and the use of holograms. Some producers are also inserting traceable chips into the fabric of their labels and beneath the capsules. This allows the customer to scan the chip on their phone and confirm whether the bottle is real.  

From 2013, Petrus invested a lot in anti-fraud protection. They have 12 different techniques at use within their labels and the capsules of the bottle. Notably, they have their own unique ink – made by the company that produces the ink for the US dollar note – which only they can verify.  

Another increasingly popular technique being used are “proof tags”, which are small stickers that seal the capsule to the glass of the bottle. The top of the tag has a layer of foil containing a unique formation of small air bubbles, which are produced in the heating process and are impossible to replicate.  

Despite the development of these technologies and anti-fraud techniques, no one has been able to completely eradicate the problem of wine counterfeiting. You have to go to a lot of trouble to identify a fake bottle, which most people don’t necessarily have time for.  

This is why the role of wine authentication expert is a vital one in the wine business.  

Category: Miscellaneous

A closer look: our 2016 Own Selection Barolo

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The new 2016 vintage of our Own Selection Barolo has arrived. It’s our best Barolo yet, says Davy Żyw, our Italy Buyer.

This year, we introduce the finest expression of Barolo that we’ve ever put under our Own Selection label. The 2016 vintage in Piedmont was simply excellent. Many producers made their best-ever wines, and our friend Davide Rosso is no exception.

WHAT IS IT?

Barolo is the pride of Northern Italy and is one of the world’s great wines. These red wines are made entirely from the Nebbiolo grape variety, grown in the hills of the Langhe sub-region in Piedmont.

Our Barolo is made by our friend Davide Rosso, one of the region’s greatest producers. Davide trained at some of Burgundy’s best domaines before returning to his ancestral home and family winery, Giovanni Rosso – named after Davide’s late father.

WHY IS IT DIFFERENT?

This wine is our nod to the tradition of multi-vineyard and multi-village Barolo; Davide has used fruit from three different Barolo villages. The ’16 vintage has yielded vivid, classical wines, with rare levels of structure, fruit depth, acidity, and vineyard expression.

Such long-lived wines as Barolo often need years in the cellar before they can be approached. This one is absolutely a wine for long-term cellaring, but it is also one for immediate enjoyment. My recommendation is to buy as much as you can from this joyful, epic vintage. Open a bottle on choice occasions to taste for yourself how it evolves and gains over the years and decades to come.

WHAT DOES IT TASTE LIKE?

Our Barolo reaches new heights with this magnificent vintage. This is a traditional blend of fruit from three of Barolo’s best communes, each bringing something unique to the wine. Fruit from Castiglione Falletto fills the nose with morello cherry and roses; Barolo itself lends power and depth of fruit; and the ancient white soils of Serralunga d’Alba give it an unmistakeable mineral grip. Articulate and expressive, this is of the highest class and elegance.

WHAT SHOULD I EAT IT WITH?

This is a full-flavoured and complex wine, calling out for some equally strong flavours at the dining table. Try it with a rich wild-boar ragù or your favourite stew.

You can buy our 2016 Own Selection Barolo or browse all of our Own Selection wines on bbr.com.

Category: Italian Wine,Own Selection wine

The road to Burgundy: an excerpt

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An image showing Inside Burgundy laid open beside a glass of red Burgundy and a glass of white Burgundy
Photo credit: Joe Woodhouse

Ahead of the release of the second edition of Inside Burgundy, Jasper Morris MW shares an excerpt from the book, explaining why Burgundy remains a singular source of magic.

I did not grow up in a Burgundy-drinking family, but it became clear during my undergraduate years, theoretically pursuing the study of medieval history, that I should much more enjoy a career in wine than in our family’s usual profession of the law. 

With my soon-to-be brother-in-law, Tony Verdin, we started a small importing business, Morris & Verdin, in 1981, planning to buy wines from France. We bought our fair share of wines from throughout the country, but an introduction to Becky Wasserman allowed us to join in the breaking story of the emergence of fine domaine-bottled Burgundy. We were, of course, not alone in this but we had the chance to establish our own niche. 

Becky has played an immense role in the development of Burgundy’s Golden Age. Emerging producers, fledgling journalists and naïve but enthusiastic importers all owe so much to Becky, who has helped us to develop them (and me) into established figures in our particular frames of reference.  

What I found in Burgundy was a spirit that I had not stumbled across in other regions: a passion to express the difference between one site and another, combined with the potential to produce some of the greatest wines on earth. As I wrote before about the producers I met, “time and again in Burgundy, I found that their focus was on how they could make the best possible wine. Every tasting was suffused by their huge enthusiasm for what they were doing”. 

