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Chinese Wine Fraudsters Spend Big Money on Empty Bottles

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The always frothy market for Chinese rip-offs has expanded to include fine wines, with counterfeiters paying high prices for empty bottles of the most fashionable vintages. The fraudsters refill the bottles with cheaper wine, re-cork the tops and sell the fake products to unwitting buyers.

It's a scam that offers high returns for its players. Right now, moneyed Chinese -- newly turned on to wine as an indicator of wealth-- can't get enough Chateau Lafite Rothschild; an authentic 1982 vintage will sell for more than $3,000. Fraudsters, therefore, can pay up to $450 for an empty Lafite and still make a handsome profit.

Speaking to the Telegraph UK about this shadow market, one forger explained that his firm collects good quality empties from bars and restaurants in Shanghai and Beijing. The busy weeks leading up to Chinese New Year (now just a few weeks away) is prime bottle-hunting season, he said. Another dealer told the paper: "I only want genuine bottles, no fakes."

New York wine broker Brian DiMarco, owner of Barterhouse Wines, says that he has "heard the folklore" about these scams but has never encountered an imposter during business trips to China. "There's a sucker born everyday, but I'd say the reputable places aren't falling for this," he tells Minyanville.

The same thing has happened in other places, like Indonesia, he explains, or in any country where there's been mass copyright infringement. "Look at 59th and Lexington, just outside Bloomingdales," he says. "You see Gucci and Vuitton bags selling for $30. Wine is the new luxury, so why would it be any different?"

China has recently become the world's fastest-growing wine market, and the sudden frenzy has resulted in irrational prices. Last November, for example, the wine world was abuzz when a case of Chateau Lafite 2009 sold for nearly $70,000 at an auction in Hong Kong. If sold in New York, the same case would fetch only $17,000. The wine itself has not yet been bottled.
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