Fake vintage wines can now be identified, thanks to atom bombs

New test detects fake vintage of winesResearchers from Australia have come up with a new way of confirming or disproving the supposed year in which vintage wine was produced. According to the report, which was presented at the recent American Chemical Society National Meeting, some experts believe that as much as 5% of collectible wine is not of the vintage claimed.

The issue in not just academic. The difference in price between a wine grown in a year that produces a great vintage and one grown during a down year can be hundreds of dollars. For example, wine guru Robert Parker rated the wines of Pomerol, from the Bordeaux region in France, a disaster in 1991, but extraordinary in 1990. The price impact?

The scientists took advantage of a byproduct of atomic bomb testing. Before testing began during WW II, the atmosphere had a consist proportion between the common form of carbon, carbon-12, and less common carbon-14. Bomb testing injected a measurable amount more carbon-14 into the atmosphere, and since large-scale testing stopped in 1963, the percent of carbon-14 has been consistent, while carbon-12 continues to climb, thanks to our fossil fuel addiction. By measuring the proportion of carbon-12 to carbon-14 in the wine, the scientists can pinpoint the season when the grapes were grown.

Wine producers, aware of the potential for chicanery when so much money is on the table, have taken steps to guarantee the authenticity of their vintages. This test could serve to bring the same type of bottom-line proof that DNA testing has done to parentage.
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