Italian law enforcement keeps cracking down on fraudulent and illegal activities, like in this latest case of fake alcoholic beverage distribution and sales. About 5,500 bottles were seized and samples were investigated in the lab, revealing substances unfit for human consumption, and endangering human health. The fraudulent products displayed labels of well-known alcoholic beverage brands.
In Italy’s Tuscany / Maremma region a fraud system with a broad scope that included clandestine meat, vegetable and fruits was set up by a company that claimed to sell these items from their own production. Included in this fraud was a significant amount of wine, some of which was violating health regulations. The products were either mislabeled by removing original labels, or they did not have any labeling and traceability. Due to their questionable origin and potential impact on human health, the products were seized by officials and scheduled for destruction.
Italy’s Guardia di Finanz (GDF) had a case of wine fraud essentially fall into their lap when a crate of fake prestigious Tuscan wine was found at the side of a road. Scammers repackaged and mislabeled cheap wine that would have fetched almost half a million dollars in revenue. The fraud was carried out with a high level of sophistication, including identical labels, bottle caps, bottle wrappers and wooden crates, and the wine was already reserved by customers in several countries.
This kind of lead must weigh heavily on the minds of food and beverage fraudsters. The quantity of lead isotopes and elemental lead can be used to determine the geographic origin and vintage of a wine and therefore determine whether the wine is from a specific location. The isotopic profiles of genuine Bordeaux wines were compared to suspicious bottling. The fake wines were clearly identified to be from different locations and vintages than claimed on the labels.
Based on a classification system that was established more than 150 years ago, wines from the world-renowned region of Bordeaux can fetch high prices and enjoy a high degree of recognition and popularity. The Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB) and Chinese authorities set a precedent by sentencing a wine supplier for offering fake “Bordeaux” wines. Nearly 10,000 bottles of mislabeled “Bordeaux” wines were seized, and the guilty judgment included fines and a suspended prison sentence.
New Zealand is known for its premier, high quality wine industry, enjoying a steady growth for the past several years. Even just one isolated case like the one reported here can hurt the reputation of an entire country’s wine industry. The Ministry of Primary Industries in New Zealand found that a large wine producer in New Zealand is responsible for falsely blending wines, as well as mislabeling the vintage and origin of the wines. The wines do not pose any health risks but due to the damaging nature to the New Zealand wine industry, this fraud is being punished by a hefty fine and other sentences.
Unfortunately, alcoholic beverages are also prone to fraud involving the addition of substances that can cause illness or death. This often happens at the local level, with the production of “moonshine” or other unlicensed spirits. Some of the substances used have included methanol, isopropyl alcohol and industrial-grade alcohol.
One notable incident from the 1980s had global implications and severe market effects. Diethylene glycol was added to Austrian wines, resulting in recalls around the world when the adulteration was detected. Fortunately, no illnesses or deaths were reported. Just a year later, methanol added to Italian wine caused both hospitalizations and deaths. More recently, incidents involving the addition of methanol to spirits have caused deaths in India, China and Malaysia.
Authentication and traceability for alcoholic beverages, and specifically wines, lend themselves to technology-enabled solutions such as blockchain. On a lighter note, take a look at some of the labels documented by reporters covering the wine market in China. In a high value marketplace such as the wine business, there is no end to creativity in labeling.
Booze bootleggers are still quite active since there is a lot of money exchanging hands in the high-end wine and liquor business. Fake premium Penfolds wines, which can fetch several hundred dollars per bottle, as well as acclaimed brands of adulterated whisky, were discovered and seized in a liquor store in Cambodia. Besides the fake beverages, the raid also uncovered fake labels and packaging materials.
Fake brandy based on corn distillate was purchased by a Spanish company based in Georgia and was exported to other EU countries with falsified documentation. Fortunately, this alcohol fraud did not pose a health hazard like many other alcohol fraud cases. However, the economic gain for the fraudulent brandy was going to be huge, since a volume of 4 million liters of “brandy” was exported. EU regulations state that brandy is supposed to be based on wine distillate only, which costs up to four times more than distillate made from corn.
Three arrests were made and at least 11,000 bottles of red wine labeled high-quality IGT Toscana wines have been seized in Italy for containing lower quality wines and fraudulent labeling, misrepresenting the wine’s geographic origin. The investigation was taken to the Europol level in conjunction with German and Italian law enforcement authorities.
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