| 15°C Dublin

Wine collectors 'are paying vintage prices for plonk'

EXPERTS believe that as many as one in 10 vintage bottles of fine wines bought by Irish collectors could be fake.

It follows the recent unmasking of bogus booze rackets on a massive scale in Britain, the US and China – as well as a series of court cases taken against respected dealers and exporters.

French-born sommelier and long-time wine lecturer Alain Bras said Irish buyers might have got away lightly because most stopped buying when the crash occurred.

But he still estimates that Irish collections – particularly those bought from less established online dealers – are likely to carry a 10pc dud rating.

"You had a lot of moneyed people in booming sectors who were always on the lookout for a bargain. Some believed that established dealers were asking too much and these were the people most likely to buy at the sort of prices that made more experienced buyers suspicious," Mr Bras said.

Fine vintages like Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Petrus have seen their prices surge by 1000pc in a decade.

Some Chateau Margaux fetches €2,500 compared to €200 in 2003.

The peddling of fakes took off a decade ago alongside a new found taste for fine wines among China's wealthy set.

The respected French company Laboure Roi, which exports fine Burgundies to Ireland, currently stands accused of tampering with 1.5 million bottles between 2006 and 2008.

Two months ago the US wine sector was rocked when the FBI arrested America's wine dealer to the rich – Rudy Kurwanian – who sold $35m (€27m) worth of fine wines in just one year.

Last month US billionaire Bill Koch was awarded $12m (€9.25m) after a civil action. Mr Koch had bought $4.4m (€3.4m) of fake wine.

Searsons wine merchants of Dublin was among the first to see warning signs. The firm, which was the first to offer en primeur in Ireland (an investment in wine before it is bottled), cut the service in 2006.

"We stopped because I realised that people were queuing up to buy wine for investment purposes rather than enjoyment, and I didn't like where this was going," Charles Searsons said.

Irish Independent