This year Italian Wine overtook French as the world’s most exported wine so it’s not surprising that the industry is riddled with con artists attempting to take a piece of the action.
Italy has been on the receiving end of some of the largest wine scams ever seen with a famous recent example effecting the Ruffino group. Ruffino were caught buying wine for their Chianti Classico from outside the classified D.O.C.G region. Ruffino themselves were not to blame as they had fallen victim, among with other smaller producers, of buying wine from supplier Piero Conticelli who stands accused of growing grapes outside the zone.
Most recently Braida were embroiled in a scam originating from the poor Puglia region of Italy. A small group were found to have copied the labels and bottles of Braida and “faked” their wine then sold it to German restaurants. The proprietor of Braida, Raffella Bologna, believes the fakes were so good that the crime was most certainly an inside job.
Expert wine tasters can usually identify a fake but it’s easy to copy labels and bottles. Unscrupulous individuals can make millions by using a producers brand then filling copied bottles with cheap wine or even wine substitutes, then selling them on to restaurants.
Turning Water into Wine
There are two basic ways of faking wine, the first involves very little ageing of the wine and instead introducing lots of sugar to create alcohol. It is permissible to add some sugar to increase alcohol in poorer vintages.
The second method is more worrying. As showcased recently at a famous wine expo, it is now possible to buy packets of wine granules and “just add water” to create a passable wine. These methods have been outright banned in Italy. The granules are extremely cheap and they even pass the wine expert test making them a very easy substitute in wine fraud. The granules are very cheap to produce and, to cut a long story short, with the right bottles and labels you can produce a wine for €2 and sell it online, to restaurants, supermarkets and wine auctions for €100 a bottle. Clearly this is a major threat to the wine world in general not just Italy.
Fighting Back with the Wine Police
There is a constant technology battle between the producers and the fraudsers. In 2006, Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona became the first producers to implement a range of anti-fraud holograms to protect their most famous wine, the Brunello di Montalcino. The system is the same as the European Central bank’s (the same type of holograms used on Euro notes). Before this many producers added special “talking” microchips which could be heard with the assistance of a small reader. However, most people do not carry such equipment with them, neither do supermarkets or restaurants so this method was useless.
These fraud fighting techniques don’t come cheap and although no one want to buy wine made from granules, production costs must be absorbed thus, wine prices increase. Personally I’m happy to pay this “50c insurance policy”.
The most impressive measure of all comes directly from the top. The Italian police force have taken a historical step in ensuring wine fraud is kept to a minimum by creating a special “wine fraud” task force. The roman police force can boast 150 fraud busting sommeliers! This task force spent 18 months training to detect wine forgeries and can now correctly identify a wine regions, grape etc. There are no other forces like this in operation anywhere in Europe and shows a commendable attitude from the Italian government to the nations #1 export.
Italian Wine Abroad
If you subscribe to Wine Spectator magazine you will have noticed that every other advertisement is for Italian wine. Not just Italian wine, but authentic Italian wine. The USA is the #1 importer of Italian wine so why do the Italian producers need to promote it so heavily?
Three quarters of all wine sold in the US with the word “Italian” on the bottle is not Italian at all! The advertising campaigns are state sponsored education programmes informing US customers to “look for the Rooster”. A recent promotion from the Parma region of Italy was headlining, very effectively, that there may be imitations but you can not beat the genuine article.
In conclusion, Italian wine is facing assault from every angle; but when you become the MVP you have to look out for rookies taking you down. For my money, the Italian wine industry and government is doing everything it can to protect the integrity of its brand.
Remember folks – Piracy is a not a victimless crime!
Question of the Day
Is there any future for wine granules?