FIGHTING COUNTERFEITERS WITH C-14
Wine fraud is big business – just ask billionaire Bill Koch who famously bought bottles of wines he thought belonged to Thomas Jefferson only to discover they were fakes. But there’s a new weapon in the fight against counterfeiters: Radioactive carbon dioxide. In a study presented recently to the American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco, Dr. Graham Jones of the University of Adelaide showed that measuring the amount of C-14, or radiocarbon, in a wine can help determine whether it is really from the vintage stated on the label. Between the 194Os and 196Os, atomic testing released C-14 into the atmosphere, which has since been diluted by CO2 from burning fossil fuels. Grapevines have absorbed some of the C-14, and their fruit – when it becomes wine – contains the same age “fingerprint” as the vines. Using an accelerator mass spectrometer, analysts can measure the radioactive element against the more common Carbon 12 – and compare it against a benchmark – to reveal the wine’s age up to within a few months, according to Dr. Jones. The method was tested on 2O Australian red wines made between 1958 and 1997 and found accurate to within a year. The test works on the same general principle as one developed by scientists at the French national research centres in Bordeaux. The latter measures the presence of Caesium 137 (Cs137) to age-date wine. “Our technique may be slightly less precise,” French scientists Philippe Hubert and Hervé Guégan said, “but ours works without having to open the wine. We have used it a lot on old bottles of Pétrus, Mouton, Romanée Conti, Yquem, and Lafite supposedly from before 195O, to see whether there is any Cs137 – which would mean they are fakes. Some of them were.” This test, along with PIXE (Particle Induced X-ray Emission) is used by vintage wine specialists The Antique Wine Company to authenticate both wine and bottles, to check whether they have been replaced with younger wine.