The Billionaire's Vinegar (MP3): The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine

by Benjamin Wallace, Dennis Boutsikaris

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On December 5, 1985, the world's most expensive bottle of wine, a 1787 Chateau Lafite, sold at auction at Christie's in London for $156,000. The bottle was believed to have been ordered but never received by Thomas Jefferson for his personal collection, and had been discovered with several other bottles in a bricked up cellar in Paris two centuries later. The winning bidders, the Forbes family, immediately displayed their prize under a spotlight at their Fifth Avenue galleries building, where the bright light shriveled the cork, which fell into the bottle, and the wine quickly turned into the world's most expensive bottle of vinegar.

THE BILLIONAIRE'S VINEGAR is the story of this bottle (and other bottles from the same cache) and the cast of characters whose lives it touched: Thomas Jefferson, in his day America's most prominent oenophile; the Forbes family; German rock promoter-turned-über collector Hardy Rodenstock; Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado publisher Marvin Shanken; old-school British auctioneer Michael Broadbent; and others. It also investigates—and answers—the questions surrounding the bottles' apparent disappearance and rediscovery, the longest-running mystery in the modern wine world.

Recently, the story has taken a fascinating twist: relying on newly available scientific methods for evaluating old bottles of wine, a Texas billionaire who also bought one of the Jefferson bottles is now suing Hardy Rodenstock for fraud—and in the process threatens to bring the rare wine world to its knees.

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