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The Billionaire's Vinegar

The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine
Narrated by: Dennis Boutsikaris
Length: 5 hrs and 49 mins
Categories: History, World
4 out of 5 stars (414 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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

Critic Reviews

"Part detective story, part wine history, this is one juicy tale....as delicious as a true vintage Lafite." ( Business Week)
"Splendid...A delicious mystery that winds through musty European cellars, Jefferson-era France and Monticello, engravers' shops, a nuclear physics lab, rival auction houses and legendary multi-day tastings conducted by the shadowy German who had discovered the Jefferson collection...Ripe for Hollywood." ( USA Today)
"Wallace's depiction of rabid oenophiles staging almost decadent events to swill rare wine, knowingly depleting the reserves, are as much fun as the mystery." ( The New York Daily News)

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Not just for enophiles

Very interesting and often jaw-dropping account of how the uber-rich live. I may not be able to relate to the lives of the tiny and rarified circle of people (Dodi al-Fayed, Malcom Forbes,et al) who can afford to pay $100,000+ for one bottle of wine, or who buy entire houses to hold their rare wine collections, or who hold "vertical winetastings" lasting days at which a succession of vintages of the same vineyard (from the 1700s through the early 1900s) are tasted, but I can nevertheless savor their smashed hubris when their "investments" in antique wines turns out to be . . . just a bunch of vinegar. Side trips in the narrative explaining Thomas Jefferson's self-education in the subtleties of the fermented grape, his mania for detailed bookkeeping, and the business of the auctionhouses that sell antique wines will fascinate not just enophiles, but anyone with a passing interest in history and an appreciation for ironic payback.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

It will go to your head!

What did you love best about The Billionaire's Vinegar?

Aside from being an entertaining "story" that reads like a mystery (which it is, really) I learned a good deal about wine. It's fascinating and reveals a world about which most of us know very little, that is, the "wine market."
This reminded me very much of another of my favourite "true-life-mysteries," "The Island of Lost Maps" about discovering a "serial thief" of rare maps. Lots of info imparted in a fascinating and fascinatED way. Great read...pour yourself a nice glass of something lovely and dig in!

What did you like best about this story?

The information about wines and the market.

Which scene was your favorite?

Not so much "scenes" in here as it is not fiction. Love the parts set in the auction-houses, tho.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

well, no, other than just enjoying it thoroughly.

Any additional comments?

A great listen!! Excellent narration. It's hard to read something factual without sounding like a lecture, but, the narrator here does a great job of making it sound exciting and adventurous.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Fascinating story, great characters

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

yes, fun and interesting-great characters

What other book might you compare The Billionaire's Vinegar to and why?

I found this book while listening to a book about the Koch brothers, as one of them got caught up in this mystery

What does Dennis Boutsikaris bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

There were a lot of characters and his caricatures were great.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Frustrating because of how stupid people were because they wanted to protect what they "knew".

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Memorable

This is not a great book but it's a great story. It is so fascinating to see the inside of the wine collector's world, a scene about which I had no experience. So I really enjoyed reading it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Very interesting for all wine lovers

Recommended for anyone who likes to drink wine. The author explains the wine industry in an informative way while not drifting off from the main story. The narrator was good and this is fully worth a credit.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent! Fantastic storytelling

What a delight to listen to! I finished it so quickly, as the writing style and narrator worked well together, as if blended like a fine wine. Insightful sliver of the rich wine-collectors world but also laden with many takeaways the average wine drinker can appreciate. I recommend for anyone who is reading Th synopsis and debating whether to sample. Go ahead, drink it in!

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    3 out of 5 stars
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the audible version is abridged

i was very surprised when i compared the audible version with the kindle version. full paragraphs were missing from the book were missing in the audio version ! otherwise fascinating story and characters

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

An Amusing Bouquet but No Body

It’s an entertaining look at a strange subculture of old wine enthusiasts and their excesses, but in the end it’s a pretty thin tale padded by a lot of uninteresting details. If you like your schadenfreude rich and chewy try the book about Theranos, “Bad Blood.”

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Excellent Tale, Poor Abridging

Narrator is superb.

Underlying book material is highly fascinating, with many subplots and a well-researched storyline.

The momentum of the tale lurches and then vanishes towards the end due to poor editing. I have not read the book, but cannot fathom that it is so richly enveloping for 90% of the text and then evaporates at the end.

Worth a re-edit and re-release.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Very abridged version

I read the book along with the audiobook and I would say that the audiobook only contains 70% of the full work. Greatly abridged. I personally did not like this. Apart from that, the book is very interesting and fun!

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  • Tyson
  • 01-16-19

Wine people are bad

This book just goes to show, the wine trade is full of awful people. Drink well and be wary.