Too good to be cru? Recent wine frauds

Wed Feb 17, 2010 1:35pm EST
 
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(Reuters Life!) - Adulterating wine, whether with water, additives, or the juice from cheaper grapes, has been going on for centuries.

The Roman officer and author of an ancient encyclopedia, Pliny the Elder, who said, "In wine there is truth," also complained that there was so much fraudulent wine flooding Rome even the emperor couldn't be sure of what he was pouring into his cup. And the frauds range from the humble to the noble.

Following are five of the most recent wine scandals.

2008 - Italy. Known as Brunellopoli, Italian authorities impound several hundred thousand bottles of the 2003 vintage of Brunello di Montalcino, 10 vineyards were seized and U.S. authorities blocked the importation of the prestigious wine that usually fetches more than $80 a bottle. The seized wine is eventually stripped of its prestigious title and sold off as Rosso di Montalcino, which costs a third to a half as much.

2005 - France. Les Vins Georges Duboeufs was found guilty of illegally mixing low-grade wine with fine vintages. The company was fined and the wine, stripped of its more prestigious and costly labels, was released for sale.

2004 - South Africa. KWV, one of South Africa's major wine producers, was found to have illegally flavored its Sauvignon Blanc to mimic the grassy, peppery aromas and palate associated with the iconic New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. Eventually, some 60,000 liters of wine were destroyed, KWV was fined and two winemakers were fired. One of the adulterated wines had won a trophy at the South African National Wine Show.

2002 - France. Seven wine merchants were found guilty of mislabeling several hundred thousands of bottles of Bordeaux estimated to be worth more than $1 million. One negociant, Jacques Hemmer of Medoc, was sentenced to 18 months in prison and fined more than a million euros after a French court found he had diluted Cru Bourgeois Medoc with wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon region. The six others were fined from 5,000 to 20,000 euros.

2000 - France. Some 10 wine producers were accused of diluting hundreds of thousands of bottles of grand cru Burgundies that sell for better than $100 a bottle with cheaper wine. Among the Burgundies affected are premier crus from Beaune, Pommard and Meursault as well as wines designated Volnay, Gevrey-Chambertin and Nuits-Saint-Georges.

(Compiled by Leslie Gevirtz; Editing by Patricia Reaney)