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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 [Audio Download]

by Benjamin Wallace (Author), Dennis Boutsikaris (Narrator)
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
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Product details

  • Audio Download
  • Listening Length: 5 hours and 49 minutes
  • Program Type: Audiobook
  • Version: Abridged
  • Publisher: Random House Audio
  • Audible.co.uk Release Date: 13 May 2008
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002SPZ1OK
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
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Product Description

It was the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold.

In 1985, at a heated auction by Christie's of London, a 1787 bottle of Château Lafite Bordeaux - one of a cache of bottles unearthed in a bricked-up Paris cellar and supposedly owned by Thomas Jefferson - went for $156,000 to a member of the Forbes family. The discoverer of the bottle was pop-band manager turned wine collector Hardy Rodenstock, who had a knack for finding extremely old and exquisite wines. But rumors about the bottle soon arose. Why wouldn't Rodenstock reveal the exact location where it had been found? Was it part of a smuggled Nazi hoard? Or did his reticence conceal an even darker secret?

It would take more than two decades for those questions to be answered and involve a gallery of intriguing players - among them Michael Broadbent, the bicycle-riding British auctioneer who speaks of wines as if they are women and staked his reputation on the record-setting sale; Serena Sutcliffe, Broadbent's elegant archrival, whose palate is covered by a hefty insurance policy; and Bill Koch, the extravagant Florida tycoon bent on exposing the truth about Rodenstock.

Pursuing the story from Monticello to London to Zurich to Munich and beyond, Benjamin Wallace also offers a mesmerizing history of wine, complete with vivid accounts of subterranean European laboratories where old vintages are dated, and of Jefferson's colorful, wine-soaked days in France, where he literally drank up the culture.

Suspenseful, witty, and thrillingly strange, The Billionaire's Vinegar is the vintage tale of what could be the most elaborate con since the Hitler diaries. It is also the debut of an exceptionally powerful new voice in narrative non-fiction.

©2008 Benjamin Wallace; (P)2008 Random House Audio

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When Money Isn't Enough 13 May 2008
By taking a rest HALL OF FAME
Mr. Wallace has produced a great read that is interesting from a historical prospective while it harpoons the very wealthy whose pursuit of money is no longer satisfying. Nope, these folks have to pursue a type of collectable that they cannot have any provenance for, which experts in the field can only hope to guess at what the bottle contains. Wine that is a century younger than the bottle on the book cover might at best be "recognizable as wine", unless of course it has become an ingredient for salad dressing.

The central charlatan in this tale is a master at exploiting the wishes of collectors and even the experts that should know better. Or perhaps that do know better and just let their own egos persuade them that in spite of zero evidence the product is real, and worse, valid sources that explain there is nothing to suggest the wine's legitimacy, never slow down. On with the auction!

The book is not just about human nature and its dimmer moments, there is a great deal of information on wine production, wine history and enough wine tasting descriptions for the most avid connoisseur. Or if you find the whole field a bit pretentious and tedious you might still be entertained by the likes of what follows "the art of drinking the very oldest rarities required an extra degree of connoisseurship-almost a kind of necrophilia".

I look forward to many more from the pen of Mr. Wallace. This is a very good offering that should find a wide audience whether you are an avid wine drinker or you feel the 18th Amendment was a great idea.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not your average plonk ... Or is it? 30 Jan 2010
"At the tasting, (wine collector Bipin) Desai remarked that the older wines smelled like an old Hindu temple. `Because there are a lot of droppings from bats in those temples,' Desai recalled." - from THE BILLIONAIRE'S VINEGAR

"In a Stanford/Caltech study by neuroeconomists, published in January 2008, subjects were given several glasses of the exact same wine, each with a different price tag. Believing that they were drinking different wines, the subjects described the `more expensive' ones more favorably. Moreover, brain scans showed the subjects to actually experience more pleasure from the nominally pricier stuff." - from THE BILLIONAIRE'S VINEGAR

On December 5, 1985, Michael Broadbent, the founding director of the wine department of Christie's auction house, auctioned off Lot 337, a bottle of Chateau Lafite red vino, vintage 1787, inscribed with the initials "Th.J." which had ostensibly been discovered, along with 25-30 others so marked - the exact count always remained vague - behind a false wall in the basement of a house being demolished in Paris. The bottle had been consigned to Christie's by the German wine collector/seller, Hardy Rodenstock, who had acquired the entire cache and claimed that the initials on the bottles were those of Thomas Jefferson, a wine connoisseur in his own right, a President of the United States, and a resident of the City of Light during his time as minister to France.

