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Wine fraud in the UK?

17 Jun 2010 by Jancis Robinson

Even before we published the recent MW dissertation on counterfeit wine and before Mike Steinberger's long expose of yet more likely fraud in the US wine market was published on, Dr John Whiteman sent me the following:

I write to bring to your attention an increasing level of wine fraud in the United Kingdom. This is especially prevalent among restaurants serving supposedly fine wines. A wine shop in Tunbridge Wells (now closed: no surprise) was clearly selling wine that simply did not fit the description.

More recently, I think I have detected wine fraud in a restaurant chain which serves fine wines at £50 a bottle. However, if you try the Vallet Frères, Beaune Premier Cru 2005, you cannot help concluding that it is identical to the Gevrey Chambertin that they serve, and I mean identical. I love and collect fine wine, but object to being ripped off by slack and callous food labelling that is plainly deceptive.

What can we do about this increasing phenomenon?

Is there a testing centre where one can take suspect bottles?

Unfortunately, there is no easy, inexpensive way to check the precise geographical provenance of a wine on the basis of lab analysis - although if you are right, presumably these two wines would have identical analyses, which would provide strong evidence for your claim. I suppose you could contact a local Trading Standards Officer?

The current framework within which France's Appellation Contrôlée system operates is designed to ensure that all French AC wine has the required accompanying paperwork, but of course its efficacy depends on efficient inspection by the Services de la Répression des Fraudes.

I wonder whether any others have had similar experiences?


Having seen this item, I sent an email to the French authorities (Direction Générale de la Concurrence, de la Consommation et de la Répression des Fraudes) with details of your web link to draw it to their attention. I received a reply on 5th January 2011 with details of investigations by the Brigade Interregionale d’Enquetes Vins (BIEV) in Dijon in July and December 2010.   The wines were analysed by a government laboratory in Montpelier using isotopic ratio method and were found to have different values, though the isotopic ratio values of the Beaune were reported as being low for a wine of this origin and vintage (each Member State carries out annual sampling of grapes for the databank held by the European Commission). The alcoholic strength of the Beaune was found to be 12.1% compared to the label at 13% (this is slightly outside the 0.8% tolerance allowed for this type of wine (PDO) under EC rules). There were also shortcomings in the stock records of the producer for these two wines.   We have been provided with details of two UK shippers for these wines and have checked with them about stocks of these wines. Neither wine is held by them though a Gevrey-Chambertin which appears to be different is in stock - we have asked the French authorities to confirm that this is not the wine identified in their letter. The Food Standards Agency will always pursue information about possible wine irregularities which come to our attention; I hope this puts your readers minds at rest that we are working to prevent wine fraud.   (John Boodle Wine Standards Food Standards Agency)

25 Jan 2011 17:08 by Graham Finch

Picking up on Ms Robinson and Mr de la Serna's comments, and speaking purely from an enforcement perspective, I have found public authorities such as Trading Standards (UK) and Répression des Fraudes (Fr) are really only effective when they receive good evidence. Same problem in most countries.For example, in Dr Whiteman's case, enforcement officers would initially see the matter as subjective, but with more solid fact the view would change. Particularly interesting is that many frauds involve other laws such as tax evasion, thus other public enforcement officers join in. Of course there are appellation rules that could be invoked. Health and safety maybe an issue. Nothing like a public multi-departmental enforcement action, particularly when arrest warrants splash about.I'm not an advocate of the civil courts when the criminal system can be used. Problem is the tax payer funds the system thus enforcement officers have to be careful they don't go chasing shadows. The onus is therefore on all of us to present the evidence solidly, carefully and not expect them to do everything.Whomsoever wishes to communicate their own findings with commitment, then please also think of sending me information as I'm interested and keen to help.  Thanks ~ Nick.        

19 Jun 2010 10:17 by Nick Bartman

Well, Burgundy is particularly fertile grounds for such scams. (And I've never heard of Vallet, BTW, which may explain a few things. Go for well-known producers!) I mean - the Répression des Fraudes can only go so far. A few years back, in the cellar of a small Côte de Nuits producer, I asked him the question that had been nagging me for a long time: "I see one barrel of a Grand Cru, two barrels of another, five barrels of a Premier Cru, three of a second one, ten of a third one... Say that for whatever reason one of the Premiers Crus has produced much better wine this year than a Grand Cru. Who can stop you from filling the Grand Cru barrel with that wine, and blending back the Grand Cru into the Premier Cru lot?" His answer: "No one really. They trust us." I went back: "And how to you top up a single barrel of Grand Cru when it's needed?" "Well, in principle we keep one or two dmeijohns of the same wine, but that's not always possible..." And a large smile. 

18 Jun 2010 14:47 by Victor de la Serna

Dr Whiteman - and others with similar experiences - I would be delighted to receive all or any detailed information you have, and circumstances behind your findings. I'm working against fake wines in China but have a growing number of connections with wineries and negociants to refer to in Europe and elsewhere. I will receive all information with the utmost confidentiality. I have no interest in charging you for my service. And next time this happens, please keep a nearly empty bottle with cork and cover or screw cap. Make a note of all salient info and please consider immediate contact with me. Regards ~ Nick   

17 Jun 2010 11:53 by Nick Bartman

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