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Italian police tackle wine fraud

Published:  23 July, 2008

Italian military police have qualified as sommeliers to sniff out wine fraud.

A squad of 150, based in Rome, has passed the 18-month training course.

Colonel Pasquale Muggeo, who heads up the unit, said the Italian Sommeliers' Association had invited police to take the course, which will now enable them to better understand how wine fraudsters operate.

"To my knowledge, there is no other unit in Europe with the same sort of qualifications as us on wine," Col Muggeo said. "The honest producers are pleased that we now know all about wine. The dishonest ones should be worried."

Italy, which gets about 90 million a year in subsidies from the European Union, is the world's largest wine exporter, and consequently an attractive market for fraudsters.

Col Muggeo said the most common crimes were mislabelling bottles and using illegal additives to "improve" the wine. Farmers also tried to pass off wine made from table grapes, he said.

He said strict rules on fine wine production were also broken, such as adding extra sugar to boost the alcohol content or not ageing the wine for the required time.

The wine police have already arrested 10 men involved in shipping 100,000 bottles of unmarked wine to Germany that would have been relabelled as fine wine and sold to supermarkets.