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the billionaire’s vinegar, benjamin wallace (2008)

1787 - the billionaire's vinegarBillionaire’s Vinegar is first and foremost a book that I really enjoyed – in the manner of well-researched fiction – perhaps not a thriller, but certainly a who-dunnit.  Secondly, it’s a book from which you can learn much of the auction market machinations and importantly if you are tempted to buy old wine, it will ensure that those rose-tinted spectacles will be left at home – oh and we are supposed to believe that it’s all true!

For those that may have lived in a cupboard for the last year or so, it is a story that starts with a bottle of wine with the initials Th.J. dated 1787.  Actually there may have been as many as 30 “Thomas Jefferson” bottles purportedly found in a Paris cellar, the first of which being famously sold by Christies for a world record price.

Despite multiple pages of reference and source materials, Christies (Decanter) claim there to be many ‘inaccuracies’ in the book, though as Mandy Rice-Davies would say – ‘they would say that wouldn’t they’. Of course Christies were not the source of those bottles, one Hardy Rodenstock is the primary target of the book, though from the narrative it’s clear that the author sees Christies in general and Christies’ Maître dit Michael Broadbent in particular as willing dupes at best.

Despite some of those bottles clearly containing excellent old wine, they were faked – analysis showed one of them to contain wine from 1962 – as they all came from the same cellar, undisturbed for maybe 100 years or more, if one falls they all fall.

I highly recommended this well-written book, but one thing disappoints; it’s still only a partly told story. Hardy Rodenstock is still being pursued, both by private detectives and through the courts – mainly by one very deep-pocketed owner of a number of questionable bottles, some with the initials Th.J.  Rodenstock’s hunter is playing a long game which the hunter appears to be both enjoying and expects to win. Perhaps the author of this book also felt hunted and needed to be sure hist book was published first. I expect the second or third edition may have one or two more chapters and a real conclusion.

One response to “the billionaire’s vinegar, benjamin wallace (2008)”

  1. Jack

    I just finished reading this myself two days ago. I was quitthe last Rodenstock had been selling these wines for so long and that there were about two dozen bottles, not just the ones Koch has. You’re right, we still need a real conclusion. (I also continue to laugh at the idea that Jefferson had his initials engraved on bottles.)

    And then there’s the whole subject of Wine Auction fraud. This book, combined with my own first hand experience, and other readings, my impression is that auction houses don’t want to see fake wine; when they get such they turn it down/withdraw it. But I have no impression that the fakes are every destroyed, nor the sellers ever held responsible. So, the number of fakes in circulation must be increasing, er, daily.

Agree? Disagree? Anything you'd like to add?

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