Because Ideas Matter...
The faculty and staff of Butler University's College of Liberal
Arts and Sciences presents
The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the
World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine
by Benjamin Wallace
Reviewed by Paul Hanson
In 1985 a bottle of 1787 Château Lafite
Bordeaux was put up for auction by Christie's of London and sold
for, well, quite a lot-much more than you or I will ever pay for a
bottle of wine. What was so special about this bottle? According to
the auction catalog, it had first been purchased by Thomas
Jefferson, when he lived in France, but never shipped to the United
States. Instead it lay at rest in a cellar in the Marais district
of Paris, eventually to find its way into the hands of Hardy
Rodenstock, one of the great wine collectors of Europe at century's
end. Its sale at Christie's launched the career of Michael
Broadbent as wine auctioneer, and ushered in a two-decade period in
which collecting wine became all the rage among a certain segment
of the wealthy elite.
Benjamin Wallace spins a tale in which he
explores a number of mysteries. Did the bottle really belong once
to Thomas Jefferson? It bore an inscription of his initials, TJ,
and we know that Jefferson took an interest in fine wine, but those
facts only make the claim plausible. Wallace's quest to solve that
mystery takes him to Monticello, to Bordeaux, to London and Paris.
Along the way we meet a number of fascinating characters and are
ushered into the world of wine, the world of collectors, the world
of winetasting, and the world of Jeffersonia, as well as the world
of high-end fraud. For even if the bottle itself could be shown to
have once belonged to Jefferson, how are we to know that the wine
inside was really 1787 Lafite? And if this bottle was legitimate,
what about the other Jefferson bottles that appeared on the auction
block in the years after 1985? Finally, who buys such wine, and for
how much? You'll find answers to all these mysteries in this
fascinating and suspenseful read. Be sure to have a glass of wine
at your side.
- Paul Hanson is Professor of History at Butler University.