Nuclear scientists find new way to detect fake wine

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 4th September 2008

Just like works of art, wine is now being subjected to advanced testing to establish its authenticity. Nuclear scientists from the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNSR) in France have unveiled a new tool to detect fake vintage wines on behalf of London’s Antique Wine Company (a leading rare wine merchant).

Ion beams are directed at the bottle to roughly determine how old they are and where they originated. According to the CNSR, the process is like checking the painter’s signature on a piece of art, without opening the bottle or damaging the contents.

The results obtained for the bottle are compared with the certified database set up by CNSR using data from the analysis of the glass from 80 bottles of red Bordeaux wine ranging from the 19th century to today – for the most part fine wines from St Émilion and the Médoc region. Authentication is reportedly possible due to both the complexity of the glass manufacturing process, which has evolved over time, and the diversity of glass-making production centers, which give each object a characteristic signature.

Analysis by ion beam provides information about the age of the wine by dating its container, thereby overcoming some of the limitations of the caesium 137 radioactivity technique, which cannot be used to date wine produced before 1950.

The Antique Wine Company asked for help from the CNSR to find a way of assessing the age of some of the 10,000 bottles that the company buys or sells annually on behalf of its clients. It wanted to offer its customer base a new authentication service for vintage wine.