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China's Fake Bordeaux Problem

Rachel Tepper Paley
May 8, 2014

Photo credit: Faber & Partner/StockFood

For several years now, China has carried on a love affair with Bordeaux, an intensely tannic red wine that can command dizzying price tags of up to $3,000 a bottle. But the relationship is proving to be a stormy one: Of all bottles sold in China labeled Château Lafite Rothschild—one of the world’s most respected and popular Bordeauxs—roughly half are fakes.

The revelation came straight from Xinshi Li, the president of the Chinese government’s Academy of Inspection and Quarantine, during a recent conference in the Bordeaux region of France. 

It’s thought that some counterfeit operations take place in international waters, aboard floating forgery labs in the bowels of cargo ships. “[Forgers] blend or simply bottle low-end wine in recycled or faked bottles of blue-chip labels,” writes Wine Spectator.

Such consumer deception, experts say, is the result of the Chinese public’s thirst for the stuff. In 2011, a Chinese buyer plunked down $540,000 for 300 bottles of Lafite at a Christie’s auction in Hong Kong, and in 2010, the Wall Street Journal noted that a single case of authentic Lafite might run a whopping $60,000. With demand that high (and fakery being what it is in China), Lafite’s current predicament is understandable.

"One widely-circulated rumor has it that while two million bottles of Château Lafite Rothschild are consumed in China each year, the Lafite winery only has an annual output of 200,000 bottles," writes the magazine News China.

It’s unclear how all this is sitting with Lafite’s producer, Domaines Barons de Rothschild Lafite, which incidentally began construction on its first Asian winery in China’s Shandong province back in 2012. In a statement printed on the Lafite website, vineyard manager Baron Eric de Rothschild said he was “very pleased to develop a vineyard in a country where the interest in fine wines is increasing every year.”

Well. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.