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The purpose of this page is to warn our readers of fake spirits. Ever increasingly we are receiving offers from individuals trying to sell a rare cognac or whiskey. In most instances the seller portrays a person that inherited or found a rare bottle of wine or spirit, does not know anything about the product and just wants to get rid of it.

To help protect forged spirits from entering the collectors market we have built this page. We hope that you help us in our effort. If you have received offers that are just too good to be true send us an E-mail If you are the victim of a fake bottle of cognac, brandy or whiskey do the same. We will publish confirmed fakes on this page.

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February 2002 

This bottle was offered to us from a fellow in Corsica with the following text: 

I heve an very old bottle of your product as you can see in the attached file on the etiquette you can see "fournisseur brevet de S M L'EMPEREUR is 5 litres.on the left side "gold medal PARIS 1783 on the right side "gold medal ALGER 1783 are you interested to, buy this bottle pls do you know the price thank you very much 

Name withheld by us 

Here is what we found:

The label appears to be fraudulent, not unusual for allegedly centenary bottles of Madeira, Port, Cognac or Armagnac. Napoleon became Emperor of France in 1804and the house of Courvoisier was established by Emmanuel Courvoisier four years later.While they supplied unofficially cognac to the Court of Napoléon I, the house did not become officially "Purveyors by Special Appointment to the Court of Napoléon III" until 1869 under Emmanuel's son, Felix Courvoisier. As such, the date of 1783 on the label is anachronistic and the label false. (Thank you Raul F. of NYC for helping us identify apparent fake)


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Click on picture to enlarge

Click on picture to enlarge

June 2003 

This bottle was offered at an auction, but withdrawn when the price reached $300. Questions to the seller were not answered. 

Here is what we found:

A search of the listings of the Cognac distilleries exporting to the United States during the twentieth century(both before and after the prohibition) failed to turn up a Gagneur & Co.(out of 37 listed).A small producer may have been omitted from this listing but it seems unlikely that such producer would have exported to the American market (many artisanal distilleries export in the British market). 

1811 is the year when Napoléon visited the Courvoisier warehouses in Bercy and conferred on that house the seal of "Fournisseur de la Cour Impériale". After that date,Courvoisier supplied the cognac for all his campaigns and, ultimately, ten casks were placed on board of HMS Northumberland for his final voyage to St. Helena. The brandy became known as "the brandy of Napoléon". 

The words "Impératrice Joséphine" would suggest a special cuvée but likely mean that it could not have been labeled "Napoléon" which requires(in France and according to Courvoisier standards) a minimum of 25 years for at least 50% of the distillate.In the export markets the terms Napoléon,XO,Extra,Vieille Réserve,Hors d'Age indicate that the cognac is a minimum of six years old. One must not forget that Cognac is almost always a blend of vintages and the 1811 represents the oldest age in the blend (possibly 1% or even less).It is also essential to mark on the bottle the date of bottling since once bottled there is no further development (just like the Armagnac or any other spirit). In this case the cordon label states "prime straight cognac" (which is the 72% alcohol legally required at the end of the second distillation) but the front label marks it at the usual 42% alcohol achieved after addition of distilled water or weaker spirit(petites eaux). Why was then the word "straight" used? 

The cordon marks the bottling date as 11th of April 1934 (European calendar style).We know that the repeal of the Prohibition (Volstead act) was ratified in December 1933 with the enactment of the 21 Amendment. Most European distilleries went into overdrive in 1934 trying to supply the thirsty American market so this date does make sense.Unfortunately, the fatal flaw that gives this away as a forgery is the fact that not only the year or even the month of bottling is marked but also the day. Since this is a printed label we must assume that in 1934, with the rather primitive bottling lines used, especially by a smaller producer, there were enough bottled filled to warrant printing the day not only the month and year. The next day and every day after, a new set of bands had to be printed by a professional printer. Not very likely! 

In Armagnac one sees the year of bottling and, sometimes, the month stamped on it (or even hand written).I have never seen a date printed on any label. I do not have enough personal experience with very old cognacs to make a definitive judgement but this is also the viewpoint of George Clot and Françoise Lapeyre from Rémy Martin who are experts in the field.

