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

3.51  ·  Rating details ·  5,926 ratings  ·  966 reviews
The New York Times bestseller, updated with a new epilogue, that 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 baseme
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Hardcover, 319 pages
Published May 13th 2008 by Crown Publishers (first published January 1st 2008)
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Chris
This answer contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Mitch Well researched and established, much of it proved to be true. The speculative parts are pretty damning.

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3.51  · 
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 ·  5,926 ratings  ·  966 reviews


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Nenia ✨ Queen of Literary Trash, Protector of Out-of-Print Gems, Khaleesi of Bodice Rippers, Mother of Smut, the Unrepentant, Breaker of Convention ✨ Campbell

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I love wine - love it - but I honestly don't get this fascination with drinking 50+ year old bottles. And I'm saying this as someone who lives in California and drinks good wine all the time. As I sort of alluded to in another book about wine I reviewed, HEDONIST IN THE CELLAR, I think there comes a point where it stops being about the wine and more about the moolah. Perhaps an eighteenth century bottle of wine tastes amazing (I can barely
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Tara
Jun 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Tara by: NPR
As wines are often described as drinkable, this book is eminently readable. If you liked the 1998 film "The Red Violin", or if you are ever (even occasionally) drawn in by Antiques Roadshow you will love this book. (And if you haven't seen "The Red Violin", you really should)

The epitome of narrative non-fiction, The Billionaire's Vinegar is the tale of a world gone mad with wine lust, historical infatuation and drunk on self-importance. The Billionaire's Vinegar is much more than the story of a
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Elizabeth
What a fun read. I didn't know much about the central characters before I dived into this nonfiction book, so each page was a surprise. I also learned an enormous amount about wines, how they age,

The book read a bit like a suspense novel, with more and more allegations piling up to condemn various members of the inner circle. It's too bad that most of the pivotal characters were men, except for the despised Serena Sutcliff and the ignored woman from Monticello, but I did get a peek into the str
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Anna
Apr 21, 2008 rated it liked it
My knowledge of wine is similar to the guy from Sideways who guzzles the glass down and declares "tastes pretty good to me!" For the reader who knows little about wine, this is a good introduction to the high-end world of wine collecting. The first 2/3 of the book is interesting and informative and reads like a good mystery, but the last chapters seem hastily thrown together. The book misses making some important conclusions about the ramifications of the Jefferson bottles on not only wine colle ...more
J
Jul 24, 2008 rated it liked it
Somewhere around two-thirds of the way through this entertaining account of the controversy surround possible counterfeit antique wines, I began to hope that there’d be a definitive answer. The book seems to fall on the side of very, very strongly suggesting that all the rare old vintage wines produced by the book’s “villain,” Hardy Rodenstock, one time pop band producer turned rare wine dealer, were fakes, but for obvious litigation issues stops just short of outright accusation. I didn’t want ...more
Samantha
Sep 16, 2009 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: wine lovers
So I recently spent a few days in the hospital with literally nothing to do so I packed oodles and oodle of books (I had a bag just for my books) because I am currently too poor to purchase a Kindle. Barnes and Noble had recently had a Summer Reads "Buy Two, Get One Free" Sale and I found this book's blurb intriguing...I should have picked something else to buy...at least I keep telling myself it was the "free" book so I didn't pay any money for it. It wasn't a terrible book...if you love wine b ...more
Karen
Nov 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Michael
Nov 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
The disappointing think about this book is that the story isn't finished. Litigation is ongoing, and the book ends rather abruptly. Also, the author skips around chronologically fairly liberally, presumably to enhance the narrative flow, but sometimes it feels disjointed or just doesn't make sense. Despite these complaints, this book is an engrossing read. As an amateur wine enthusiast, the subject matter was interesting to me and the character sketches were engaging. It also proved a great vali ...more
Ed Erwin
Feb 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Not really sure why I read this. Very interesting for a while, but ultimately goes on too long without being able to reach a firm conclusion. (The old wine was faked, no doubt, but it remains not completely proven.) Still, an interesting look at the behavior of the ultra-wealthy. Would be better as a magazine article.
Rade
Nov 28, 2015 rated it liked it
I "read" this book. Seriously, I did not finish it.

I read about half of this book and decided it is not for me. While it is well written, the entire book mainly consists of wine and rich people names thrown at me that it made it bit of a slow read. I did not know who is important and besides the Forbes' and Thomas Jefferson, I did not know any of the other people being mentioned.

Jefferson was apparently a huge wine fan, taking trips all around the Europe and sending big boxes of wine back home
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Kirsti
Nov 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Kristin
Nonfiction that reads like a thriller. Carefully researched and well paced. People insult each other in various languages by saying things like, "The oak tree is not concerned with the pig that is scratching its back against the roots."
Mainon
Feb 17, 2010 rated it liked it
I had only medium expectations for this book, and for the most part that was right on target. Moderately interesting, especially for someone like me who has a passing knowledge of French wine and some of the more famous chateaus. Gets a little dry at times.

Unfortunately, I'm considering ranking this two stars -- if I could rank the ending separately, I would -- because it was such a letdown at the end. I had read reviews that the ending seemed rushed, but this was much worse than I had imagined
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Julie Christine
Oh, this was so worth the wait. This fantastic piece of investigative story-telling combined good old-fashioned was-there-a-crime-and-if-so-who-done-it, the history of Bordeaux, a peek into the oft-bizarre world of the obscenely rich, and an expose of global wine snobbery. It seems that there are few commodities that can invoke the passion, competitive spirit, imagination and ego as much as the fermented juice of grapes.

