Fake bottles and dopers: A treatise on cheating

Anyone who knows me is likely aware there are two things I love in equal measure: wine and cycling.

While it seems the two topics are as different from each other as carbon fibre and malolactic fermentation, there is one way in which they are very similar – and it’s something few people might have thought about before.

Bear with me, because this is perhaps one of the most tenuous links I’ve ever made and potentially one of the most barmy things I’ve ever written. But don’t worry; I’m not going to get all philosophical here. There will be no treatise on cycling and wine, no ode to the bike and the bottle.

No rhyming couplets about riding through the vineyards of Bordeaux.

No rambling words extolling the virtues of a fine right bank merlot.

Absolutely, certainly, most definitely: a big fat no.

Instead, I’m going to talk about cheating and lies, two things that have done a disservice to cycling and fine wine, and unfortunately show little sign of abating any time soon.

I started thinking about all of this not long after I heard the news American cyclist Lance Armstrong gave up defending himself against the US Anti-Doping Agency’s allegations he used performance-enhancing drugs during his career.

Doping is a topic many cycling fanatics hate to discuss most of all, primarily because it is a constant reminder the sport has a shady underbelly where dishonest people cheat for personal gain.

And while the Lance Armstrong story has been rumbling on for years, fresh allegations of cheating in the sport never fail to send daggers through the hearts those who wanted to believe the sport had changed for the better.

The cycling world has endured much disappointment in the past 20 years. So many of the most famous names, the biggest icons, turned out to be little more than fakes.

Unfortunately we are finding the same to be true in the wine world. And we need not look back too far in time to find the sorry evidence.

In the first half of this year it seemed the wine world was collapsing upon itself like a house of cards. Rudy Kurniawan was indicted in the spring for allegedly selling $1.3-million worth of fake wine, while in June directors at Burgundy negociant Labouré-Roi were detained under suspicion the firm faked two million bottles of wine.

Things have become so bad that some experts suggest a great deal of wine, mostly old Burgundy, sold at auction around the world is actually fake. Rather than coming from the finest grand cru vineyards, they are, in fact, no finer than a bottle of basic vin de pays.

So what is a wine drinker to do? Well as any fule kno, if you play with fire, there’s a chance you’ll get burned. When doping got out of hand in cycling, German broadcasters that were sick of being let down by the sport took the extreme measure of pulling their Tour de France coverage. Should fine wine collectors and investors boycott auctions where the old Burgundy looks too good to be true?

Put it this way. If no one bought Rudy Kurniawan’s wine, would he have made it as far as he did?