The world of rare wine collectors is mysterious and filled with intrigue. I finished reading “The Billionaire’s Vinegar” a few days ago, and I’ll share my thoughts here.
What The Billionaire’s Vinegar is About
In the 1980s, a sensational story took the wine world by storm. A person claimed to have discovered a cache of wine bottles owned by Thomas Jefferson while he lived in Paris in the 1780s. That’s not all. The wine bottles were appeared to originate from one of the best wineries in France – Lafite. Eventually, Forbes magazine spent Forbes the publishing billionaire bought one bottle for $157,500 in 1985 (equivalent to $168,845 in 2018 dollars according to Measuring Worth).
In the twenty years following the wine auction, doubts and questions started to come up. Eventually, enough questions emerge that we end up in a real-world mystery. It’s a tale filled with scientific tests, historical research, and the secretive world of elite wine collectors.
What I Liked Most About The Book
Benjamin Wallace, the author of The Billionaire’s Vinegar, did an excellent job of guiding the world through the complex story of investigating these bottles of wine. Further, Wallace does well keeping the reader engaged in the true story that almost reads like a novel. I admire how he paints a portrait of all of the key characters involved in the story, like Michael Broadbent (a wine expert at the Christie’s auction house who filed a lawsuit in the UK regarding the book), wine collectors in Europe and America, and more.
Finally, I also like how Wallace introduces the reader to the emergence of the wine collecting world. You’ll learn about the rise of wine collectors and their exclusive tasting parties. You’ll also learn about the fascinating people who run wine auctions. Of course, there are also intriguing debates about historical authenticity made even more exciting given the amounts of money involved.
Who Should Read The Billionaire’s Vinegar
Have you ever seen a bottle of wine priced at $100 or even $1000 and wondered, “Who is buying such expensive wine?” You will get one answer to that question in “The Billionaire’s Vinegar.” Wallace shows the reader how different motivations shape the rare wine world, like exclusivity (i.e., few ancient wines exist), the unusual taste of older wines, and a dash of “lifestyles of the rich and famous.”
If you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes, you will probably also enjoy the detective work involved in the story. Like any interesting historical question, authenticating whether or not Thomas Jefferson owned the bottles of wine was not a simple yes or no. While there is no “smoking gun” here, the gradual build-up of facts eventually resolves the debate. I wouldn’t spoil the ending for you.
Finally, this book is also a cautionary tale of the frenzy of wine collecting or indeed any collecting passion. Whether you collect books, stamps, art, wine, or something else, “The Billionaire’s Vinegar,” will reveal how the passion for collecting something can go wild.
What The Book Lacked: Two Ways It Could Be Better
There were two main areas where the book could have been better. Neither of these weaknesses is a critical flaw by any stretch. First, there were no illustrations. The paperback edition of the book had no illustrations at all. Fortunately, the book cover photo of one of the 1780s wine bottles was a good start. Second, the book did not have a further reading section. The author does an excellent job providing detailed endnotes that state his sources such as Thomas Jefferson’s letters, countless original interviews, and more. However, I would have liked to have a “further reading” section with a few suggestions on other books the reader might pick up to deepen their knowledge of wine, history, or Jefferson. Aside from these two minor weaknesses, I recommend the book to anyone curious about the world of fine wines.
What To Read After The Billionaire’s Vinegar?
After you read “The Billionaire’s Vinegar,” what should you read next? Check out this guide to wine fiction. You will find recommendations on 13 wine novels including some well known ones like “Sideways” and “A Good Year.”