Since most of us tend not to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a bottle of wine, the troubles of wealthy wine collectors would, under most circumstances, probably not be of much interest. But Ben Wallaces new book, The Billionaires Vinegar, provides a compelling peek into the counterfeit-wine game. The book, out this month, centers on the saga of a single bottle of 1787 Chateau Lafite, supposedly from the cellar of Thomas Jefferson, that was the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold. (The Forbes family bought it at auction for $156,000 in 1985.) The bottle turned out to be a fraud and, as Wallace tells us, introduced the concept of original sin to the wealthiest circles of wine collectors. The key agent of their disillusion? A billionaire who tracked the Jefferson bottle for twenty years, like Casper Gutman looking for the Maltese falcon, and proved it to be a fake.
The reverberations were still being felt as recently as last week, when Acker Merrill auctioned a very big, very important wine collection. The mood now is very much caveat emptor, Wallace says. His book is a kind of tour of this subculture of wealthy, powerful, obsessed, eccentric men (and they are virtually all men) who trophy-hunt these very rare and coveted wines and attend decadent tastings where they drink dozens and dozens of wines and spend thousands of dollars for the privilege. We hope they do get ripped off, and we hope we can read about that, too.
The Billionaire's Vinegar [Official site]
Disclosure: The book's author is married to Daily Intel's Jessica Pressler, but so great is our class anxiety that we absolutely would have read this tale of rich people getting hosed, either way.