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ThirtyFifty - Hens

The Billionaire's Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace
95 out of 100

Published 07 March 2010


The Billionaire's Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace, is an excellent book that is part mystery, part wine history and a guide to how not to buy wine in auction. It lifts the veil on the fine wine auction market, with almost everybody coming off poorly. But through the book you learn the trick of fraudsters and the latest techniques that can be applied to determine the authenticity of old wines.
The story is based loosely around a set of 1787 wines claimed to be owned by ex-American President Thomas Jefferson. The wines were discovered by convicted wine fraudster Hardy Rodenstock, who despite refusing to give information where the wines where discovered or even how many where discovered, the wines were sold by a number of top wine merchants as the genuine article.
Ultimately the wines where shown to be forgeries as engravings on the side of the bottles where shown to be created using a modern electric engraver. This has been accepted by many but Christies denies this as correct but refuses to release its own investigations.
Through the book it pains the old fine wine auction business being less concerned with providence (where the bottles came form) and more on selling the wines for the best price.
The first half of the book is focused around the fine wine auction market and those who purchased and drunk them in the 1980’s and 1990’s, while the second half is focused on Bill Koch, a wealthy American businessman and wine collector investigating and trying to extract revenge on Rodenstock for selling him what he claims are fake wines. Note that the wines are claimed as fake since while Rodenstock has been successful prosecuted in 1992, (a German court found that Rodenstock had "knowingly offered adulterated wine" for sale). No case has been brought against Rodenstock for technical legal reasons, which appear to be based around the statute of limitations.
The book itself has become part of the story with Michael Broadbent having the book banned in the UK under the UK’s draconian libel laws. Michael claims the book destroyed his carrier. Reading the book it certainly puts his credibility under a withering spotlight light. But the libel case is not based on the spotlight but a very minor point in the book. While Michael when he was the head of Christies did not sell all the wines or even the majority of the bottles, he and they come off particular poorly in the book.
In the end I found this book to be a fascinating and impossible to put down once I started. It is both educational and Benjamin Wallace has brought old wines to life with a create narrative. Those who are into wine, will find this a must read and I rate this book 95 out of 100.

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