Thursday, August 11, 2011

First fake branded bags, now fake vintage wines

BEIJING: Long known for fake designer handbags and watches, China is now battling a flood of counterfeit vintage wine amid growing zest for bottles from famed wineries as a sign of social standing. With average consumption of just one litre per citizen per year, China may not have an age-old wine tradition, but it is catching up fast and is expected to become the world's sixth-largest wine consumer by 2014. 'A good wine shows a person has a high social status,' said Mr Wang Li, who is learning wine tasting in Beijing. Wine from France is considered top-notch. Last year, China and Hong Kong became the largest consumers of Bordeaux wines, while Chinese investors have bought several wineries in the area over the past three years. Many rich Chinese are willing to pay as much as 50,000 yuan (S$9,500) for a bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1982, from the Bordeaux winery of the same name, which is hugely popular in China. Counterfeiters have jumped into this lucrative market and French wine has become one of the main victims of China's growing love for a tipple. Fakes are 'everywhere, from bottom-to top-of-the-range', Mr Romain Vandevoorde, head of wine importer Le Baron, told Agence France-Presse. '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.' Experts say it is difficult to estimate the impact of counterfeits on China's wine sector. The price range in fake wine varies from 90 yuan to as much as 35,000 yuan for an exceptional vintage. At wine fairs in China, some merchants have no qualms about openly exhibiting counterfeit wine bottles. Supermarkets and shops - where most Chinese go to buy wine due to a lack of specialist wine cellars - are also full of fakes. Counterfeits include bottles of Bordeaux wine that have been diluted with sugared water and had colouring agents and artificial flavourings added, before being sold for exorbitant prices. Good vintage wines going for unusually low prices with brand-new labels are a warning sign, as are bottles marked 'La-ffite' or 'Lafitte' - mispellings of the famous Bordeaux winery. But 'there are much more upmarket copies, much better made, generally by re-using Grand Cru bottles', said Mr Vandevoorde. Empty bottles have also sparked a roaring trade, and are available online in China. He said people fill the bottles with lower-quality wine from Bordeaux that is more or less the same vintage as that advertised on the label. 'There are also troubling mixtures that mislead even the best wine tasters - they're very good copies,' he added. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE