Wine Experts Fight Fraud with Physics

September 05, 2008 05:55 PM
by Isabel Cowles
French scientists have discovered a way to use particle accelerators to determine the age and origin of wine and discover counterfeit bottles.
French scientists have discovered a way to determine the age of wine without opening or affecting the content of the bottle. Researchers at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) expose a glass bottle to ion beams from a particle accelerator; by analyzing the X-rays emitted the bottle, they can measure the wine’s age and the region where it was produced.

“The chemical composition of glass used to make bottles changed over time and was different from place to place,” explains Hervé Guégan, a CNRS researcher in Bordeaux.

The new bottle test has a much wider range than a previous radioactive technique, which could only be used on wine dating to 1950.

The research was prompted by The Antique Wine Company, a London-based wine seller that specializes in international vintages. The company asked Arcane, a technological unit of CNRS, to help assess the authenticity of some of the 10,000 bottles the company buys or sells annually.

The Antique Wine Company’s push to authenticate wine can be seen as part of an effort to prevent counterfeit wines from entering the market and to tighten the standards of French wine. The quality of French wine came under scrutiny last year when allegations made by France’s UFC-Que Choisir consumer rights group suggested that one in three French wines was mislabeled under the regional appellation system, which is defined by the mark of “appellation d’origine controlée” or AOC.

“For a number of years, we’ve seen a steady fall in quality in a number of AOCs, which has completely undermined consumer confidence,” said Alain Bazot, head of the association. The popularity of wine has encouraged a higher production rate, which may have led to lower-quality wines.

Related Topics: The wine classification system and more information about wine


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