Lot 337 - a SINGLE bottle, mind you - sold to the American Kip Forbes for $156,000 (or the rough equivalent of 48,800 bottles of 2-quid plonk from the local Tesco).
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Arrogance of Wealth 16 Oct 2008
Having spent 50 years at the sharp end of the Wine Trade I found it fascinating to read about the ephereal aspect which one only encountered through reputation and the more elite journals of the business.
Apart from being saddened by the discrediting of one much loved personality in the trade I enjoyed the discomfort of the exposure of a well known charletan and the unveiling of the enormous vanity of his hugely wealthy clients whose judgement deserted them when social acceptance was the carrot. To be the owner of a bottle of wine more than 230 years old with ownership attributed to Thomas Jefferson but without any clear provenance distorted the sensibilities they would regularly apply to their own businesses.
These bottles included the most expensive ever sold, which was a direct consequence of the self same vanity of the purchasers. But it was an enormous confidence trick that was compounded by the greed of the subject's clients as they increasingly fell under the spell cast by the opportunity to own a priceless, but also probably worthless bottle of wine.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Could the bottle of Lafite, with the initials of Thomas Jefferson and dated 1787, awaiting auction at Christie's in London in 1987, possibly have been part of a newly discovered Nazi hoard? As Michael Broadbent, the head of the wine department of Christie's, prepared to auction off this bottle, the oldest authenticated bottle of red wine ever to come up for auction at Christie's, he knew that it would become the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold. Parts of the Old Marais district in Paris had recently been torn down, and some wondered if the bottle was found walled up in a basement. Others suggested that it had a Nazi history. Then again, Thomas Jefferson had sent hundreds of cases of wine home to Monticello when he left his job as Minister to France, and one of these cases may have been lost or stolen.

Speculation was rife because of the age and importance of this bottle, not just for its qualities as wine but also because of its historical importance. The bottle had been consigned to Christie's by Hardy Rodenstock, a German wine collector who refused to say exactly where it had come from, revealing only that it was from a hidden cellar in an unidentified 18th century house in Paris. The cellar supposedly contained a hundred bottles, two dozen of which, all from 1784 - 1787, were engraved with the initials "Th.J." After a bidding war, Kip Forbes, son of publisher Malcolm Forbes, was declared the winner with a bid of $156,000.

Questions began to arise about this bottle almost immediately. There was no evidence that Jefferson had ever purchased a 1787 Lafite, and in fact, Jefferson had recorded the purchase of only two of the four wines that Rodenstock had found.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A real life thriller
Very slow to start but that's due to the writer needing to educate those readers unfamiliar with the world of wine and the history of Jefferson. Read more
Published 1 month ago by G. E. Downie
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating!!
Very intriguing and thought provoking! Only took two days to read it. Very informative and gives a good idea of how these events changed the world of rare (and some not so) wines... Read more
Published 2 months ago by PaulPontius
4.0 out of 5 stars Delivery and condition
Prompt delivery, thanks. One of the books (a little) more worn than I had anticipated, always difficult to gauge usage.
Published 4 months ago by J M M PYE
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating story
A very interesting and well-written account of a fine wine scam. There is some fascinating historical background about Thomas Jefferson.
Published 7 months ago by Roger Cavanagh
5.0 out of 5 stars Just a really good read
I was interested in this book due to recent news about wine fraud. I work in the wine industry, but think this is sufficiently well written and explanatory that those with little... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Cassidy
5.0 out of 5 stars Super cool story!
This story is one you can read in one afternoon or day.
Once you start you can't stop and you'd wish there's a happy end to it ......
Published 18 months ago by J. Broekzitter
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read
For someone who's recently taken an interest in all things 'wine' I thought this sounded like an interesting read. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Whitechild76
3.0 out of 5 stars A Wine More Gallo than Gallic
Whilst most earlier reviews quite rightly highlight the gullibility & vanity of the buyers of trophy wines, the main shortcoming of TBV is that none of the characters is... Read more
Published 21 months ago by Walloff Domburg
5.0 out of 5 stars Really fun
I'm a wine enthusiast (geek) so I know most of the names that appear in the book from other books, magazines, wine tastings and the wine trade in general. Read more
Published on 26 Jan 2011 by Paulo E. Reichert
4.0 out of 5 stars For Wine Lovers-Great!
I thought this book was vastly entertaining and interesting particularly since I have an interest in wine and live in Jefferson's back yard-Charlottesville, Va. Read more
Published on 7 July 2010 by Douglas P. Murphy
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