(Thank you Raul F. of NYC for helping us (again) identify this apparent fake.

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March 2004

This bottle was placed for auction on E-bay. At the time it was discovered it sold for $68.89. The seller advertised the item this way:

1811 Antique Bottle of Cognac Napoleon Grande Reserve
This is a unique find and ready to add to your collection. I am sad to say that when we found this in a house we moved into. We called a winery and ask the person what to do with it. How to store it. The person told use to lay it on its side, so we did. Not a good thing the cork must have been dry and some of the cognac leaked out. The bottles seal is still in tacked. It stand 12 1/2" tall and the glass is green. Please view photos and our other auction items. Thank You and God bless. More clarification of the contents: The bottle measures overall 12 1/2" tall. The label, from the bottom of the bottle, measures 5 1/4". The liquid contents in the bottle measure 4 1/4". The bottle begins narrowing to the "neck" at approximately 6" from the bottom of the bottle. If you need further questions answered, don't hesitate to e-mail. Good luck!”
Name withheld by us.

Here are a few pointers that make us believe the bottle is not authentic.

First, the seller indicates that he found the bottle in a house HE moved into. Coincident, since the finder/seller of this bottle is also a seller of other antiques? Perhaps. E-mail with questions regarding the bottle was not answered.

Let's take a closer look at the bottle before investigating the label. The bottle apparently was made at least after 1900. Looking at the base (image 3), it is smooth and perfectly round. The indentation in the middle may look like it was produced by a pontil, but was not. A pontil would never leave a perfect round circle as this one is. If it were indeed produced by a pontil the bottle would date back to prior to 1900. A pontil is device used by glass blowers in the production of bottles. There are two types of Pontils, Iron and Open. Depending on which one was used it determines a closer production date. This bottle was machine produced.

Next let's look at the residue covering much of the bottle (image 2). Obviously from the picture alone it is hard to tell what it is. It could be calcium residue due to long storage in a humid environment, but then I assume the paper label would also suffer, but it appears in very good condition on this bottle. On the other hand it could have been produced by manually expediting the process or by the addition of chemicals or organic material. What is suspicious is the fact that the residue terminates in a very straight line around the bottom edge of label (image 1). One would not expect this to have occurred naturally. Thus I assume tape was placed around the edges of the label in order to protect it while manipulating the remainder of the bottle surface.

The circular indentation at the bottom of the bottleneck (image 5) is for the purpose of attaching a seal. This was not a common practice at the time this  cognac was suposed to have been bottled.

The bottle closure (image 4) does not show any recent leakage although the seller implies that leakage occurred after the bottle was found and improperly stored. Since over half of the contents are gone it can be assumed that leakage occurred over a long period of time (if the bottle was indeed real). Apparently no one checked on the bottle during this time. The lip (or top) of the bottle does not appear to be hand-attached because it would leave a very uneven and "sloppy" look of the top. A bottle supposedly that old would certainly have this indication.

As per the seller's description the only writing on the label is “Cognac Napoleon 1811 Grande Reserve” (image 1). The lack of a producer's name is really the give away of this forgery. This is a very crude way to fake a label. At least most entrepreneurs come up with a more authentic looking one, which would a producer's name.

So, what is the story behind 1811 Napoleon cognac? In short it, in1811 Napoleon visited the Courvoisier producing facility and conferred on that house the seal of "Fournisseur de la Cour Impériale". After that date, Courvoisier supplied the cognac for all his campaigns and, ultimately, ten casks were placed on board of HMS Northumberland for his final voyage to St. Helena. The brandy became known as "the brandy of Napoleon".

Looking at the overall attributes of the bottle, we feel that it is a prime candidate for a fake. Finally, although the seller of this bottle did not respond to several E-mails, the person did not outright say that it is authentic, but the description certainly implies that it is.  This bottle may show up again in the future and here is your clue to be careful when purchasing so-called antique cognac or other spirits.

