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Laura Heywood blog: stamping down on bootleg wines

Published:  11 April, 2012

A leading Chinese producer has created the world's first traceable Chinese wines in a bid to help consumers distinguish authentic wines from bootleg imitators.

Last year a spate of fake wine scandals called into quesiton the safety credibility of Chinese wines, with a number of producers in the country's premium grape-growing region accused of producing suspect bottles.

These wines, Chinese officials claimed, could cause headaches, an irregular heartbeat and even cancer by mixing sugar water with chemicals. As demand for top-end names intensifies, some were even labelled as well-known brands.

In an effort to protect the credibility of China's burgeoning wine industry and make counterfeit wine a thing of the past, 1421 Wines has created what it claims are "the first traceable Chinese wines in the world".

Joint-owned by Johnny Chan and Andronico Luksic, whose family owns Viña San Pedro in Chile, the company makes wines from grapes grown and harvested in the foothills of the Tian Shan Mountains in western China at the same latitude as Bordeaux.

The vines are of French origin and planted 11 years ago, with the unpolluted mountain snowmelts providing irrigation.

Chan explains the reasons behind putting a traceability code on the wines: "The traceability system is a supply chain solution program by Metro's Star Farm with quality control according to international standards - Global Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) and IFS," he says.

"The traceable program carries special meaning in China due to the notorious record of food and drink safety issues in China. Star Farm's program is changing China and their goal is to build a Traceable China."

Consumers simply use their mobile phone to scan the traceable code on the wine label to learn about the whole winemaking process, from the vineyards to the shelf.

Chan claims that no other Chinese wines can presently pass the GAP requirement. "This is why 1421 has an excellent USP," he says. "Star Farm told me Great Wall wines asked them to certify their wines and they told me it's simply impossible."

In a recent visit to the UK, Chan presented the wines to a hand-picked selection of the UK trade in an effort to get the wines listed in what he perceives to be one of the leading worldwide markets.

1421 Admiral's Reserve 2010 is a clean, fresh and delicate Chardonnay with fresh citrus aromas, and hints of pears and peaches. The acidity is tight and lean, making it a good match with Asian cuisine although it's slightly too austere to be drunk alone.

Redcurrants and cherries abound in 1421 Admiral's Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. It has a touch of balsamic vinegar and black olives and good ageing potential.

The wines' name is linked to claims that Chinese admiral Zheng set sail in 1421 to lead voyages of discovery to Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, East Africa, and the Horn of Africa. With the wines currently available in hotels and upscale restaurants in China, Chan's hope is that the wines will soon set sail for foreign shores like their namesake.