Food Standards Agency (FSA) inspectors have seen a big rise in sparkling wines from Eastern Europe being passed off as the more expensive drink.
Prosecco is classed as a “protected designation of origin” product, like champagne, which can only be produced in nine areas near the cities of Venice and Trieste in north-east Italy.
Mark Dawson, FSA wine inspection team leader, said a shipment of thousands of bottles of fake Prosecco seized in Coventry last month turned out to be sparkling wine from Moldova.
He heads a team of inspectors in six UK regions, who ensure that wine sold to consumers is not only safe to drink but is also authentic.
Working with trading standards officers, they look at the labelling, foil and cage on bottles of Prosecco to spot potential fraud.
They also send samples of doubtful wines to laboratories in London and York for testing.
Mr Dawson, 49, said: “Products that are known to the consumer are targeted, like Prosecco.
“This is the most common one we find. Fraudsters are always looking to cash in on current trends.”
Mr Dawson added: “We take between 3,500 and 4,000 samples a year which we send off for testing.
“Of these, less than 1,000 will need acting on and in most cases this will be re-labelling to include correct allergen levels, for example.”
Giles Chapman, who is head of intelligence at the FSA’s National Food Crime Unit, agreed, saying: “It is in the interests of food criminals to generate products which they feel will be easy to sell.
“Prosecco is one area where consumer demand has flourished.”
Earlier this year a leading wine producer in France, Grand Vins de Gironde, was ned the equivalent of £200,000 after being found guilty of blending cheaper table wines with premium Bordeaux such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape to increase profits.
Innocente Nardi of the DOCG Prosecco consortium said: ‘There are cases where Prosecco has been imitated but the characteristics of these wines are nothing like real Prosecco.’
‘Undoubtedly this damages the image of Prosecco. If the consumer drinks a bottle of fake Prosecco and thinks they have drank a bottle of Prosecco it’s damaging to the consumer and to the brand.
‘Prosecco is only produced in a certain area with the Glera grape and with special methods of production.’
There are two types of ‘real’ Prosecco. The more superior is made from grapes in a smaller central region and can boast a ‘Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita’ or DOCG status.
Lower quality Prosecco is produced using grapes from anywhere within the larger DOC region and is marked as such.
Wine expert Francesco Trimani says consumers also need to be wary to make sure they are buying the real thing.
“The more controls there are, the more the culture of prosecco will spread out. Consumers need to be aware and ask for prosecco DOC (controlled origin denomination) or DOCG (controlled and guaranteed origin denomination), depending on what they want, but it needs to be prosecco,” Trimani said.
“This is fundamental because, far more serious than fake prosecco bottles is when other kinds of sparkling wines are illegally sold as prosecco.”
Main photo – Mark Dawson from the FSA carries out an inspection.