Counterfeit wines leave a bad taste for EU exporters
ASIA BRIEFING: A FRIEND buying a fridge in Beijing recently was offered a bottle of Château Lafite Rothschild as a way of smoothing the deal.
In the old days, this would have been a bottle of maotai, a fiery liquor favoured by party bosses at banquets, but these days, fine wine is the tipple of choice when trying to broker influence.
China is now the world’s fifth- largest consumer of wine, buying about 100 million cases a year. The International Wine and Spirit Research group forecasts 54 per cent growth by 2015, which adds up to about a billion more bottles.
My friend was probably right to be sceptical. A bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild would normally cost at least €800, a lot more than the fridge.
Exports of European wine and spirits to China amount to more than €1 billion every year and fake wine costs hundreds of millions every year.
That means supply and demand in the Chinese market can have a significant impact on global prices.
EU commissioner for agriculture Dacian Ciolos was in town last week, and as well as raising Irish hopes that the Chinese may lift the EU beef ban at some point soon, he also said that the EU had signed a deal with Beijing to battle counterfeits.
“This is important especially for our wines and spirits,” Ciolos said. “It’s our most important part of exports of agricultural products from Europe to the Chinese market. Wine and spirits account for 85 per cent of agricultural products exported to China from the EU.”
The cost of top vintages was down more than 20 per cent year-on-year in late February, according to the Liv-ex 50 Index, which tracks Bordeaux wines, and there are fears that fake wine in China may have played a role.
After wine tastings of top vintages, it is common to destroy the empties to make sure they don’t find themselves refilled with inferior beverages.
The commerce ministry said this month that authorities in Shanghai had recently discovered more than 4,000 fake bottles of Chateau Lafite.