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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When Money Isn't Enough
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...
Published on 13 May 2008 by taking a rest

versus
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 sympathetic.

The con man, Rodenstock, is by turns unctuous & bullying. Wallace leaves him as rather two dimensional, so we don't have a baddie to boo.

The main expert, Broadbent, is...
Published on 25 July 2012 by Walloff Domburg


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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 - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)   
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
By 
Joseph Haschka (Glendale, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)   
"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).

The auction of Lot 337 serves as an introduction to THE BILLIONAIRE'S VINEGAR by Benjamin Wallace, a book that explores the larger topic of old, rare wines - the purchase, collection, and tasting of which absorbs the time and millions of dollars of those with perhaps too much of both on their hands. Oh, and, of course, that which naturally follows - the forgery of such wines.

The collectible wine market evolved when the growers began bottling and labeling their product (as opposed to distributing it in barrels from which the rich man's butler would tap-off into bottles), when vintages became officially stratified according to their perceived quality, when the consumers began cellaring selected vintages in their original bottling, and, decades later, when such stockpiles previously "lost" were discovered. The fraud perpetuated by a counterfeit bottle can reach ludicrous proportions.

"Tim Littler, from Whitwams, bought a Jéroboam of 1869 Mouton at Christie's London. When he got home to Manchester, he left the bottle upright on a table. Later, when he turned to look at it, he could see right through. Alarmed, he held the bottle up to the light. The fluid inside seemed far too translucent for a red Bordeaux, and, strangely, no sediment was swirling around ... Littler opened the bottle and, sure enough, it contained colored water."

The mental image of what must have been the look on Littler's face made me giggle. (Well, maybe it was the effect of the fermented grape swill downed with my bangers 'n' mash.)

As a reading experience, THE BILLIONAIRE'S VINEGAR, while perhaps not allowing you a whiff and taste of Domaine de la Romanee Conti Montrachet 2005, will give you a glimpse into the exclusive - we daren't say "snooty" - world of rare wine collectors. And, more to the point considering the introduction, the book is a reasonably fascinating narrative of the means by which the genuineness of the Parisian "Jefferson" bottles was determined, although, on this latter topic, it may drag on a bit. And the book does provide enough information by the conclusion for the reader to arrive at a satisfactory mental verdict regarding the authenticity of the bottles in question.

As an aside not recorded in the volume, it should be noted that in 2009 Michael Broadbent initiated a suit against Random House, the publisher of THE BILLIONAIRE'S VINEGAR, claiming defamation of character. The issue was settled out of court, Broadbent apparently receiving an apology and monetary damages, though the text of the work wasn't subsequently altered. My personal conclusion from this legal detour is that author, who wasn't named in the action, fairly administered blows to old sore points.

Ah, I see the Indian take-away has arrived. Let me go to my wine cellar, the cabinet under the kitchen sink, where my gallon of screw-topped Italian red has been gently aging. Honey, break out the paper plates, plastic wine goblets and napkins!
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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
By 
Jeremy Watson (England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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
4.0 out of 5 stars "In May 1945, when allied forces liberated Hitler's mountaintop redoubt in Bavaria, they found half a million bottles of wine.", 9 Feb 2013
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
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. The engraving style on the auctioned bottle had never before been used by Jefferson, and all the other Rodenstock wines had exactly the same engraving style. "It seemed odd [too] that whoever first found the bottles would not have shopped them to the highest bidder, instead of automatically selling to Rodenstock." As several more of the Jefferson bottles came up for auction over the next couple of years, each one setting a new record, questions continued to arise about the bottles themselves, the amount of evaporation, and ultimately, even the instruments used to engrave the bottles. Unusually, at every tasting Rodenstock sponsored, his men secured the corks and sealing wax after the bottles were opened, and no one had access to them for testing purposes.

In the second half of the book, author Benjamin Wallace takes the reader from 1987 to the present, detailing the new techniques which can now be used (and were later used on the Jefferson bottles) to date bottles, wine, sediments, engraving, wax, and corks. High tech labs, with experts on everything from tests for germanium, thermoluminescence, carbon, and lead, create a fascinating story of how the wine market has evolved to the present and the safeguards now in place to prevent fraud of this nature. Benjamin Wallace keeps the excitement high as he details the search for information about the Jefferson wines and the eventual outcome regarding their "rightness." Well researched and filled with details about the wine industry, the book bears reading now, in light of recent decisions in the lawsuits brought by William Koch and the auctioneer, Michael Broadbent.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A real life thriller, 8 Mar 2014
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This review is from: The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine (Kindle Edition)
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. The book only starts moving 60% of the way through and then it becomes a real page turner. A book that not only tells a complex story but also exposes a bonfire of vanities of those in the antiquities business.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating!!, 14 Feb 2014
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This review is from: The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine (Kindle Edition)
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 forever!

Definitely a must read for anyone passionate or remotely interested in wine.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Delivery and condition, 29 Nov 2013
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Prompt delivery, thanks. One of the books (a little) more worn than I had anticipated, always difficult to gauge usage.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating story, 4 Sep 2013
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This review is from: The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine (Kindle Edition)
A very interesting and well-written account of a fine wine scam. There is some fascinating historical background about Thomas Jefferson.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Just a really good read, 25 July 2013
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This review is from: The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine (Kindle Edition)
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 or no wine knowledge should find it easy to understand and a really enjoyable read. Thought it might be a little dry, but there's enough 'plot' to keep it interesting.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Super cool story!, 2 Oct 2012
By 
J. Broekzitter (Utrecht, Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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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 ......
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