In vino veritas? Not always. At a very reputable wine retailer here in Los Angeles I recently came across three bottles of the 1985 Chateau Sociando-Mallet being offered at the enticing price of $29 per bottle. Sociando is a cru bourgeois red Bordeaux wine from the Haut- Medoc region. Despite lacking the imprimatur bestowed by the 1855 classification, Sociando is a very reputable and highly regarded producer. Indeed, in his classic guide to Bordeaux, wine critic Robert Parker rates Sociando the equivalent of a third growth of the 1855 classification, which is very high praise indeed. 1985 was an excellent year in Bordeaux. Parker gives the 85 Sociando 90 points; the Wine Spectator scores it at 91 points. For a 20 year old wine of this quality, $29 was an outstanding - nay, an amazing - price. So I began to give the bottles a very close inspection. All three bottles showed a fair bit of ullage, hovering between the neck and the upper shoulder. That's an acceptable level for a wine of this age, provided there are no signs of seepage on the label or cork. It was when I turned to looking closely at the label, however, that the problems began to show up. I was looking for stains on the labels, which would indicate that wine had seeped past the cork, which is a clear sign of improper storage and, in all probability, spoiled wine. What I found was something even more worrisome, however. On all three bottles, there were traces of glue on the bottle to either side of the label. The implication? Perhaps a larger label had been removed, albeit badly so that traces of glue remained, and then had been replaced by a counterfeit Sociando label. By now I was quite curious, so I bought one bottle and brought it home for a closer look. When I peeled off the capsule, a new problem was readily apparent - the cork was not branded. Like all reputable producers, Sociando brands its corks with the chateau name and vintage year. Clearly, the bottle I had bought was counterfeit. On opening, the wine reeked of vinegar. I don't know what wine was originally in the bottle, but I would bet the entire contents of my wine cellar that it was not Chateau Sociando-Mallet 1985. The lesson? Caveat emptor. With a bit of research, I discovered that by some estimates as much as 5% of the fine wine sold in secondary markets is counterfeit! So if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you're going to buy a 20 year old wine, stick to the most reputable dealers who can provide you with a definitive provenance. And be prepared to spend a lot more than $29 per bottle.