A BOTTLE of Chateau Lafite Rothschild sold in a Chinese restaurant for 50,000 yuan (US$7,862) recently could well have been fake wine made in China costing no more than 30 yuan.
Liu Zhihui, vice chairman of the realty subcommittee of Asia-Pacific Urban Development Association, claimed on his microblog that he was told an agent was producing counterfeit Lafite wine in a secret wine factory on a cargo ship through blending low quality French wine in fake Lafite bottles and selling it to various outlets in China.
The faking of Lafite wine has been known in the industry for some time.
"I estimate that 70 percent of the so-called Chateau Lafite Rothschild sold in China's mainland is fake since the sales volume greatly outstrips the import volume," said wine expert Frankie Zhao, who has worked in Chinese wine industry for more than 10 years.
According to the Lafite website, the vineyard's annual wine production is around 20,000 cases.
China's annual quota of Lafite wine from France is no more than 50,000 bottles, according to a market insider.
However, the annual Lafite consumption of one five-star hotel in Dongguan in south Guangdong Province is 40,000 bottles, according to a CCTV report earlier this year.
Zhejiang Province in east China is said to be consuming 300,000 bottles of Lafite a year.
Just like Chinese counterfeiters making fake Louis Vuitton products in various grades of quality, fake Lafite made in China is generally classified into three different quality levels, from low to high, and sold at different prices.
"The top refers to those bottles with a certain portion of real Chateau Lafite Rothschild," said Yang Wei, purchase director of G. Brand International Trading, Shanghai.
"Counterfeiters blend the real Lafite wine they imported from France with other middle-range French wine and pour them into original Lafite bottles recycled from restaurant trash at a price of 2,000 to 3,000 yuan each. Those bottles are now in short supply," Yang said.
The middle, Zhao said, refers to cheap French wine sold in bottles labeled "Prince Lafite" or "Lafite Dynasty" in French and "Chateau Lafite Rothschild" in Chinese.
"Those, strictly speaking, are not fake wine since the wine producer takes advantage of the loopholes in the law," Zhao said.
Yang added: "The worst are those using cheap Chinese wine, mainly from Yantai in eastern Shandong Province, and which is poured into fake bottles with fake labels. These wines are quite popular in second and third tier cities in China and sold at a very cheap price."
Chateau Lafite Rothschild is considered a must-have at swanky dinner parties in China in order to impress guests. For the newly wealthy, it's also a luxury drink that they believe will demonstrate their taste and membership of a global elite.
However, many of those willing to pay up to 50,000 yuan for a bottle know little about wine and that leads to the prevalence of fake wine.
"Most Chinese wine consumers cannot tell the difference between a table wine priced at 200 yuan and a Bordeaux first growth, not to mention the authenticity of Chateau Lafite," said wine expert Grace Zheng.
Christophe Salin, Chateau Lafite Rothschild's managing director, said earlier this year that it would take legal action against fake wine.