Italian Police Uncover Counterfeit Sassicaia Ring

Tenuta San Guido’s Sassicaia is one of the world’s most acclaimed wines, the Bordeaux blend that created the super Tuscan category. In 2018, Wine Spectator named the 2015 Sassicaia Wine of the Year, the pinnacle of a classic Bolgheri vintage. Which made it odd when someone found a case of the wine lying on the side of an Italian road last year.

According to the Guardia di Finanza—the enforcement wing of Italy’s Ministry of Economy and Finance, the discovery sparked a lengthy investigation. Prosecutors and police announced on Oct. 14 that they had recently arrested two suspects in a warehouse near Milan for allegedly forging thousands of bottles of fake Sassicaia, labelling them as vintages from 2010 through 2015 and prepping to ship them to overseas customers. Several other suspects are being investigated.

“Unfortunately, it is not the first case, and sadly it won’t be the last,” Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta, co-owner and family ambassador for Tenuta San Guido, told Wine Spectator. “It was our turn this time, but it also happened with other well-known Italian fine wines in the past.”

According to the report from the Guardia‘s Florence wing, the two suspects, now under house arrest, were allegedly responsible for bottling and labelling the reds, and for wrapping them in distinctive tissue paper.

“The wine came from Sicily,” stated the Guardia report, “the bottles came from Turkey and the production of labels, capsules, cases and tissue paper was centered in Bulgaria.” Sassicaia-branded wooden cases, holograms and other hallmarks for the bottles had also apparently been copied and were seized by police.

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Officers based in the town of Empoli, near Florence, had been investigating the plot for over a year before making the arrests. The suspects had allegedly been set to package 1,100 six-bottle cases of “Sassicaia 2015,” which authorities estimate to have had a market value of nearly 2 million euros. “The timeliness of the intervention allowed, among other things, to intercept the delivery of an order of 41 cases of ‘Sassicaia 2015’ already packaged and ready to be sold,” the Guardia stated.

Investigators estimate the counterfeiting ring was ready to sell 700 cases of phony wine each month. They say wiretaps discovered orders placed by customers in South Korea, China and Russia, with a small part of counterfeit sales intended for Italy. They did not confirm whether any wine had already made it to any particular market.

Phony Vino

A Guardia video showed materials used to make the fakes. (Guardia di Finanza)

Along with the two arrests, authorities also carried out searches against four suspects considered to possibly be collaborators in the ring. A fifth person is being investigated for having possibly procured the wine from Sicily. The Guardia claims as many as 11 people may have been involved.

Sassicaia has been produced since the 1940s, starting out as land owner Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta’s attempt to make a Bordeaux-inspired red for his own consumption. It eventually became a model for super Tuscans. In 1994, the wine was awarded with its own appellation, Bolgheri-Sassicaia, a first for Italy.

“Thanks to the anti-counterfeiting systems that we use on the bottles, it was possible to immediately recognize them as fakes.” Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta said.

—With reporting by Bruce Sanderson.

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