Illyria / February 13, 1996
By Larry Luxner
Albania's Ministry of Agriculture has accused the domestic liquor industry of falsifying labels and diluting alcoholic beverages to save money -- and has ordered an investigation following widespread reports of altered wines and raki.
The Directorate for the Inspection and Quality of Food, denouncing the flood of falsified drinks in this formerly Communist nation, said a recent increase in fines and quality-control regulations has led some merchants to falsely cover up their products with well-known brand names.
According to the Tiranė newspaper Gazeta Shqiptare, a group of seven industry specialists -- in an effort to uncover the magnitude of the problem -- took 52 wine samples from five of the country's major cities in late January. Their conclusion: only eight were in accordance with quality-control standards. Many of the wines, including Riesling and Merlot varietals, had been thinned with water, resulting in an alcohol content of only 8%. Furthermore, 47 of the 52 were sold under falsified labels. In the case of the traditional "Sheshi i Zi" (Black Earth) brand, only two of the 27 samples were the real thing.
Likewise, from 33 samples of raki, only one, "Dalipi," turned out to be real raki distilled from grapes. The other samples were mixtures of grape raki with ethyl alcohol. The motive for falsifying raki, like wine, appears to be the profit margin. A bottle of genuine raki costs around 350 lekė ($3.64 at current exchange rates) while altered raki sells on the Albanian market for as cheaply as 80 lekė (83¢).
Falsified wines and raki are not only dangerous for the consumer, but also an obstacle to the sale of real drinks and grape cultivation, the newspaper points out.
"I can't sell my own production," said Guido Kakarriqi, a vintner from the northern town of Shkoder, "because they compete with false products which have flooded the market and sell for less than the real wines."
During 1995, according to the newspaper, Albania produced more than 180,000 hectoliters of wine, and imported over 16,000 hectoliters of ethyl alcohol and 845 tons of grapes for industrial production. No figures were available for cognac, which is Albania's most important liquor export.