The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine
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“Part detective story, part wine history, this is one juicy tale, even for those with no interest in the fruit of the vine. . . . As delicious as a true vintage Lafite.” —BusinessWeek
The Billionaire’s Vinegar, now a New York Times bestseller, 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 basement of a devilishly brilliant con artist? As Benjamin Wallace unravels the mystery, we meet a gallery of intriguing players—from the bicycle-riding British auctioneer who speaks of wines as if they are women to the obsessive wine collector who discovered the bottle. Suspenseful and thrillingly strange, this is the vintage tale of what could be the most elaborate con since the Hitler diaries.
Updated for paperback with a new epilogue.
Patrick Grubb, Tom Higham, Ben Howkins, Malcolm Kimmins, Tim Littler, David Molyneux-Berry, Adrian Monck, Stephen Mould, Jancis Robinson, Maggie Rosen, Sam Sandbach, Steven Spurrier, Serena Sutcliffe, Jess White, and Amy Wislocki. Other people who helped me feel at home in England include Belinda Carruthers, Michael and Sheila Furth, Bridgie and Richard Griffiths, Linda Gummery, Maureen and Walter Marlowe, and Christopher Wickham and Diego Choi. IN BORDEAUX: Christian Moueix and Paul Pontallier
paddle would rise here. Another would bob up there. But things quickly heated up, and soon several people were raising paddles at every step. Broadbent knew everyone in the London trade, and many of them were here in this room, but he reserved his greatest expectations for the Americans. The Jefferson connection, the strength of the dollar (it had hit a historic high earlier in the year), recent auction history—all these factors would surely tempt a deep-pocketed Yank to repatriate the bottle.
of bluebloods, Yquem the bluest of blue chips. The count’s validation was key to legitimizing Rodenstock. Some châteaux, including Pétrus and Margaux, kept their distance. Once Rodenstock asked Margaux general manager Paul Pontallier for certificates validating some of his old bottles. Pontallier refused. “He’s not an unpleasant person at all,” Pontallier says. “But we’ve never reconditioned bottles for him or participated in his tastings. Not that we had proof of anything, but we just weren’t
comfortable.” Over the next few years, however, several other leading châteaux, including Yquem, Lafite, and Cheval Blanc, vouched for Rodenstock’s bottles by recorking them, which was tantamount to guaranteeing their authenticity. The day after the tasting at Yquem, the city of Bordeaux honored Rodenstock with a commemorative plaque. But Lur Saluces gradually became disillusioned. When they’d first met, in the early 1980s, Rodenstock had been humble, respectful, knowledgeable, and laconic to
going straight to the lab and beginning parallel tests in two germanium detectors. Knowing that the sheer price of the bottles would spook the lab’s administrators, Hubert hadn’t asked for permission to run the measurements. He and Elroy stayed in Modane for the next five days, sleeping at a small hotel nearby, where Hubert was close with the owners. During the day, they were in the lab. Elroy wasn’t interested in doing any tourism, and stayed close at hand as Hubert performed his tests. The