Global wine adulteration: Bruker AIC President warns “wine forgery is on the rise”

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26 Nov 2018 --- Wine forgery is on the rise in Europe, but it takes place on a global scale, that is according to Dr. Iris Mangelschots, President of Bruker BioSpin’s Applied, Industrial & Clinical (AIC) division. “Major wine producing countries such as France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Germany and Chile are at a higher risk of wine fraud and forgery, as the higher priced varieties tend to originate from these regions,” she tells FoodIngredientsFirst in a recent interview.

Bruker is enabling innovation, improved productivity and customer success in life science molecular research, in applied and pharma applications, as well as in cell biology, preclinical imaging, clinical phenomics and proteomics analysis and clinical microbiology, developing new applications and methods that improve the quality of human life, according to the company. 

“The general term ‘wine fraud’ encompasses a number of methods, but can be broadly categorized into fraudulent wine selling and fraudulent wine production. In the case of the former, wine counterfeiting involves the misrepresentation and mislabeling of grape variety, blend origin or vintage, often to pass off a cheaper product as a more expensive variety,” Dr. Mangelschots notes. 

“Wine adulteration during production usually involves the use of additives, such as coloring agents and flavorings, to add desirable characteristics to the wine where they are lacking. The goal of this is normally to market a cheaper product at premium prices. This form of adulteration affects the quality of the product,” she explains. Click to EnlargeDr. Mangelschots, a native of Belgium, holds a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Zurich, Switzerland and a Master of Sciences degree in Physics from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium.  

Wine adulteration during production usually involves the use of additives, such as coloring agents and flavorings, to add desirable characteristics to the wine where they are lacking. The goal of this is normally to market a cheaper product at premium prices. This form of adulteration affects the quality of the product,” she explains. 

There are many ways to detect wine fraud, according to Dr. Mangelschots, with varying degrees of accuracy and reliability. “Aside from the traditional methods of inspection, such as chemical assays (stable isotope analysis), chromatography, mineral content analysis and DNA fingerprinting, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy has emerged as a rapid, reliable and accurate wine profiling method,” she explains. 

Conventional analytical methods are not capable of generating the same breadth of parameters as NMR screening, or if they could, it would require multiple methods to be run and, therefore, numerous costly sample preparation procedures. “For example, Bruker’s NMR FoodScreener Wine-Profiling module acquires spectroscopic profiles – or fingerprints – from wine samples, and compares them to a large database of authentic wine samples, using a multivariate statistical approach. Analysts can determine the detailed chemical composition of the wines and the geographical origin, as well as wine variety, vintage year and any form of adulteration,” Dr. Mangelschots states. 

Due to the fact that wine obtains much of its commercial value from the geography and vintage of the grape, much effort has gone into developing technology that can verify these features. Particularly in the European market, the use of geographic information systems (GIS) to map wine oxygen stable isotope ratios has enabled analysts to determine the real country of origin, she says. 

“Innovative uses of NMR spectroscopy now enable the reliable screening of wine for multiple forms of adulteration, including point of origin. NMR has a high level of reproducibility, which enables powerful statistical analysis to detect minute changes across multiple parameters at a time. This directly facilitates the determination of geographical origin, on a country-wide basis as well as down to sub-areas within a country.”

Wine adulteration can impact traders across the globe and many wine producers and traders are affected by wine fraud.  NMR analysis provides the wine producer with a detailed certificate with 52 different measurement parameters, including testing for decomposition, markers of fermentation, amino acids, phenol derivatives and stabilizing agents. “

The ability to guarantee international authenticity is essential for wine producers to safeguard their product against fraud, and maintain trust in the marketplace for exports. For wine producing countries, this industry empowers the whole economy,” she adds. 

Many producers may not yet be aware of the benefits of sending samples of their wine to a testing laboratory for NMR analysis, but doing so and obtaining certification of authenticity will allow producers to market their wine to retailers and traders confidently.

“The risk is high for traders and fine wine collectors, as one bottle of wine can cost thousands of dollars,” reveals Dr. Mangelschots. “Previously, authentication methods required the bottle of wine to be opened for analysis, which greatly devalues the product. Modern techniques, including NMR, leave the bottle intact and are non-invasive, which is a huge benefit to the industry,” she states. 

There have been a number cases of high-profile wine fraud cases in recent years, including the conviction of Rudy Kurniawan in 2014 for mass scale wine fraud, when he bought cheaper bottles of wine and counterfeited the labels to alter the vintage, then sold them for millions of dollars at auction. Dr. Mangelschots adds that “cases such as this, will impact consumer trust in manufacturers, especially traders in fine wine where large sums of money are at stake.”

As well as obtaining a certificate of wine authenticity, producers who submit wine samples for NMR analysis will also be contributing to large databases, such as the central wine database in Europe, which collates the metabolic profiles of wines from across Europe and compares them to an authentic wine database. 

“The more countries that contribute to this, the stronger the comparisons will be,” claims Dr. Mangelschots. “The international database is currently being developed which will enable comparisons across the globe, and strengthen the analytical capabilities of testing laboratories,” she concludes.

By Elizabeth Green

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