What emotions do you experience when you’re about to open a bottle of 1962 La Tâche? Disbelief, unworthiness, reverence, awe, elation—the flip side of the famed Kübler-Ross five stages of grief. After all, the wine approximates the price tag of a Porsche 911.

But there’s a sixth factor at play, as well: uncertainty. The collector sharing the bottle, acquired from a high-profile auction house, belatedly learned it was consigned by Rudy Kurniawan, the perpetrator of the world’s largest wine fraud, who’s currently serving 10 years in federal prison after counterfeiting more than $30 million worth of coveted wines. And he did it well enough to fool some extremely well-honed palates.

The 1962 La Tâche is a fabled vintage from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and a strong contender for the title of Burgundy’s greatest red wine. A single bottle of the 1962 is all but impossible to locate, and the one before me was a 6-liter behemoth—the equivalent of eight 750-milliliter bottles—called a Methuselah.

To make things more complicated, being a so-called Rudy wine didn’t guarantee the La Tâche would be a fake. Kurniawan—whose nickname was Dr. Conti because of his penchant for the fabled Burgundy—sold real bottles, too, which prolonged the con. As did buyers’ penchants for believing they were drinking an authentic treasure.

The Booming Business of Wine Crime
The uninitiated might be surprised to learn how often fine wine scams occur. In 2016 a retailer in Berkeley, Calif., was sentenced to more than six years in prison for running a wine Ponzi scheme—9,000 customers never received the bottles they paid for. In 2012 wine-storage warehouse owner Mark Anderson, also in Northern California, received a 27-year sentence—and was ordered to pay $70.3 million to clients—after selling their bottles and then setting the facility ablaze, ruining tens of thousands of additional bottles, including cases of the 2002 Whitehall Lane Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. There’s also the French ex-con who in 2010 threatened to poison Romanée-Conti’s fabled vineyards if the owner refused to pay a $1 million-plus ransom. Even Bernard Madoff is associated with wine crime; some of the premium bottles in his collection were allegedly earmarked to entertain potential victims.

But no wine crime is more extensive than counterfeiting. Mostly it’s done with fine and rare wines; now, less remarkable wines are being targeted. In 2016, $400,000 worth of spurious Moët & Chandon Champagne were seized in Italy. A year earlier, fake bottles of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s inexpensive Miraval rosé were uncovered in China.

In the past decade, films and books have increasingly chronicled the intersection of wine and crime. The titles are colorful: Sour Grapes (a 2016 documentary about Kurniawan), Tangled Vines (a 2015 book covering the wine-storage arson), and Shadows in the Vineyard (another 2015 book, this one about the threat to Romanée-Conti). The latest is In Vino Duplicitas, from veteran wine writer Peter Hellman, which chronicles Kurniawan’s steep rise and fall. What I learned from Hellman’s book, coupled with my own experience of drinking Dr. Rudy’s handiwork, helps reveal why wine lovers are particularly easy marks.

Don’t Spoil the Fun
As In Vino Duplicitas emphasizes, people are prone to “fooling ourselves into believing.” There is something about the proximity to a rare old bottle that induces a kind of dizzying frisson that suspends critical judgment. The late American poet William Matthews alluded to this feeling in his poem “La Tâche, 1962,” inspired by the very wine we opened: “Pulling the long cork, I shiver with a greed so pure it is curiosity. … I feel as if I were about to seduce somebody famous.”

There’s also a strong impulse against spoiling the fun. Those who are tempted to doubt a wine’s legitimacy often refrain from doing so because they don’t want to kill the buzz. Impassioned winos relish moments of bonhomie; interrupting them to whine about the wine would be tantamount to a needle scratch on a DJ’s prized vinyl selection.

Tasting Fraud Is Hard
Of all the “tells” in detecting a counterfeit, wine’s raison d’être—the taste—can ironically be an unreliable indicator of fraud. An authentic treasure may taste spoiled because of a bottling fault or improper storage. Even if it’s in good condition, the character of collectible wine can be off-putting to palates accustomed to conventional smells and tastes. Some of the world’s most coveted wines, especially after decades of aging, can be funky with undertones of mushrooms and dirt, or even something dogs leave behind.

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