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The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine Hardcover – May 13, 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 319 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Publishers; 1st edition (May 13, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307338770
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307338778
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 7 x 10.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (126 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #148,341 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.

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.

More About the Author

BENJAMIN WALLACE has written for New York, GQ, The Wall Street Journal, Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Washington Post, Food & Wine, Sports Illustrated, and Philadelphia, where he was the executive editor. He lives in Brooklyn. Visit his website at BenjaminWallace.net.

Amazon Author Rankbeta 

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#32 in Books > History
#32 in Books > History

Customer Reviews

The detailed story of an amazing con.
Jaren F. Leet
This is a fun story, told with verve and detail in _The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine_ (Crown) by Benjamin Wallace.
R. Hardy
The book is really a pleasure to read, because it is very well researched.
Evgene

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

88 of 91 people found the following review helpful By Carolina Summer on June 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
As another reviewer noted, I thought that this book suffered from being published before the story was actually resolved. The first couple hundred pages are true page turners. The author has a nice writing style, and has obviously done his research on the subject of wine and the players in the story. But about two thirds of the way through the book, it starts to unravel. What had been solid focus on the story started to waver, and when the end arrives, it's unsatisfying and abrupt. It felt as if the story wasn't finished, but the author couldn't wait for the resolution. As a result, for all the breathless lead up, the story ends on an anticlimatic note.

So this is a really good book, except that it feels like an unfinished story, probably with several more chapters to go before it's played out. This is the problem with writing about true current events. The facts are still unfolding; it's hard to know where a tale "ends." Sometimes, that's not even clear with events that are clearly put into the historical bucket.
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114 of 123 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on May 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
It's not right to fool people, especially to make money from them. It's still fun, however, to learn about how suckers have gotten swindled, if the suckers aren't you or someone close to you. It's especially fun if the suckers are successful tycoons who are used to having the world and its denizens bow to their wills. It's fun, too, if the suckers are partaking in some particular form of snobbery, like the prestige that comes from buying hugely expensive bottles of wine. When a bottle went in 1985 for $156,000, the world swooned at the presumptuousness, and the press went wild calculating just how many hundreds of dollars each little sip would cost. Twenty years later, the fun is that the bottle was a phony, and the buyers of that particular bottle and of who knows how many others had been taken in by a very smart wine expert who eventually got caught. This is a fun story, told with verve and detail in _The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine_ (Crown) by Benjamin Wallace. Wallace has researched different facets of wine history, so there is a good deal of science and social history in his book, and he has the eye for detail of a good mystery writer (it isn't surprising that this nonfiction book has recently been optioned to be turned into a movie). You don't have to be interested in wine to find this story of human foibles funny and instructive.

The bottle in question was auctioned by Christie's in 1985. It was a 1787 Château Lafite Bordeaux, and was presented as having been part of the cellar of the wine enthusiast Thomas Jefferson. It was engraved "1787 Lafitte" (the way they spelled it then) and had the initials "Th.J.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Trinque VINE VOICE on May 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
A volume about collecting rare vintage wine might seem an unusual topic for a real page-turner of a book, but Benjamin Wallace's "The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine" is an enthralling exploration of the hype and mystery surrounding the mania of the 1980s and 1990s about pursuing and buying bottles of rare and expensive (!) vintages of old wine. The starting point of the book is the 1985 auction in which a single bottle of 1787 Lafite Bordeaux, a bottle supposedly once belonging to Thomas Jefferson, sold for over [..]

Wallace leads the reader over decades of intrigue and deception, as it becomes seemingly increasingly evident that much of such rare wine (including that bottle of 1787 Lafite) is fraudulent. The portraits of the people involved -- sellers and buyers and auctioneers and technical experts -- are well-drawn. What is perhaps most remarkable is that Wallace appears to have formed and maintained cordial relationships with almost every major player in the story, including the man widely suspected of being the chief wine faker, giving the author an unmatched view of the whole business.

Even if your only connection with wine is an occasional glass of grape with dinner, "The Billionaire's Vinegar" is a book almost guaranteed to hold your interest -- and to teach you more about wine than you have ever known.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Tom P. Gable on July 13, 2008
Format: Hardcover
As a wine writer for more than 30 years who knows some of the players mentioned in the book, I enjoyed the way Benjamin Wallace cleverly wove together history, the world of wine and France in particular and the hoax so many bought into. Not only does he chronicle an incredible array of details into understandable context with dexterity, he weaves in a steady thread of humor (Harry Waugh, the English wine merchant and writer, was once asked how often he confused Bordeaux with Burgundy. "Not since lunch," he replied."). The confusion and complicity of some of the world's best-known wine critics and auctioneers comes to light as the hoax unfolds. Some reputations are ruined because of seeming complicity.

One parallel that might have been pursued further: the brilliance of Bill Koch, the billionaire who exposed the fraud, and Thomas Jefferson, whose name was attached to the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold. Both were meticulous in their work and record-keeping. The fact that no records existed at Monticello of the so-called Jefferson bottles should have put the Rodenstock collection into question immediately. Then, with carbon dating and other modern technology, the Koch team exposed the fraud. A tale well told.
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