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Friday, 29 December, 2000, 20:56 GMT
Police probe French wine 'fraud'
Wine on sale
The Burgundy region produces prestigious wines
By James Coomarasamy in Paris

The French authorities are investigating reports that several wine merchants in the prestigious Burgundy region are involved in a large-scale fraud under which vintage wine has been mixed with low-quality varieties.

California vineyard
Burgundy faces intense competition from New World producers

The investigations are centred on the town of Beaune, in the heart of one of France's best-known wine growing regions.

Judicial officials say there is evidence that at least 10 wine producers have diluted hundreds of thousands of bottles of superior quality 'grand cru' that sell at top prices.

The alleged fraud is also said to have taken other forms.

In some cases, labels from the cheaper plonk were simply replaced by those belonging to the high-quality grand cru.

Some merchants are even said to have bought up old wine set to be turned into vinegar, and simply blended them with other cheap wines.

Police officials are playing down the scale of the problem.

But the allegations will come as unwelcome publicity to a wine producing area whose vintages are facing intense competition from those coming from New World countries such as Australia.

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