Over 4 Million Bottles of Spanish Wine Were Labeled as French, Fraud Case Alleges

Five suspects are on trial, accused of a scheme to pass of inexpensive Spanish wine as Bordeaux and other French products.

Bottles of bordeaux
Bottles of bordeaux. Photo:

Andrii Medvediuk / Getty Images

Some wines characteristics are so obvious, even novice drinkers can tell apart — red or white, for instance. But other differences are far more subtle: How many people can definitively identify a French wine versus a Spanish wine just by drinking it? Apparently, several people in Bordeaux weren’t concerned about that happening as they’ve been accused of importing millions of bottles’ worth of Spanish wine and passing it off as their own.

Five suspects faced trial this week before the Bordeaux criminal court, accused of importing the equivalent of about 4.6 million bottles of inexpensive Spanish wine and passing it off as a variety of French products — from basic table wines to more coveted Bordeaux labels such as Saint-Emilion and Pomerol — for a period of about six years beginning in 2013, generating around $4 million in income, according to U.K. paper The Times.

"It's an absolute record in the region, a fraudulent scheme on an industrial scale," Frederic Georges, lawyer for the Federation des Grands Vins de Bordeaux, said according to the French site France Bleu.

According to the defendants, the fraud reportedly started off innocently enough: After a poor 2013 harvest, a representative for Celliers Vinicoles du Blayais allegedly concocted a plan to import cheaper Spanish wine to fill the gap in orders. The scheme involved multiple steps, leading to the multiple arrests, according to The Times. Allegedly, a wine merchant in Charente, France bought the wine from Spain and then sold it on to a Bordeaux-based merchant who altered the paperwork to make the wine appear French before passing it on to Celliers Vinicoles du Blayais, who — again, allegedly — knowingly sold fake products.

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For their part, the merchant in Charente claimed to be unaware of the fraud: “It sold Spanish wine, and it is the person who sold it on who transformed this Spanish wine into French wine,” their lawyer was quoted as saying.

But regardless of individual accountability, representatives for the Bordeaux region were worried about how this case reflected on their name as a whole. "[It’s a] serious attack on the image of wine and consumer confidence," Georges was quoted as saying. "We pass off Spanish wine for French or AOC wine; it's a manipulation that ends up reflecting on the image of an entire guild."

The defendants could reportedly face up to seven years in prison and substantial fines. A judgment is said to be expected on January 26.

This trial is at least the second major report of wine fraud in Bordeaux this year: In July, about 20 people from seven parts of France were arrested, accused by French authorities of producing hundreds of thousands of bottles of fake Bordeaux.

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