Wine enthusiasts and collectors may want to raise a glass to the Italian authorities tonight. Officials from the Guardia di Finanza have successfully seized a total of 4,200 counterfeit bottles of a prized Tuscan red and busted a sophisticated wine ring in the process.
The bogus bottles were designed to look exactly like one of Italy’s finest wines, Bolgheri Sassicaia by Tenuta San Guido, which routinely fetches $420 (€360) a bottle. If all 700 cases had reached the market, the ring would have garnered an illicit income of at least $460,000 (€400,000), according to a report.
Investigators said the accused used subpar wine from Sicily, along with lookalike bottles from Turkey. The labels and wooden boxes, meanwhile, came from Bulgaria and were perfectly identical to the originals. Even the weight of the tissue paper was exact. The haul included different vintages between 2010 and 2015; the 2015 bottling was named the best wine in the world by Wine Spectator in 2018.
The Guardia di Finanza reported that a handful of customers from China, Korea and Russia had already ordered a thousand cases, which cost roughly 70 percent less than the original.
Operation “Bad Tuscan,” which sounds like the plot of a B movie, actually began by chance last year when two members of the Guardia di Finanza stumbled across a case of knock-offs on the streets of Empoli, Tuscany, as reported by The Guardian.
“In the case was a note with two mobile phone numbers, which set off the investigation and led to the arrest of two individuals who had carried out this fraud with meticulous care,” said Giuseppe Creazzo, chief prosecutor in Florence, during a press conference. “Fortunately, we managed to block the sale of this wine, one of the most famous in Italy and the world, on the international market.”
In addition to the two Milan locals that were arrested, 11 others are under investigation.
Wine crime is, unfortunately, rampant in Italy and costs the country dearly. In fact, in 2018, the Organization for Economic Cooperation (OECD) estimated that counterfeiting cost Italian food and drinks purveyors roughly $4.9 billion (€4.2 billion) in lost sales alone. That’s why seizures such as these are worth celebrating. Bravo, polizia!