- The Guardian, Thursday 11 September 2014 11.30 EDT
Producers of Tuscany’s Brunello di Montalcino have been toasting their good fortune after Italian police foiled a plot to flood the market with nearly half a million counterfeit bottles of the prized red wine.
A wine expert, who had obtained fake Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino labels and falsified certification in the region’s wine database, was selling lower-quality local wine as bulk supplies of the coveted red to unwitting local producers, police officers in Siena said.
“It’s the biggest fraud ever carried out in the agricultural and food sector,” the force’s chief, Luca Albertario, added. Had the scam succeeded, it would have resulted in fake Brunello di Montalcino wines “ending up on the tables of half the restaurants in the world”, he added. The 160,000 litres of falsified wine would have sold for up to €5m (£4m).
Detectives tipped off last year by a suspicious winemaker discovered the conman had targeted up to 10 wineries between 2011 and 2013. He is also accused of attempting to steal €350,000 from the bank account of one of his victims.
Some 220,000 bottles of poor-quality wine, which had been stored in barrels to age like the real Brunello, were confiscated this week before they could go on the market.
The oenologist, who has been banned from living in Montalcino, is the only person under investigation, though police believe he had been helped by collaborators in the wine production and sales sectors.
The Brunello di Montalcino consortium of winemakers and authorities in Tuscany plan to sue for damages.
According to the Italian farmers association, Coldiretti, 70% of Brunello wine is exported, mainly to the US, then by Asia and Central America.
The scandal is the second to hit the Italian wine sector this year. In May, police foiled a multimillion-euro scam in which table wine was being falsely labelled as from a winery belonging to the Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli’s estate.