The press release 
to the right was 
released by the 
East Sussex County 
Council in the U.K.
03/079/MF 21 March 2003 

Counterfeit whisky still a problem
Following the receipt of a Food Hazard Warning from the Food Standards Agency, East Sussex County Council Trading Standards Officers are keen to remind whisky drinkers to be careful when buying Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky products. 

Purchasers are strongly advised to check that they have the genuine article, rather than the latest version of fake Johnnie Walker. If they think they have any of these fake products they should contact their Trading Standards department and if they think they have drunk these products in the last 24 hours, they should contact their GP. 

At the levels of methanol contamination found, anyone consuming the product may be at risk of harmful effects, including severe stomach pain and blindness. 

Councillor Meg Stroude, Lead Cabinet Member for Community Safety said “These counterfeit products are still appearing. Only last week a bottle of contaminated vodka was discovered in Seaford. A cheap bottle of Scotch may seem attractive – until you drink it when it would almost certainly make you ill – and could kill you.” 

The new contaminated fake bottles of Johnnie Walker were discovered in an operation by Customs and Excise and police at a suspected counterfeit spirits bottling plant in Berkshire last week. 

Notes for Editors 
How to identify counterfeit Johnnie Walker Black Label 

  • The fake bottles have writing in Spanish on the rear label, unlike the genuine article. 
  • A fake lot code 'L04P24878342' is also printed on the rear of the front centre label. 
  • The fake bottles do not have a neck label, unlike the genuine article (NB: the previously found contaminated fake did have a neck label, but a fake one with 'distillers' spelt incorrectly as distilleries). 
  • The counterfeit bottles have no 'E mark' on their base between '700ml and 73mm'. 
The Food Standards Agency is also advising that counterfeit bottles of Highland Pride Whisky may be on sale in the UK after rolls of fake labels for this drink were also found on the premises, along with the fake Johnnie Walker. As a precaution, anyone who thinks that they may have one of these fake bottles is advised not to drink the liquor, but rather contact Trading Standards so it can be tested. 

How to identify counterfeit Highland Pride Finest Scotch Whisky 

  • The front label of the genuine bottle is marked '1 litre' and '43% vol.', whereas the counterfeit reads '1 L' and '40% vol'. 
  • The genuine bottle has small numbers on just the right hand side of the label, whereas the counterfeit has small numbers on both sides. 
  • The genuine bottle states: 'BOTTLED IN SCOTLAND', whereas the counterfeit states 'PRODUCED AND BOTTLED IN SCOTLAND'. 
  • The genuine bottle has 'HIGHLAND PRIDE' written on one line on the back label, whereas the counterfeit has it written on two lines. 
  • The genuine bottle does not have a line between 'Highland Pride' and 'Finest Scotch Whisky'; the counterfeit version does. 
  • The genuine one's bar code is 5011311023645; the fake bar code is 5011311221171. 
  • The genuine label has '1 LITRE 43' written on the bottom right-hand side, whereas the counterfeit states '1L' on the left hand side and '40% vol.' on the right. 
  • The fake version has a recycle sign whereas the genuine one does not. 
  • The fake labels are self-adhesive, the genuine ones are not. 
Details, along with pictures of the counterfeits, can be found on the Agency website www.food.gov.uk . 

For further information please contact: Trading Standards Duty Officer on 01323 418230 

19 September 2004
1802 Cognac Napoleon by Piercel De Saint-Jacques
"Grand Fine Champagne Reserve 1802"

This time a fellow who signed in as “alexistostadom” offered it on eBay. The fellow wanted $3900 for two bottles. The forgery is of very poor quality, but perhaps just good enough for the unsuspected. By the way, during my research I found several other bottles offered in discussion forums and on some commercial Spanish-speaking Websites. As a matter of fact all bottles I found had something to do with Mexico. Listen, I am not beating on Mexico that’s just where I located other bottles of this type.

Here is what the seller said about the bottles:
 "The bottle & Label are in Perfect shape Bottle material is greenish hand blown class with a lot of bobbles in it. I has a tar like material on the top covered with sandy shiny material under all of this a wire like net around the whole bottle.

