MILAN, Italy -- Nine main defendants in Italy's deadliest wine- poisoning scandal have been ordered to stand trial on voluntary manslaughter charges beginning Nov. 20, it was announced Tuesday.
The 1986 episode, when 19 people died after drinking large quantities of wine laced with methanol -- more commonly used as paint thinner -- marred Italy's image as one of the world's major wine producers.
Another 15 people went blind weeks after downing the tainted vino in what was quickly dubbed Italy's 'Wine Massacre.'.
Investigators said the nine defendants are charged with adding the deadly industrial chemical to cheap supermarket 'white lightning' to boost its alcoholic content.
The victims, mostly old age pensioners and heavy drinkers on limited incomes, died over several months in spring 1986.
Much of what passed for wine was actually a deadly cocktail of methyl alcohol mixed with water and a modest amount of low-quality wine from the southern Apulia region.
Authorities reported finding more than 20 times the legal limit of the chemical in the tainted wine that was marketed under prestige labels.
When the scandal broke, the United States and Denmark immediately suspended imports of Italian wine.
West Germany checked bottles for purity at the border, the French seized thousands of bottles and Britain issued a health warning.
'We have known about methyl alcohol for years and for years we've known that it was dangerous,' said university wine expert Mario Fregoni at the height of the scare five years ago.
'Cases of madness and blindness have been noted -- but only after a lifetime of consumption. Today they die in two days,' he said.
Most of the tained wine was traced to four wholesale companies. The defendants are accused of selling more than 577 pounds of methanol for mixing into wine.
Investigating magistrates handed down 18 indictments, nine for voluntary manslaughter and the rest for adulteration of food, association to corrupt and the commercialization of poisonous substances.
Nearly 50 people have civil suits pending in the scandal.