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Add Fine Wines to your Chinese Shopping List

Posted: Wednesday, 10 August 2011 17:45

Add Fine Wines to your Chinese Shopping List

August 10: Planeloads of Indian tourists making a beeline to China to shop for fake designer bags, cosmetics, electronics and branded golf sets may now add fine wines to their list, to be purchased at the fraction of their original cost, if a media report on the advances made by their counterfeiting industry is an indicator.

There is an uncontested saying that Indians drink more scotch than produced by Scotland. The counterfeiting industry is so advanced that many times the whisky buffs swear that the genuine brand is a fake but are willing to bet any amount that the counterfeit stuff is original-perhaps straight from the cellars of Johnny Walker in Scotland.

The Chinese appear to be a more sophisticated lot, at least from the stand point of wine drinking. There is a saying that there is more Lafite ‘82 in China than was produced in France, according to AFP. Lafite is the most popular, coveted and expensive red wine in China where they consider it to be the best wine in the world and the prices always go northwards. In fact, when the Fist Growth Chateau Lafite released the 2008 vintage last year, they printed 8 in Chinese on the label and the price shot up by 25% overnight. The real, genuine excellent Vintage ’82 is hard to come by.  No wonder, the counterfeit trade has jumped in the ‘barrolwagon’ and made it an important and profitable addition to their portfolio.

Another wine which is extremely popular is the same (1982) legendry vintage of Chateau Lafite Rothschild. Many affluent Chinese would not mind paying $7800 for the Château wine as it is extremely popular.

Chinese have been highly successful in copying designer handbags, expensive watches and golf sets etc.-practically everything except human beings. But wine is a recent addition flooding the market. Nowhere else it is a bigger status symbol and an aspirational label as fine wines in China. Drinking a premium fine wine indicates that the individual is a rich connoisseur of wine and has a high social status. In fact, a famous brand accompanied by high price, is an important factor while selecting a wine, according to local wine experts.

French wines are considered top dogs-but only reds. Whites are reserved for ladies to appreciate. No wonder China and Hong Kong became the largest consumers of Bordeaux wines last year while some Chinese investors have been busy buying important Chateaux in Bordeaux and other parts of France during the last three years.

At Chinese wine shows, some exhibitors openly tout counterfeit wine bottles. Supermarkets and wine shops where a majority of Chinese buy their wines, are also full of fake wines and sold openly-like the Gucci bags, Rolex watches or Callaway golf sets. Some of these bottles include Bordeaux wines that have been diluted with sugar and water, with colouring agents and artificial flavourings added since there are no strict wine laws to speak of. Although poor imitations, they are sold at exorbitant prices.

Counterfeits include bottles with labels marked similar to the originals-like “Laffite" or "Lafitte" These intentional errors may go unnoticed in China but last year some of these wines found their way through London where the imitations were detected only because of the intentional incorrect spellings.

Up-market higher quality fake wines are also available at higher prices. Selling and buying empty bottles of Chateaux wines is a roaring business like the old scotch bottles used to be in India decades. The difference is that the sophisticates now offer them online in China. However, it is difficult to estimate the impact of counterfeits on China's wine sector.

Wine traders are wary of counterfeits and are becoming smarter in learning to distinguish a fake from the real McCoy. But the counterfeit market is still flourishing in the absence of no visible crackdown by the police or lawmakers. The counterfeit products market including wines is perhaps fueling their tourism industry from middle class tourists who are brand conscious and crazy but without the cash required to enable them to buy such products.


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