Working with Becky at this time was Dominique Lafon, before he took up responsibilities at Domaine des Comtes Lafon. Part of his job was to prospect for new growers on the scene, several of whom became our suppliers. A generation later, many of these newly established domaines became household names, but at this point, they were exporting for the first time. It was a moment of wonderful opportunities, including some which sadly I failed to take up. We did not have much financial backing and I did not have much experience. 

Nonetheless, the company established its credentials as Burgundy specialists. Though other interests continued to expand – not least the exploration of California wines, thanks to Becky giving me a glass of 1985 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir to taste blind (I guessed Volnay!). In 2003, our business was sold to Berry Bros. & Rudd, at that time very strong in Bordeaux but lighter in Burgundy. My prime role here was to maintain and then develop the portfolio of Burgundy producers, with permission to base myself as much in Burgundy as in Hampshire.

I have often thought that there may be a link between growing up close to the chalk downs of Hampshire and happily re-rooting, many years later, in the clay limestone landscape of Burgundy. 

The changing faces of Burgundy 

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose? Maybe, maybe not. There have been some key changes within Burgundy or affecting Burgundy in the last 10 years – some predictable, others less so. 

Climate change was clearly going to be a factor and we still do not know how far this will go. We could easily predict rising temperatures, with the stress of excessive heat spikes and drought. Harder to predict was the return of serious frost threats (2016, 2017, 2019, 2021). 

Constraints on production – only 2017 and 2018 have produced anything like a full crop in the last ten years – have been offset by significant improvements in ecological management. While there have been many more producers certifying as organic or biodynamic, those that do not wish to take that road have nonetheless taken important steps down the sustainable road. Herbicide and pesticide salesmen are looking as gloomy as sugar merchants are now at harvest time. 

Moving to the commercial aspects, we knew that rising prices were a reality in the modern world of instant communications and a hugely expanded global market. Many would have predicted a bursting of the price bubble at some point over the last decade – but it has not happened. Demand continues to outstrip supply, especially at the upper end, and they are not producing any more vineyard land, at least within the Côte d’Or. We may yet see further expansion in the Mâconnais and Auxerrois. 

The narrative has been running that the day of the small producer is over, and that land will concentrate only in the hands of the wealthiest. It is certainly true that many established domaines have grown in size over the last two decades, but that is not the only strand to the story. Just recently there has been a surge in the number of embryonic small producers, usually working with purchased grapes to begin with but thereafter starting to purchase vineyards in less expensive appellations. 

Burgundy: still a source of magic? 

It is for me. These last few years have been challenging for Burgundy in so many ways. I thought there might have been more of a kick-back against the lack of affordable wines. What has stopped that has been the rise of beautiful wines made from more lowly appellations. A particular case in point would be Aligoté, as championed by the group called Les Aligoteurs. Not only is this grape coming into its own with enhanced ripeness, but it is lending itself to a myriad of different – and mostly exciting – interpretations. 

The point is this: certainly, we may get an additional thrill when our kind and generous host serves a great bottle of a top vineyard from a blue-chip producer – I am fortunate that this still happens to me! But what really matters is that feeling, sometimes even from the first moment of sniffing the wine, that it could not have been better made.  

It fills its boots, whether an Aligoté or a Passetoutgrains, a Mâcon Villages or a Bourgogne Epineuil, a lesser or a greater village from the Côte d’Or.  Goodness me, I love that. Or discovering a Vézelay that I did not know before. The anticipation is exciting in itself, the delivery a treat that we may only just deserve. 

Burgundy is doing this really well at the moment. 

Purchase the latest edition of Inside Burgundy here.

Category: Burgundy Wine

Inside Burgundy: a minefield of riches

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Jasper Morris MW stands against a natural backdrop in Burgundy
Photo credit: Jason Lowe

Marking the release of the second edition of Inside Burgundy, we caught up with Jasper Morris MW to uncover how much Burgundy has changed during his working life. 

Since its first publication in 2010, Inside Burgundy has been considered a landmark book on the wines of Burgundy. For author Jasper Morris MW, it grew out of a passion which was sparked almost four decades ago, in the early years of his wine career.   

“My interest in Burgundy goes back to the early 1980s, when I was an importer of French wines and started my own company, Morris & Verdin,” he recounts. The company was bought by Berry Bros. & Rudd in 2003, becoming Fields, Morris & Verdin (FMV).  

“Originally, we imported wines from throughout France, and I had no particular feeling for one region more than another. But even within the first year, I found Burgundy to be the special place.”  

