British wine ‘connoisseurs’ have been duped into spending up to £7,000 a bottle for fake French wine for years, police reveal
- Italian father and son were producing counterfeit bottles
- Romanee-Conti is known among experts as of the world’s greatest wines
British wine connoisseurs have been buying fake bottles of vintage French wine costing up to £7,000 a bottle, it emerged today.
The gigantic fraud not only sheds light on the vast trade in counterfeit luxury produce, but highlights how little some self-styled ‘experts’ really know about wine.
It was exposed thanks to a Europe-wide investigation by specialist officers working for six different police forces.
They found that a so far unnamed Italian father and son were producing counterfeit bottles of Romanee-Conti, a Burgundy Pinot Noire.
The 1931 edition of The Great Wines Of France by Paul Ramain describes the upmarket beverage as ‘one of the greatest wines of the world and the most perfect as well as the most expensive of Burgundy.’
It goes on to describe a ‘forceful bouquet of violet mixed with a scent of cherry, a lively and profound ruby robe, a suaveness of exceptional finesse.’
But the counterfeiters still managed to make more than £1.8 million selling their fake produce across Europe, including the UK.
Investigators said the design on bottles were ‘near perfect’ and that many customers were clearly fooled.
But last year the Burgundy estate, which has been producing the wine for centuries, reported a number of fake bottles to police.
The label is legally protected in France as an AOC, which means ‘controlled designation of origin’.
‘WORLD’S GREATEST WINE’
Romanee-Conti is often named ‘one of the greatest wines in the world’.
Its Burgundy vineyard is protected under French law to ensure no other wine can use the name, and Romanée-Conti has been given the highest level of quality classification – labelled a grand cru.
Only about four acres of vineyard are used which yield just 3,500 bottles a year, making the wine highly exclusive. Earlier this year, three bottles of the 1990 vintage were sold at auction for just over £42,000, making it officially the most expensive Burgundy in the world.
In 2010, the vineyard was threatened with destruction by poisoners who demanded €1million (£850,000). The extortion attempt failed.
Enquiries across Europe found up to 400 bottles, although there are suspicions that many more could have been sold and drunk.
Prosecutors supported by police from Dijon first opened an investigation for ‘organised fraud’ in March, and it now involves five other forces.
The two Italians were arrested in their home country last week, and an application has been made to extradite them to France, where they are likely to face trial.
Dijon prosecutor Marie-Christine Tarrare said: ‘Other suspects are being sought so that we can present this entire counterfeiting network in evidence.’
High end wines are sold to a variety of customers, but experts have noted that many buy them as prestige items, without really knowing much about them.
There have been reported incidents of Russian oligarch parties at which vintage wine is served with cans of Coke, for example.
Romanee-Conti, which was described by the the Archbishop of Paris in 1780 as ‘velvet and satin in bottles’, has become a status symbol for many who have newly acquired fortunes.