Italian police have closed down a counterfeit ring that was producing knock-offs of one of Italy's most famous wines after the evidence literally fell off the back of a truck.
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The probe, code-named Bad Tuscan, led to two members of the gang being placed under house arrest over the weekend, while a further 11 suspects are being investigated for offences ranging from counterfeiting of a trademark to receiving stolen goods.
Italy's luxury goods industry, one of its most important business sectors, which also includes fine foods and drinks, has faced a constant battle against counterfeiting. In a 2018 report, the OECD estimated counterfeiting cost Italian food and drinks makers €4.2 billion ($4.9b) in lost sales alone.
When police raided the warehouse, the counterfeiters were labeling cases under the excellent 2015 vintage.
The potential turnover from the illicit operation was estimated at around €400,000 ($470,000) per month, according to reports in the Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano.
Police seized around 700 cases of wine, comprising 4200 bottles, before it reached the international market. The bottles were labeled mostly as the 2010 and the highly-prized 2015 vintages.
The authorities said that the gang had already received orders from China, Korea and Russia for about 1000 cases of the exclusive wine, which was being sold at around 70 percent less than the cost of the original. The global average price per bottle for Sassicaia is $288. The 2015 vintage has a global average price of $301 a bottle, while the 2010 goes for an average of $282.
The counterfeiters chose well when it came to picking a wine to fake. Sassicaia is the most searched-for Italian wine on Wine-Searcher and it is one of the 10 highest-scoring Italian wines on our database too. The Cabernet Sauvignon-Cabernet Franc blend was an instant hit when it was commercially released in 1968 and has been festooned with plaudits from critics ever since
The winery – which has its own single-estate DOC appellation, Bolgheri Sassicaia – is based in the coastal Maremma region of Tuscany, however, the fake wine had much humbler origins. Investigators found that the fake Sassicaia was bought in Sicily, with the bottles coming from Turkey, while the labels, tissue paper and wooden casks were made in Bulgaria.
The investigation began by pure chance when police found a case of the counterfeit wine on the side of the road in Empoli, Tuscany. The box, believed to have fallen off the back of a truck, contained two phone numbers, which set off the probe.
The two men placed under house arrest, a father and son aged 62 and 34 from the Milan area, managed to reproduce a special anti-counterfeiting hologram imprinted on the original wine labels.
Even the tissue paper used for the packaging of the bottles had the same weight, 22 grams, as the original one, reports Il Fatto Quotidiano.
The fraudsters paid meticulous attention to every aspect of the production, from the color of the bottles to the size of the caps. However, it's unsure whether the wine tasted anything like the real thing, which has an aggregated critic score of 95 points, putting it among the very best wines on earth.
There is evidence, however, that some Italian pride and scruple cut through the criminality of the endeavor.
A phone call from one of the counterfeiters was intercepted by police, who heard him saying of the wine: "For goodness sake, it's not even good but I have to give it to people who don't know any better."