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Books — Wine forgery is explored in Wallace’s book

By Angela Shah

McClatchy Newspapers

"The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery of the World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine" is a cautionary tale: Money will make you stupid.

Benjamin Wallace takes us on a tour of the ridiculously rich, the underworld of wine forgery and a Founding Father’s great passion. We begin in the august auction rooms of Christie’s in London, where a Forbes scion in 1985 pays a record $156,000 for a bottle of 1787 Chateau Lafite Bordeaux believed to have been owned by Thomas Jefferson.

For nearly 300 pages, Wallace takes us on a tour of how wine moved beyond agricultural foodstuff to pricey collectible.

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Enthusiastic to show off their good taste, not to mention their fat wallets, a small group of collectors worldwide threw extravagant "mega-tastings" with dozens of wines.

The most riveting part of the story is the mystery of Hardy Rodenstock, former rock band manager turned wine whisperer. The German had a knack for finding the rarest of vintages.

Afraid of being cut out of Rodenstock’s clique, financiers, industrialists and scientists checked common sense at the door.

Even the so-called experts turned a blind eye to the apparent chicanery. Christie’s Michael Broadbent created modern wine auctions with the liquid treasure he unearthed from Britain’s castle cellars. He, too, was seduced by Rodenstock and went to extreme lengths to give him credibility as more collectors began to doubt him.

Wallace nicely peels back the covers of a world most of us will never see.

The book’s ending is lacking and feels rushed. Though the book suggests that Rodenstock was a fraud, hawking fake vintages, there’s no definitive conclusion, which is dissatisfying.

You want to see justice served, but perhaps his wealthy targets got what they deserved.

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