This is a one of a kind 200 year old bottle the size of this bottle is unknow they didn't print the size nor the alcohole contents on the bottle it is a little smaller than a 750ml. I personally think it si between a 750 and a 500ml. 50 Years old bottles of wine go for hundreds of thousand of dollar and there are many of them around the world. This bottle is probably the only one left in the world."

Raul F. of NYC explained to us: Grande Fine Champagne is not in English(as I first thought) but in French (pronounced "feen") and in France it refers to the marc de champagne which is a distillation of the wine rich in sediment which pops out of the champagne bottle when it is disgorged (one of the steps of the "méthode champénoise"). It is similar to the marc de bourgogne made from the skins and pips of the Pinot Noir grapes after vinification. This is presumably the reason why the label mentions the "Province de Champagne" since Cognac is made in the Charente and Charente-Maritime departments of France. The immediate give away is the addition of (FRANCE) on the label which will never appear on an authentic label as the country of origin is assumed by the name of the wine (or liquor). Virtually all marc de champagne (or fine) are produced today by Jean Goyard & Cie. in Ay but before 1940 a number of old champagne houses marketed a marc. I find no reference in any old directory to a Maison de Saint-Jacques in Reims,Épernay or Ay. Needless to say there is none in Cognac or Jarnac either.

One might consider that the forger was a bit confused by the fact that the best area of the cognac producing region is called Grande Champagne (the others are Petite Champagne,Borderies,Fins Bois and Bons Bois) but this is not to be confused with "Fine".

There are other anachronisms related to the dates of establishment of the honorific "Fournisseur de la Cour de l'Émpereur Napoléon I er" and we all know that this was conferred on Maison Courvoisier around 1911. No need to belabor the point here. For some reason many if not most wine forgeries originate in the Iberic Peninsula and this bottle fits the pattern with its wire netting and the thick black hard resin conveniently covering the cork. I've seen similar bottles (frequently used for Madeira wine) in Madrid, Porto and Lisbon.This may explain how it reached Mexico, of all places, Raul F of NYC said.

Finally, the person who wrote the sticker label had no idea how to spell the word "officiel" in French because it was spelled “officel”.

I thank Raul F. of NYC and John T. of Detroit for their help in identifying this forgery.

6 August 2006

Antique 1802 Cognac Napoleon Champagne Bottle

Here is another fake 1802 Napoleon Cognac. It appeared on Bay and the starting asking price was $299 US. From the pictures it appears the bottle is empty. Here is the Bay description:

"You are bidding on an antique 1802 Cognac Napoleon Grande Fine Champagne bottle in Cognac Delamain box (not original box). Label on bottle may have been changed, but if so, it was over 100 years ago. Cork is original. Glass was once green and now has a blueish tint from age. There is some sand like stuff on the top of the bottle, shown in photos from prior storage.  Obviously, not the original box, used for storage/display only. Sold as shown.
Size:  10" high"

This bottle is quite similar to the one listed on Bay in August 2004 and has all the same characteristics described previously. Again, one of the main indicator of this fake is the misspelling of the word "officiel", because it is spelled "officel".

12 November 2007

We received the following e-mail from one of our readers:

"I run a online wine and spirit website in the UK called www.vintagewinegifts.co.uk. I have recently been offered this bottle and when i inspected it the level was too good to be true, the colour was not that dark and the bottle was modern - no pontil mark- with manufactured dirt encrusted on it.

I thought this might help you faked spirits page."
Name withheld by us

Our comments:
It doesn't take a genious to immediately identify this bottle as a fake and a cheap fake at that. No producer name, no country name and the word "grande" is misspelled as well. No need to go into further details.

Sellers of  Antique 1802 Cognac Napoleon Champagne Bottle
The following table lists sellers of this "antique" bottle.
Make sure you know what you are purchasing

asking $5,000

asking $32,000
Francisco Chavez
asking $29,000

asking $35,000

08/26/06 Ebay  
asking $249.99                  

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