David Collinson, assistant director for public protection, Norfolk County Council (in the East of England) warned that the drinks were especially dangerous since they used impure alcohol.
Tests conducted on the fake drinks – 100 bottles found since 2010 – revealed the presence of chemicals such as isopropyl (industrial cleaning chemical), methanol (which can cause blindness) and chloroform, the council said.
Manufactured by criminal gangs, the alcohol was sold in corner shops and independent stores rather than large retailers such as Tesco, a Norfolk County Council spokesman told BeverageDaily.com.
Collinson warned that the fake drinks offered zero traceability, and as such – disregarding the damage to big brands – manufacturers of fakes did not have to worry about reputational damage.
According to Norfolk County Council, there was a worrying trend towards copies of mainstream brands including Jacob’s Creek (the genuine product is pictured) Smirnoff and Glen’s vodka, although counterfeiters also concoct brand names such as ‘Drop’ and ‘Passion’ vodka.
Simon Thomas, deputy managing director for wine, Pernod Ricard UK, told BeverageDaily.com the firm was aware of the problem: "Counterfeiting is clearly an issue for any organisation with brands of great quality and popularity," he said.
"However, since this issue is being driven by criminal activity and is easy to identify both through the spelling mistake on the back label and the substandard taste, we expect consumers to remain confident in Jacob’s Creek."
The council spokesman told BeverageDaily.com: “Over the last year we’ve been seeing more counterfeit alcohol in Norfolk, via Trading Standards officers we look to try protect the trademark holders right to earnings from specific products."
He added: “Named brands are perhaps more likely to dupe people, but there are clearly flaws with the counterfeit brands at issue here – spelling mistakes on labeling. For instance with Jacob’s Creek ‘Australia’ was spelt incorrectly, which should be a telltale sign.
There is also non-English text or glue marks in these instance. If people are hellbent on paying less for alcohol then perhaps they don’t care, but there’s no guarantee regarding the safety of production methods.”
Fake alcohol signs
Other telltale signs of illicit alcohol include labels glued at odd angles, flat printed labels in place of embossed labels or holograms and unusual places of origin – for instance, vodka from Italy, according to UK Trading Standards Institute.
Thomas said that Pernod Ricard was aware of criminal alcohol sales of Jacob's Creek to independents and wholesalers via "unofficial distribution channels" and that a back label had a misspelling: 'Wine of Austrlia'
He said: "This counterfeit product is of very low quality and substandard taste. Tests on the samples indicate that the content of the bottles is not harmful to health, but anyone with doubts concerning the authenticity of the product should not consume it."
Thomas said the firm was working with trading standards departments to remove counterfeits, and said that Pernod Ricard invested "significant effort and resources into trademark infringement in order to protect our consumers and our brands".
The council spokesman added: “These kind of goods are deliberately being sold at cost price or lower – and the recession is an issue – lower prices to suck people in who perhaps can’t afford to spend as much on alcohol.
“We also have the issue of minimum pricing [on alcohol] coming in, so we think this issue will run and run.”