The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine

By Benjamin Wallace
Binding:Paperback
Publisher:Three Rivers Press, (4/14/2009)
Language:English



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“Part detective story, part wine history, this is one juicy tale, even for those with no interest in the fruit of the vine. . . . As delicious as a true vintage Lafite.” —BusinessWeek

The Billionaire’s Vinegar tells the true story of a 1787 Château Lafite Bordeaux—supposedly owned by Thomas Jefferson—that sold for $156,000 at auction and of the eccentrics whose lives intersected with it. Was it truly entombed in a Paris cellar for two hundred years? Or did it come from a secret Nazi bunker? Or from the moldy basement of a devilishly brilliant con artist? As Benjamin Wallace unravels the mystery, we meet a gallery of intriguing players—from the bicycle-riding British auctioneer who speaks of wines as if they are women to the obsessive wine collector who discovered the bottle. Suspenseful and thrillingly strange, this is the vintage tale of what could be the most elaborate con since the Hitler diaries. Updated for paperback with a new epilogue.
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"The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine"
By Benjamin Wallace

Average Rating:

This book has not been rated


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From Publishers Weekly
The titular bottle, from a cache of allegedly fine, allegedly French wine, allegedly owned by Thomas Jefferson in the 1780s, set a record price when auctioned in 1985. The subsequent brouhaha over the cache's authenticity takes wine journalist Wallace on a piquant journey into the mirage-like world of rare wines. At its center are Hardy Rodenstock, an enigmatic German collector with a suspicious knack for unearthing implausibly old and drinkable wines, and Michael Broadbent, a Christie's wine expert, who auctioned Rodenstock's lucrative finds. The argument over the Jefferson bottles and other rarities aged for decades, flummoxed a wine establishment desperate to keep the cork in a controversy that might deflate the market for antique vintages. (In the author's telling, a 2006 lawsuit almost settles the issue.) Wallace sips the story slowly, taking leisurely digressions into techniques for faking wine and detecting same with everything from Monticello scholarship to nuclear physics. He paints a colorful backdrop of eccentric oenophiles, decadent tastings and overripe flavor rhetoric (Broadbent describes one wine as redolent of chocolate and schoolgirls' uniforms). Investigating wines so old and rare they could taste like anything, he playfully questions the very foundations of connoisseurship. (May) 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcoveredition. 

From Bookmarks Magazine
Benjamin Wallace’s magazine background helps him keep the many narrative threads in The Billionaire’s Vinegar tight and engaging. In addition, Wallace exhibits a sharp eye for detail and character: Hardy Rodenstock, in particular,comes across as deliciously deceptive. Exploring what Jefferson’s European tour of 1787 must have been like will likely interest even readers without a taste for wine, though connoisseurs will savor the author’s descriptions of the clubby (and sometimes comically extravagant) society of high-dollar wine collectors. Wallace raises questions about the wine’s authenticity that will linger on the palate, despite a perhaps unsatisfying ending. Or, as collector Ed Lazarus wrote of his experience with the discovered cache, “I had never experienced anything remotely similar in an older Bordeaux, or in fact anywhere else, except perhaps at a Baskin-Robbins.”
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

From Booklist
Wallace takes readers into the closed society of collectors of fine wines, a world restricted to wine experts and the superrich. He focuses his story on the remarkable 1985 auction that saw a price record set for a unique bottle of old wine that had at one time apparently been destined for the cellars of Thomas Jefferson. Wallace recounts Jefferson’s stay in prerevolutionary France, where the American soaked up French culture and journeyed to Bordeaux to arrange export of a few cases of claret to his Monticello home. Skipping to the present era, Wallace profiles Michael Broadbent, whose estimable palate and keen business sense have made him the world’s preeminent evaluator and auctioneer for large collections of fine wines all over the world. The ease with which shady characters have infiltrated this marketplace with substandard and counterfeit wines makes for a cautionary tale. --Mark Knoblauch --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

Review
“Part detective story, part wine history, this is one juicy tale….as delicious as a true vintage Lafite.” 
Business Week

