- The Underground Wine Letter - http://www.undergroundwineletter.com -


For many years the Underground has been reporting on wine fraud. This began in the early 80s (to read that article click here [1]).   Interestingly, in the early 80s I talked with the owners of Chateau Lafite Rothschild about the issue of wine fraud and they felt that it would not be a problem. At that time wine fraud was just beginning to get publicity and few joined us in our concern. Now that has changed. Producers, merchants, and consumers alike are very concerned. Wine fraud is a big problem. And, it is particularly a problem in China. But, don’t think that all the fake wine in China will stay in China. A short time ago we published an article on how fake wine is being moved out of China to other countries (to read that article click here) [2].


Now we have another story dated November 9 from BBC World News that reports another large stash of what appears to be fake wine in China that potentially could be distributed around the world. That article is reproduced below:

 ‘Fine wine’ hoard highlights China’s problem with fakes

“Police in China have discovered 10,000 bottles labeled as one of the world’s most expensive wines in a deserted house.

If authentic the haul of Chateau Lafite Rothschild would be worth £10m ($16m), but police believe it is fake.

Chateau Lafite is very popular with China‘s new rich and 50,000 bottles are imported from the estate each year.

Police say it’s unlikely that a fifth of that total would have been stored in one deserted suburban villa.

The house is in the eastern city of Wenzhou, south of the financial hub, Shanghai.

It is reported to have had good security and to have been guarded by dogs.

Its owner, Mr. Zhou, told police he had been surprised to learn that his house, unoccupied for nine years, was being used to store wine. He has denied any involvement.

The authorities hope the discovery will hold clues to an underground workshop

Analysts say that 70% of bottles of Chateau Lafite sold in China are fakes. The estate has fought and won six lawsuits against Chinese companies over fine wines.”


Today, unlike the 80s, Chateau Lafite Rothschild and many others are taking wine fraud seriously. Consider the recent changes made by Lafite Rothschild to make wine fraud more difficult. Below is a news release from the Chateau earlier this year:

 Château Lafite Rothschild adopts the Prooftag System

“The Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) group has always endeavored to protect its brands and products. The fight against counterfeiting is an integral part of our development policy both in France and internationally.
We now wish to take this initiative further, with measures to strengthen our bottle authentication system.

From February 2012, Château Lafite Rothschild has introduced a “bubble seal” system, created by Prooftag, for all bottles of Château Lafite Rothschild and Carruades de Lafite labelled after February 2012. This seal will be present on all bottles of Château Lafite Rothschild from the 2009 vintage, and all bottles of Carruades de Lafite from the 2010 vintage. This initiative will also apply to bottles of earlier vintages released from the Château after February 2012. All bottles labeled in our cellars after February 2012 will therefore be equipped with the system, whatever the vintage concerned.

 The seal is applied to the bottle neck (at the back), partly on the capsule and partly on the glass. It provides two levels of protection:
– A unique « bubble code » that cannot be reproduced.
– A 13 character alphanumeric code that is associated with the bubble code

The combination of the bubble code and the alphanumeric code enables the authentication of the bottle and gives access to the information on the bottle, previously registered by the Château and stored in a database.


The authentication procedure is carried out directly on line. Click here to view the page [3]. Once the alphanumeric code is entered, the corresponding bubble code is displayed. An identical bubble code to the one on the screen, combined with an undamaged seal that is attached to the bottle, is the guarantee of the bottle’s authenticity.

The objective is to guarantee traceability right through the distribution chain to the final consumer.”

These are the beginnings of the war against wine fraud. The perpetrators of fraud are very clever with deep pockets and the latest technologies at their finger tips. It will not be easy to arrest the tide of fraudulent bottles that is increasing at an alarming rate. Lafite Rothschild and others such as Laurent Ponsot of Domaine Ponsot in Burgundy are to be commended in their efforts to try to stop, or at least slow down, the incidence of wine fraud. Consumers must also be part of the solution. Any suspect bottles should immediately be reported to the source from which they came and to the producers and then, if necessary, to the authorities. The integrity of fine wine is at stake. Old wines are one of life’s greatest pleasures. None of us should stand still and allow a few profiteering crooks to spoil the game for everyone!

In Vino Veritas,Sig

John Tilson