Police from Italy's financial crimes unit uncovered an international gang believed to have been producing and selling convincing copies of one of Italy’s top wines, Bolgheri Sassicaia, which costs up to £320 a bottle.
As part of operation ‘Bad Tuscan’, police arrested two suspects, a father and son, and 11 more people are under investigation.
They also confiscated 700 cases of wine, for a total of 4,200 bottles.
The 2010 and 2015 vintages, celebrated by Italian and international critics, were the most prevalent among the fakes..
The operation is believed to have been worth around 400,000 per month.
Investigators said the counterfeit wine had come not from Tuscany but from Sicily, while the bottles were from Turkey, and the labels and wooden boxes were made in Bulgaria.
The two arrested, who come from the Milan area, had paid meticulous attention to detail when producing the fakes.
They had been able to make a convincing copy of a special anti-counterfeiting hologram printed on the original wine labels, police said.
Even the tissue paper used in the packaging had the same weight, 22 grams, as the original one, reports Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano.
“The investigation began by chance when two members of the Guardia di Finanza [financial police], came upon a case of the fake wine on a street in Empoli, Tuscany, which had probably fallen from a truck,” Giuseppe Creazzo, chief prosecutor in Florence, said at a press conference.
“In the case was a note with two mobile phone numbers, which set off the investigation and led to the arrest of two individuals who had carried out this deception with meticulous care.”
“Fortunately, we managed to block the sale of this wine, one of the most famous in Italy and the world, on the international market.”
According to investigators, several customers, including some from China, Korea and Russia, had already ordered about 1,000 cases at about 70 percent less than the cost of the original.
One of the fraudsters intercepted by police reportedly said of the wine: “For goodness sake, it's even good, but I have to give it to people who don't know any better.”
Bolgheri Sassicaia, a bordeaux-style red wine made by one producer in the Tuscan Maremma, is considered by experts to be one of Italy’s – and the world’s – best wines.
A case of 1985 Sassicaia sold for $18,375 (£14,200) at auction at a Sotheby’s auction in New York in 2015.
Tuscan wines and other produce, and “Made in Italy” products in general, are commonly counterfeited both in Italy and beyond at a high cost to Italian businesses.