China flooded with counterfeit fine wine

China is battling a flood of counterfeit vintage wine amid a growing interest in bottles from famed wineries, which are seen as a sign of high social standing.

According to an article published yesterday by AFP, counterfeiters have jumped into this lucrative market and Bordeaux has become one of the main victims of China’s newfound interest in wine.

“Fakes are everywhere – from bottom- to top-of-the-range,” Romain Vandevoorde, head of wine importer Le Baron, told the French news agency.

“There is more Lafite ‘82 in China than was produced in France. So you really have to be wary if you find any of that in China,” Vandevoorde added.

The majority of the fakes are circulating in mainland China rather than Hong Kong, where customers and retailers are more switched on to counterfeiting.

“Fake wine is prevalent in Hong Kong, but less so than in China, as [HK] consumers are more savvy,” Adam Bilbey, direct sales manager for Berry Bros & Rudd Hong Kong, told the drinks business.

“There are lots of stories flying around, but how many are true is another matter. We need some kind of structure to negate this (and the people selling them), as it gives the fine wine trade a bad reputation, and makes consumers lose trust in our industry,” Bilbey added.

Supermarkets – where the majority of Chinese buy their wine due to a lack of specialist merchants – are full of fakes.

Prices vary drastically, from as little as 90 yuan to as much as 35,000 yuan for an exceptional vintage.

At wine fairs in China, merchants can be found openly exhibiting counterfeit wine, some of which are very poor imitations.

“At a recent trade fair in China, I saw merchants openly selling fake Lafite – as you would Louis Vuitton handbags in a market – in a small room next to the main tasting room,” Simon Staples, buying director at Berry Bros & Rudd, told db.

Counterfeits include bottles of Bordeaux that have been diluted with sugared water and had colouring agents and artificial flavourings added, before being sold for high prices.

Vintage wines sold for uncharacteristically low prices with brand new labels are a warning sign, as are bottles wrongly spelt “Laffite” or “Lafitte”.

Empty bottles can be bought online in China, sparking a trend for upmarket fakes housed in reused “grand cru” bottles filled with lower quality vintage Bordeaux.

China is expected to become the world’s sixth largest wine consumer by 2014. Last year, China and Hong Kong became the largest consumers of Bordeaux, while Chinese investors have snapped up several wineries in the region over the past three years.

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