Fake Wines Pose a Threat to Hong Kong, Industry

February 28, 2011 Updated: February 28, 2011

FAKE WINES: A Sotheby's employee handles a Mag of Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1959 Jan. 2011 in London, England. Fake wines sold in Hong Kong may threaten the wine industry.  (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
FAKE WINES: A Sotheby's employee handles a Mag of Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1959 Jan. 2011 in London, England. Fake wines sold in Hong Kong may threaten the wine industry. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Counterfeit wine in Hong Kong must not be taken off the radar, said a wine expert and connoisseur this week.

Speaking to South China Morning Post, Simon Tam, also the founder of Hong Kong’s Independent Wine Center, warned that cheap knock-offs of expensive French labels still pose a threat to the wine industry in Asia Pacific.

Tam says that his friends had been offered as much as HK$10,000 (US$1,200) for an empty bottle of Chateau Lafite 1982.

The bottles are then filled with cheap wine and sold on the market for a discounted price of HK$40,000 (US$4,800). The regular market price for Chateau is around HK$100,000 (US$12,000) per bottle.

"We have to act fast," Tam told the South China Morning Post, before warning the region's new wine lovers to examine their purchases carefully.

Hong Kong has become the hub of wine collectors and consumers since 2008, when the tax on wine was abolished.

COUNTERFEIT WINES: A detailed view of labels on bottles of Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1959 and Chateau Lafite 1959, at Sotheby's Auction house Jan. 2011 in London, England. The growing demand for prestigious wine labels has given rise to a widespread count (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
COUNTERFEIT WINES: A detailed view of labels on bottles of Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1959 and Chateau Lafite 1959, at Sotheby's Auction house Jan. 2011 in London, England. The growing demand for prestigious wine labels has given rise to a widespread count (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
The move has paid off for the industry, with Sotheby's last year selling HK$410.42 million (approximately US$52.6 million) of wine in Hong Kong, 60 percent of all wine sold globally through the auction house, reports the South China Morning Post. The figure topped the HK$163.6 million sold through Sotheby's in London and the HK$114.49 million in New York.

However, the growing demand for prestigious wine labels, has also given rise to a widespread counterfeit industry.

Stating that people should be cautious when buying or investing in fine wines, Tam said there was only one way to try to ensure that a product was genuine.

"Always buy from reputable cellars and auction houses. If someone offers you a discounted price, you must examine the wine carefully," he said.

One of the most notorious incidences of fake wine involves the American billionaire William Koch, who in 2007 found that 5 percent of his 40,000 bottle collection was fake, including a 1787 Lafite Bordeaux.

Last year Australian wine manufacturers also sounded alarm bells, when they discovered that their labels were placed on cheap Chinese wine. Australia sells $AU143 million (US$144,488,622.45) worth of wine to China every year.

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