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John Baker is one of the most savvy wine merchants you could hope to find. In the basement of a Terrey Hills private collection, he uncovered a dusty bottle of the legendary Lady Grey; he has sipped from a shattered bottle of 1870 Yquem and tasted heaven; and – as told in his new book Stalin’s Wine Cellar – he has hunted down the elusive, multimillion dollar wine cellar stolen from the Russian Tsar by a Communist despot. Here, Baker shares some of his advice for determining whether a wine is truly the real deal.

Some very old, and very good wine indeed, secretly stashed by Stalin in a Georgian wine cellar. Credit: John Baker

To establish if an older wine is genuine, start with the label. If the label looks right (not a cheap forged version of the real thing) and is consistent with other vintages and wines from the producer, then that’s encouraging.

If the seller (a wine shop, auction or vineyard) of the wine is known to be reliable, and says the wine is genuine and from a good source, that also helps.

If you have concerns, give the winery a call and put them over the grills. If they can’t be contacted, look up the winery on the net. Check that the bottle is consistent with how the winery presents the bottle on their website – does the packaging, the bottle style, the label match what’s on there?

Finally, look at the cork. Is it stamped by the winery? If so, does the stamped name and vintage marry up to the label? You might need to remove part of the capsule to read the cork.

Ivane, featured in Stalin’s Wine Cellar, helping himself to a superb century-old port. Credit: John Baker

You’ve now gone through all the practical steps. If all the signs are telling you it’s genuine, there’s nothing left to do but pop it open and enjoy it.

If you’re after some interesting wines, here’s some I have tasted lately and would go down nicely with a good book:

  • Unico Zello Fiano – from wholesaler Francaboutwine
  • Riotor Rose – from wholesaler Vintage and Vine
  • Guigal Cote de Rhone – from wholesaler Negotiants Australia
  • 2014 Chateau Maucamps 375ml – from wholesaler Vintage and Vine

By John Baker

Catch John Baker in conversation with Sunil Badami in an online event streamed 7pm Tues 1 Sept on our Facebook page.

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