Daily Archives: December 2, 2008

The Billionaire’s Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace

The Forger’s Spell told the story of faking Rembrandt paintings. The Billionaire’s Vinegar tells the story of creating fake wines, to be sold at great profit to collectors in need of status symbols. You don’t need to know much about wine to enjoy the story (I certainly don’t) as the author explains the entire process not only of making wine but how wine has been preserved in casks and bottles over the years, how the corks, cork covers, and labels evolved, and how wine can easily serve to launder money and deceive even the experts because it’s not easily observable like a painting.

The Billionaire’s Vinegar also includes a piece of American history, as it follows a rare bottle supposedly rescued from Thomas Jefferson’s cellar while he was ambassador in Paris. The bottle is helpfully engraved with his initials, and eventually undergoes a thorough CSI-like analysis including the radioactivity of the bottle and of the wine within it and whether the engraving could indeed have been made with the engraving equipment available at the time — never mind that the resident Monticello expert concludes early on that since neither the wine nor the engraving are mentioned in Mr. Jefferson’s obsessive diaries (did you know he kept a copy of every letter he ever sent?) the bottle is probably a fake. Along the way hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent acquiring the bottle, and others, and several reputations are undone.

Very enjoyable.

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