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Friday, November 19, 1999 Published at 12:29 GMT


Fake bubbly warning

Counterfeit champagne - sour start to millennium

By Consumer Affairs Correspondent Karen Bowerman

As the millennium fast approaches many of us are stocking up on champagne and spirits to celebrate the year 2000. Around 30 million bottles of champagne are expected to be sold by the end of the year - 10 million more than last year, which was itself a record.

But by the time we're all popping corks on December 31st, there are fears some of us may discover we've paid around £20 for a £3 bottle of cheap sparkling wine, believing it to be champagne.

And, if we're not habitual champagne drinkers, many of us aren't likely to notice the difference between a fake and a genuine bottle, until it's too late.

Flooding the market

BBC News' Karen Bowerman reports on the fraud
The Anti-Counterfeiting Group (ACG) is encouraging consumers to be on the look out for fake drink - amid fears unscrupulous dealers are already flooding the market.

An illicit champagne-bottling factory has already been raided in Leeds; trading standards officers have also seized fake Moet et Chandon from a restaurant in the West Midlands.

It was actually being sold for more than the genuine drink - and was only discovered because it happened to have been ordered by a connoisseur.

Some fake Moet et Chandon bottles even have 'special edition' and 'millenium' (spelt wrongly!) on their labels, giving the impression they've been produced specifically for the year 2000.

Dangerous drinks

It is not just counterfeit champagne which is causing concern - there are also fake spirits, some of which can cause nausea and other health problems.

A large-scale whisky counterfeiting operation was recently uncovered in Wolverhampton in the West Midlands by Customs and Excise officers.

Thousands of litres of fake Scotch whisky containing methylated spirit was seized. They also discovered fake vodka, spiked with methanol, which can cause blindness, and even kill.

How to spot fake bubbly

If you are about to set out to buy alcohol for Christmas or the millennium, it would be wise to be cautious of anything which appears to be exceptionally cheap.

You should also be suspicious of poorly produced bottles, or those of unusual shape.

Labels are also a good give away - check to see if they're peeling, or have been stuck on crooked - or if the print is a different colour from usual.

You should also examine stoppers or seals, as many counterfeiters tend to take used bottles and refill them with something else.

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