Crisply written with spirit and punch, this is a read not only for vino-gee
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Christopher Rex
Jul 01, 2009 rated it liked it
This book proved to me several things I've always believed....one, that nobody should ever take wine too seriously. Two, people can be fooled into believing almost anything. Three, people that take wine too seriously take themselves too seriously and that's the problem. Anyway, a good read about an amazing con, wine collecting and the "inner" workings of elite wine-tasting. Some people just have too much money for their own good. Easy to read and intriguing. It will remind you to buy wine that Y ...more
Sloane Berrent
Sep 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
My mom had recommended this book to me at least 2 years ago. I finally got around to reading it, and it was while I was traveling in Burma. It's written by a journalist and so the attention to detail and sources he went to for information and quotes are just overwhelming. He took pieces from years apart, people spread apart and an unsolved story and somehow wove a story together of it all. It's a terrific book for anyone interested in wine or mystery. In my eyes, this is a bestseller.
Sue Degoey
If you spent an exorbitant amount of money on a bottle of wine and upon the first sip discovered it was rather foul tasting, would you still finish the bottle? I felt the warning signs at the beginning of a tedious read, but pressed on, and really gained nothing, but lost a month of really prime reading time. Probably just wasn't my vintage, as many other people seemed to enjoy it.
Sara
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
John
Mar 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is a great little non-fiction mystery. It tells the story of a flamboyant, gregarious wine dealer who claimed to have purchased a cache of old wine, found in a walled up cellar in Paris. The bottles dated from the 1780s and were etched with the initials Th.J. One sold for 150 thousand dollars, on the assumption that it once belonged to Thomas Jefferson. But then, as the years go on, this wine dealer finds more and more old wine, incredibly old and rare bottles. How is this guy finding all t ...more
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 extrav

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Kate
Oct 12, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book could have been really, really good. The story was very captivating, the characters involved were super-interesting, and I learned a ton about rare wines and history. However, the book was very poorly written. It was confusing. It didn't occur in a time order that made any sense. Facts were shoveled on top of each other in ways that completely prevented you from understanding them. The author left on tangents that had little to do with the main plot line, and then when offering an answ ...more
Sandie
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'm left wondering what the outcome was. Did Koch prevail against Rodenstock to prove fakery? On the author's website is an ad for the paperback "with a new epilogue." Oh, the intrigue. The book was most enjoyable in its first two thirds, but a little flat on the finish. The high-end wine collectors seemed so boring and austentatious. Really, why collect tens of thousands of bottles of wine? It's such a boy's club of bigger, richer, better that the issue of value seems quite secondary. I did enj ...more
Janet
Nov 19, 2009 rated it liked it
A quick fun book, revealing a parallel universe where the wealthy and/or self-important spends hundreds of thousands of dollars for the chance to own a bottle of wine that may or not have belonged to Thomas Jefferson and in any case probably will not be worth drinking.A well-written non-fiction book that definitely kept my interest.
G Marks
Jun 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
This non-fiction book is written as a mystery concerning sommeliers. It was tremendously interesting to learn some of the finer points of how wines are judged and how their authenticity as to age and source is determined. The writing was very engaging and made for a delightful rad.
Mike
Dec 09, 2017 rated it liked it
If you have any interest in wine then you will enjoy this book. The history portion was the most intriguing part. Loved the book, but found the narrative fizzled out at the end and I was left a touch unsatisfied.
Maggie Livingstone
Apr 08, 2019 rated it did not like it
Dreadfully boring. I only read it for book club
Mary
Aug 17, 2018 rated it liked it
To quote the author,” If a fake wine is served at a tasting and no one notices, would it have mattered if was real?”
JD
Sep 06, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: true-story
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Tynan Watson
Nov 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Was pretty good!
Miriam
Dec 09, 2016 rated it liked it
Very enjoyable. At first, all the luxury and high-powered connections and money are hard to take, and Wallace is very offhand about all of it. But the story is interesting, and Wallace gives just the right amount of background or science or underlying information to orient the reader. He always has the perfect, colorful details to go along with each character (yes, they're real people, but many of them are characters, too).

I could see how captivating it is for people to want to believe they have
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Sherry Howland
Jul 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Throughout this well-written and thoroughly researched book is the timeless truism known by every con artist in history...people are taken in because they WANT to be taken in! Hardy Rodenstock...an alias, and a moniker Charles Dickens would have loved...knew he could count on the greediness and the inflated egos of super rich wine snobs who wanted only to have the BEST, the MOST EXPENSIVE, the RAREST wines in existence. Rodenstock got away with his blatant sleight of hand because no one wanted h ...more
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Overall, enjoyable. 3 35 Jul 13, 2015 04:11AM  
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Benjamin Wallace has written for GQ, Details, Food & Wine, Salon, and The Washington Post. He grew up in Washington, DC, and graduated from Georgetown University. From 1990 to 1992, he lived in the Czech Republic and Hungary, teaching English, proofreading diplomatic documents at the Czechoslovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and writing for such newspapers as The Prague Post, The Budapest Post ...more
“As a young man he seemed to pine for a bygone world of aristocrats. [In his twenties, he] took to wearing Edwardian three-piece suits with a pocket watch and chain.

[discussing Kip Forbes]”
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“Phylloxera was the yellow root louse that devastated Bordeaux’s vineyards in the late 1870s.” 0 likes
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