“Splendid...A delicious mystery that winds through musty European cellars, Jefferson-era France and Monticello, engravers' shops, a nuclear physics lab, rival auction houses and legendary multi-day tastings conducted by the shadowy German who had discovered the Jefferson collection...Ripe for Hollywood.”
USA Today

“This is a gripping story, expertly handled by Benjamin Wallace who writes with wit and verve, drawing the reader into a subculture strewn with eccentrics and monomaniacs...Full of detail that will delight wine lovers. It will also appeal to anyone who merely savours a great tale, well told.” 
The Economist

"A page-turner…What makes Wallace's book worth reading is the way he fleshes out the tale with entertaining digressions into Jefferson's wine adventures, how to fake wines (who knew a shotgun blast could make a bottle look old?) and dead-on portraits of several major wine personalities who intersected unhappily with the wines.” 
Bloomberg

"Wallace’s depiction of rabid oenophiles staging almost decadent events to swill rare wine, knowingly depleting the reserves, are as much fun as the mystery." 
The New York Daily News 

“A riveting wine history, wine mystery, and more.” 
—Dana Cowin, editor in chief of Food & Wine

"For anyone with at least a curiosity about precious old wines and the love of a good story, this well-crafted piece of journalism may prove as intriguing and enjoyable as a fine old Bordeaux.” 
Seattle Times 

"The season's wine reading cannot get off to a better start than with The Billionaire’s Vinegar,  ... --This text refers to the Kindle Edition edition. 

Review
“Part detective story, part wine history, this is one juicy tale….as delicious as a true vintage Lafite.” 
Business Week

“Splendid...A delicious mystery that winds through musty European cellars, Jefferson-era France and Monticello, engravers' shops, a nuclear physics lab, rival auction houses and legendary multi-day tastings conducted by the shadowy German who had discovered the Jefferson collection...Ripe for Hollywood.”
USA Today

“This is a gripping story, expertly handled by Benjamin Wallace who writes with wit and verve, drawing the reader into a subculture strewn with eccentrics and monomaniacs...Full of detail that will delight wine lovers. It will also appeal to anyone who merely savours a great tale, well told.” 
The Economist

"A page-turner…What makes Wallace's book worth reading is the way he fleshes out the tale with entertaining digressions into Jefferson's wine adventures, how to fake wines (who knew a shotgun blast could make a bottle look old?) and dead-on portraits of several major wine personalities who intersected unhappily with the wines.” 
Bloomberg

"Wallace’s depiction of rabid oenophiles staging almost decadent events to swill rare wine, knowingly depleting the reserves, are as much fun as the mystery." 
The New York Daily News 

“A riveting wine history, wine mystery, and more.” 
—Dana Cowin, editor in chief of Food & Wine

"For anyone with at least a curiosity about precious old wines and the love of a good story, this well-crafted piece of journalism may prove as intriguing and enjoyable as a fine old Bordeaux.” 
Seattle Times 

"The season's wine reading cannot get off to a better start than with The Billionaire’s Vinegar,  one of the rare books on wine that transcends the genre ...Though the story is the collector’s world, the subject is also greed and how it can contort reality to fit one’s desires. It’s been optioned for Hollywood. I hope the movie’s as good as the book.”  
—Eric Asimov, The Pour, New York Times 

“It is the fine details--the bouquet, the body, the notes, the finish--that make this book such a lasting pleasure, to be savored and remembered long after the last page is turned. Ben Wallace has told a splendid story just wonderfully, his touch light and deft, his instinct pitch-perfect. Of all the marvelous legends of the wine trade, this curiously unforgettable saga most amply deserves the appellation: a classic.”
—Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman and A Crack in the Edge of the World

“The Billionaire’s Vinegar is the ultimate page-turner. Written with literary intelligence, it has a cast of characters like something out Fawlty Towers meets The Departed. It takes you into a subculture so deep and delicious, you can almost taste the wine that turns so many seemingly rational people into madmen. It is superb nonfiction.” 
—Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights

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BENJAMIN WALLACE has written for GQ, the Washington Post, Food & Wine, and Philadelphia, where he was the executive editor. He lives in Brooklyn. 


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