Italian authorities have uncovered a conspiracy to bottle and pass off inferior wine as Brunello di Montalcino. The Guardia di Finanza, responsible for investigating financial crimes, announced that officers have seized approximately 180,000 liters—potentially 20,000 cases of wine—from the 2008 to 2013 vintages, with an approximate value of $3.87 million to $5.16 million. An unidentified winery consultant is being investigated, accused of false advertising, embezzlement, fraud and unauthorized access of a computer system.
The consultant was not an enologist, but provided administrative and business services to numerous small producers. Investigators say he falsified documents, adjusting production figures to match the volume of wines from the past six harvests.
The wine was still resting in tanks and barrels—about half was falsely identified as Brunello, the rest Rosso di Montalcino. “Inside the barrels and tanks there was Sangiovese from Montalcino and other areas, but not Brunello,” said Fabrizio Bindocci, president of the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, the local alliance of wineries and growers.
None of the wineries involved has been identified while the investigation by the Siena Public Prosecutor’s office continues. It remains to be seen whether the wineries were duped by the alleged fraudster or complicit in the scam.
The illegal altering of registers and documents took place between 2011 and 2013. An investigation began early in 2014 after Valoritalia, the agency that controls the Brunello di Montalcino denomination in cooperation with the Consorzio, reported discrepancies to the authorities.
"It is a very serious event, which could cause damage to Brunello di Montalcino, its producers and its territory,” said Bindocci. “However, our appellation has the strength and the instruments to locate, isolate and successfully fight abuses of Brunello’s reputation.” The Consorzio has promised to initiate civil claims against the accused individual and any wineries found as accomplices.
The scandal is the third to rock the region in the past six years. In 2008, several wineries and individuals were accused of blending other grapes with Sangiovese destined to become Brunello di Montalcino. By 2011, most of these accusations were resolved.
In May 2014, Italian police seized more than 30,000 bottles of cheap wine labeled as Brunello and Chianti from wineries and bottling plants. Police are still investigating six unidentified companies, which allegedly sourced the wines and tried to export them.