Right place, right time 

A huge influence, Jasper says, was meeting the late Becky Wasserman, an American wine broker who had been based in Burgundy since 1968, until her death in August 2021. “I dedicated the book to her,” he tells me, a month before the news of her passing. “She’s an extraordinary person who has done so much – whether it’s for importers, producers or critics – to get everybody to understand what Burgundy is about.”  

“When I started out, I could find good wines in every other region. Bordeaux was already very well covered by companies such as Berry Bros. & Rudd, but Burgundy wasn’t getting the attention it deserved.”  

It was fortuitous timing. “It coincided with the start of the movement towards domaine-bottled Burgundy,” Jasper explains. “It was a period when more and more individual domaines started looking to sell in international markets, so I happened to be in the right place at the right time.” 

The golden age of Burgundy  

The Burgundy of the early ’80s was a very different place to the Burgundy of today. “It was a place of great potential, but one that nobody was very excited by,” he reflects ruefully.  

“‘Minefield’ was the cliché word that was constantly being used for Burgundy. It was erratic in the sense that you didn’t know what you were getting: you couldn’t just buy a bottle with the name of a famous vineyard or good producer and feel confident you were getting a decent wine.”  

Throughout the decade, winemakers began to strive for higher quality wines, although it took some time to make changes to the vineyards and long-held techniques. But by the time the ’90s came around, it seemed Burgundy had risen.  

“It was a very good decade for Burgundy,” he says. “Of course, the early days of global warming were beneficial for Burgundy because it meant that grapes were able to ripen more frequently. But now, we’ve had more extreme weather conditions, like everywhere else in the world, which has become problematic for the producers.” 

Jasper estimates the “golden age of Burgundy” as roughly the 30-year period between 1985 – “a lovely vintage” – and 2015.  

“It wasn’t really until the early years of this century that the world market cottoned on, and it suddenly became very easy to sell Burgundy. Then it became too easy to sell Burgundy. Prices have gone up in the secondary market because everybody wants to have it.”  

A constant evolution  

The second edition of Inside Burgundy takes a closer look at the region’s less-expensive appellations, given that prices for the most famous names have “really shot off the scale”.  

“With global warming, the side villages have probably started to make better wine anyway,” he concedes. “There’ll be more information on villages like St Romain and Auxey-Duresses in the Côte de Beaune, and the whole area of the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune.  

“The Mâconnais is a very exciting area,” he continues. “It’s always frustrated me that a restaurant might have 15 different examples of Chablis, but just one Pouilly-Fuissé. There are lots of different characters in the villages that make up Mâcon Villages – a lot of innovative people down there doing interesting things.” 

The area around Chablis – referred to as the Grand Auxerrois, outside the city of Auxerre – is another key area of interest. “You get a lot of interesting red, white and rosé wines here that are making more sense than previously.”   

Jasper cites the arrival of a younger and more dynamic generation of winemakers as the driver behind these changes. 

“Back in the day, everybody spoke of a new young generation: my friends and people my age who were born in the late ’50s,” he reflects. “But since then, there was no real feeling of an overall change until the people born at the end of the ’80s started coming up.  

“Suddenly, there’s a feeling of a new vision again. You get people trying to do adventurous things in viticulture. That drive has continued with the people who followed 10 years after that crowd.  

“It’s really exciting to see what they’re doing – the optimism and commitment to hard work,” he enthuses. “I was almost expecting that people might be complacent, assuming that the wine is going to be good simply because it’s Burgundy. But I still see that drive and energy to make things better and better.” 

Burgundy’s human side  

What fascinates Jasper most about Burgundy, I ask?  

“It’s the human side – the fact that everyone is sort of related to one another,” he chuckles, “some villages more than others. You’ve got a handful of different family names, which are sometimes grouped together as double-barrelled names.  

“If a boy marries a girl, and the girl has good vineyards, they tend to continue with both names. It does, to some extent, influence the style of wine made – you get to know which families have influenced a particular producer. For the first edition, we did think of subtitling it “The sex life of Burgundy”, but wiser heads prevailed,” he says with a wry smile.  

Beneath the complex family politics of Burgundy, is there a strong sense of community that unites the region’s winemakers?  

“Actually, that’s something that has changed over the years I’ve been here,” he acknowledges. “These days, people are working together, rather than being rivals. They spend more time in each other’s cellars, tasting together and thinking about it together – but happily, they don’t then go off and make the same kind of wine. Burgundy is too naturally independent for that.”  

The second edition of Inside Burgundy will be released on 15th September in our stores and online. Register your interest here.

Category: Burgundy Wine