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China's fake wine merchants paying €360 for empty bottles

China's booming wine market has created an astounding demand for empty bottles of famous wines, with fraudsters paying up to e360 for a good bottle that can be filled with a less celebrated vintage.

Counterfeiters have begun collecting empty bottles and then refilling them to scam rich Chinese. A particular favourite is Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1982, which sells for more than e2,400 at auction for an intact bottle.

"We only collect Lafite and Maotai (China's most famous spirit)," said one Beijing-based bottle dealer, who gave his name as Mr Huang.

Mr Huang said his business collected empties from bars and restaurants in Shanghai and Beijing and that the run-up to Chinese New Year, in February, was peak season, as counterfeiters targeted wine-lovers looking to celebrate in style.

"The bottles need to be in the best condition possible," said another dealer, called Mr Ye, at a Shanghai company. "It is very important. And I only want genuine bottles, no fakes."

In the past year China has become the world's fastest-growing wine market with legions of millionaires anxious to appear sophisticated.

"This is always going to be a danger when people are drinking not out of passion but because they think that fine wine is what they should be seen drinking," said Adam Bilbey at the Hong Kong offices of Berry Bros and Rudd. The wine dealer estimates that China now accounts for 65pc of its sales.

"We have definitely opened a bottle that was a fake," said Mr Bilbey. "Inside, there was a big hefty red from the south of France. Not a bad wine, actually, but not what it was supposed to be." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent