Most buyers will never know they were cheated

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The accusations of labelling fraud in Burgundy are - if true - only the latest in a long history of dodgy doings. Burgundy is particularly prone to scam-mongers. This is partly because the best wines are made in small quantities, and horrendously expensive, and therefore worth the risk for would-be fraudsters.

The accusations of labelling fraud in Burgundy are - if true - only the latest in a long history of dodgy doings. Burgundy is particularly prone to scam-mongers. This is partly because the best wines are made in small quantities, and horrendously expensive, and therefore worth the risk for would-be fraudsters.

Premier cru wines, those at the centre of the alleged malpractice, make up about 10 per cent of Burgundy's production. And they sell at far higher prices than wines lower down the appellation trail.

But it's partly because these are not, to many people's palates, innately impressive. Great red Burgundy is light in colour when most people expect something deep and inky; low in alcohol when the New World norm is quite high; and subtly earthy when we're all used to big, ripe flavours.

Dishonest merchants have found all sorts of ways to doctor red Burgundy. In the past, wine from the warm south found its way into Burgundian bottles. Today, it is entirely legal to "chaptalize" the wine: adding sugar to boost alcohol levels. It is not legal to sell any wine from outside the designated appellation under the label of that appellation.

How do you know if you've been sold a mislabelled Burgundy? Most people wouldn't. Without long experience in tasting, they don't have a benchmark against which to judge fraudulence or low quality. Price might be a good indicator, but not necessarily.

If you really want to drink great Burgundy, you need to do three things. The first is to be wealthy, or at least extravagant. Premier cru wines generally start at about £15, and can easily cost twice that much. The second is to find a wine merchant with detailed knowledge of the region. And the third is to taste a lot. I don't just mean drinking the stuff. I mean thinking about it from the instant you pour the first glass till the bottle's empty.

The Burgundy expert Anthony Hanson says: "There is no substitute for experience." When it comes to wine tasting, truer words were never said.

Richard Ehrlich is a wine writer for 'The Independent' and 'The Independent on Sunday'

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