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

3.49  ·  Rating details ·  5,214 Ratings  ·  896 Reviews
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In 1985, a single bottle of wine went up for auction at Christie's in
London. Two minutes later, it sold for over $150,000 to a member of the Forbes clan, demolishing the previous record paid for a single bottle. But this was no ordinary wine -- it was a 1787 Lafitte (now spelled Lafite), engraved with Thomas Jefferson's initials
ebook, 319 pages
Published May 13th 2008 by Broadway Books (first published January 1st 2008)
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Mitch Well researched and established, much of it proved to be true. The speculative parts are pretty damning.
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Nenia ❄ Flagrant Liberal Snowflake ❄ 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
Jun 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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, and which brands are the most hoity-toity; I could probably pretend to be a terrible snob now. Unfortunately, several years ago I took a vacation that included several visits to wineries and sadly determined that although I can (sort of) tell the difference between a 10 dollar wine and an 80 dollar one ...more
Apr 21, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 16, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 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
Nov 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 24, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 26, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Nov 28, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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."
Sloane Berrent
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.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 22, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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

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
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
Christopher Rex
This book proved to me several things I've always, 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
Nov 19, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 09, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sherry Howland
Jul 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 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
Robert Strandquist
Wallace's non-fiction accounts of the drama within the niche world of wine auctions may appear droll. However, with wine sales now eclipsing those of beer in the U.S., the niche may have expanded to a veritable corner of the market. For me, there are multiple lenses through which I enjoyed Wallace's work. The simplest is that of learning more about French wines. Beyond that, Wallace deftly blends history dating from the 1700's both in France and the U.S. with the late 20th and early 21st centuri ...more
Jul 21, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book aloud to Steve on a vacation, and we both enjoyed that experience. It's a journey into the global world of deep-pocketed connoisseurship that is a bit hard to relate to at times, but still, intriguing nonetheless. The best parts of the book are centered around Thomas Jefferson's historical wine collecting. The rest of the book is a bit compromised by the incessant name-dropping, chateau-referencing, and vintage listings, which all seem quite endless at times. And the book's endi ...more
Nov 22, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This story starts off a bit slow as it takes you back historically to set the stage for why this Jefferson bottle mystery is such a coveted adventure.

By the third chapter you will start feeling the characters desire to taste and smell these antiqued wines. My favorite part is on pages 48&49 when they discuss wine tasting as a " sweetness of death ". That is the most descriptive part that makes you long to grab a glass of old red wine and let the effervescence fill your nose.

The end is as you
Ann Nicholas
Sep 29, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
** spoiler alert **

Mostly reading like a thriller, The Billionaire's Vinegar is a stunning analysis of oenophilic hubris and the people who prey on the men (and it is for the most part men) who suffer from it.

Shockingly, $156,000 was paid at auction for a supposed bottle of Lafite purportedly once owned by Thomas Jefferson, which had been sealed up in a Paris basement, hidden away from Nazi plunderers. In retrospect, they all should have known, but like other hubristic types, they fell prey to
Rusty Gates
Jul 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Wine enthusiasts, history lovers, Mystery solvers
When in Napa earlier this year, we went into a small used book store where I asked the shop keep for a book that explored the history of wine while telling an interesting story. He eagerly pulled this book off the shelf and I got exactly what I was looking for.
"The Billionaire's Vinegar" explores the foundation and development of the world's most famous wine region while following the story of the infamous "Jefferson Bottles" found and sold by Hardy Rodenstock. In doing so, it also dives into th
Feb 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Stories about deception and hoaxes and ambiguity are some of my favorites, especially when they are true. This is a great, winding story about people being taken in by the promise of something extraordinary. As other reviewers say, the 100% truth isn't really found out. But that's okay, this is reality friends! We don't know the 100% truth all the time (or most of the time), and seeing how different people react to a lack of information is fascinating.

Furthermore, Wallace is a good writer. This
Genene Murphy
Aug 11, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A week ago, if a 1982 Mouton-Rothschild showed up at Trader Joes, I would not have cared. Then, Lafite just sounded like a French word. But, now I'm hell bent on tasting both. Only, my husband won't let me sell the house.

If you know nothing about wine, this modern-day forensics mystery compels with historical twists and turns, scientific discovery and lots of high-class scheudenfraud. (Think Vanity Fair Magazine or the New York Times. This is that article that you wish were a book.) For wine lo
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Overall, enjoyable. 3 34 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
More about Benjamin Wallace...
“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]”
“As Koch put it, “My brother Charles collects money. David used to collect girls, but not anymore. Fred collects castles. And I collect everything.” 1 likes
More quotes…