Synopses & Reviews
It was the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold.
In 1985, at a heated auction by Christies of London, a 1787 bottle of Château Lafite Bordeaux—one of a cache of bottles unearthed in a bricked-up Paris cellar and supposedly owned by Thomas Jefferson—went for $156,000 to a member of the Forbes family. The discoverer of the bottle was pop-band manager turned wine collector Hardy Rodenstock, who had a knack for finding extremely old and exquisite wines. But rumors about the bottle soon arose. Why wouldnt Rodenstock reveal the exact location where it had been found? Was it part of a smuggled Nazi hoard? Or did his reticence conceal an even darker secret?
It would take more than two decades for those questions to be answered and involve a gallery of intriguing players—among them Michael Broadbent, the bicycle-riding British auctioneer who speaks of wines as if they are women and staked his reputation on the record-setting sale; Serena Sutcliffe, Broadbents elegant archrival, whose palate is covered by a hefty insurance policy; and Bill Koch, the extravagant Florida tycoon bent on exposing the truth about Rodenstock.
Pursuing the story from Monticello to London to Zurich to Munich and beyond, Benjamin Wallace also offers a mesmerizing history of wine, complete with vivid accounts of subterranean European laboratories where old vintages are dated and of Jeffersons colorful, wine-soaked days in France, where he literally drank up the culture.
Suspenseful, witty, and thrillingly strange, The Billionaires Vinegar is the vintage tale of what could be the most elaborate con since the Hitler diaries. It is also the debut of an exceptionally powerful new voice in narrative non-fiction.
"The titular bottle, from a cache of allegedly fine, allegedly French wine, allegedly owned by Thomas Jefferson in the 1780s, set a record price when auctioned in 1985. The subsequent brouhaha over the cache's authenticity takes wine journalist Wallace on a piquant journey into the mirage-like world of rare wines. At its center are Hardy Rodenstock, an enigmatic German collector with a suspicious knack for unearthing implausibly old and drinkable wines, and Michael Broadbent, a Christie's wine expert, who auctioned Rodenstock's lucrative finds. The argument over the Jefferson bottles and other rarities aged for decades, flummoxed a wine establishment desperate to keep the cork in a controversy that might deflate the market for antique vintages. (In the author's telling, a 2006 lawsuit almost settles the issue.) Wallace sips the story slowly, taking leisurely digressions into techniques for faking wine and detecting same with everything from Monticello scholarship to nuclear physics. He paints a colorful backdrop of eccentric oenophiles, decadent tastings and overripe flavor rhetoric (Broadbent describes one wine as redolent of chocolate and 'schoolgirls' uniforms'). Investigating wines so old and rare they could taste like anything, he playfully questions the very foundations of connoisseurship." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"It is the fine details the bouquet, the body, the notes, the finish that make this book such a lasting pleasure, to be savored and remembered long after the last page is turned. Ben Wallace has told a splendid story just wonderfully, his touch light and deft, his instinct pitch-perfect. Of all the marvelous legends of the wine trade, this curiously unforgettable saga most amply deserves the appellation: a classic." Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman and A Crack in the Edge of the World
"The Billionaire's Vinegar is the ultimate page-turner. Written with literary intelligence, it has a cast of characters like something out Fawlty Towers meets The Departed. It takes you into a subculture so deep and delicious, you can almost taste the wine that turns so many seemingly rational people into madmen. It is superb nonfiction." Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights
"Americaand#8217;s great art museums are the last sacred cows of our culture. It takes a special sort of intrepid investigator backed by a courageous organization to uncover the secrets and lies of these quasi-public institutions and the private agendas of their wealthy and influential patrons. Chasing Aphrodite
is the result of one such rare convergence. A scary, true tale of the blinding allure of great art and the power of the wealth that covets it, it is also an inspiring example of the only greater power: the truth."- and#160;Michael Gross, author of Roguesand#8217; Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money That Made the Metropolitan Museum
"A thrilling, well-researched book that offers readers a glimpse into the back-room dealings of a world-class museum--and the illegal trade of looted antiquities. Chasing Aphrodite should not be missed. " and#8211;Ulrich Boser, author of THE GARDNER HEIST: The True Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft
"Chasing Aphrodite is an epic story that, from the first page, grabs you by the lapels and wonand#8217;t let go. Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino have penetrated the inner sanctum of one of the worldand#8217;s most powerful museums, exposing how its caretakers and#8211; blinded by greed, arrogance and#12288;and self-deception and#8211; eagerly tapped international networks of criminals in pursuit of the next great masterpiece. and#12288;It is a breathtaking tale that I guarantee will keep you reading late into the night. - Kurt Eichenwald, author of CONSPIRACY OF FOOLS: A True Story
"Chasing Aphrodite is a brilliantly told, richly detailed, and vitally important account of how one of Americaand#8217;s top cultural institutions spent millions buying treasures stolen from ancient graves and then spent millions more trying to deny it. In the hands of Felch and Frammolino, the story gathers a riveting momentum as the Getty moves from one ethical smashup to another. The authors present an astonishing array of evidence, yet they are scrupulously balanced and keenly sensitive to the nuances of the cultural-property debate. Even if you think you know the story of the Getty, read this book. You wonand#8217;t know whether to laugh or to cry, but you will be enthralled."and#160; --Roger Atwood, author of Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World
Suspenseful, witty, and thrillingly strange, this work delivers the vintage tale of what could be the most elaborate con since the Hitler diaries.
In recent years, several of Americaand#8217;s leading art museums have voluntarily given up their finest pieces of classical art to the governments of Italy and Greece. The monetary value is estimated at over half a billion dollars. Why would they be moved to such unheard-of generosity?and#160;
The answer lies at the Getty, one of the worldand#8217;s richest and most troubled museums, and scandalous revelations that it had been buying looted antiquities for decades. Drawing on a trove of confidential museum records and frank interviews, Felch and Frammolino give us a fly-on-the-wall account of the inner workings of a world-class museum and tell the story of the Gettyand#8217;s dealings in the illegal antiquities trade. The outlandish characters and bad behavior could come straight from the pages of a thrillerand#8212;the wealthy recluse founder, the cagey Italian art investigator, the playboy curator, the narcissist CEOand#8212;but their chilling effects on the rest of the art world have been all too real, as the authors show in novelistic detail.and#160;
Fast-paced and compelling, Chasing Aphrodite exposes the layer of dirt beneath the polished faand#231;ade of the museum business.
Two investigative reporters for the Los Angelesand#160;Times explore the looted antiquities scandal at the Getty Museum.
About the Author
JASONandnbsp;FELCH is an investigative reporter with the Los Angeles Times
. In 2006 he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Reporting for exposing the role of the J. Paul Getty Museum and other American museums in the black market for looted antiquities. His work has also been honored by Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Education Writers Association, the National Association of Science Writers, and the Society for Environmental Journalism. He lives in Pasadena, California, with his wife and son.
RALPH FRAMMOLINO reported for nearly 25 years at the Los Angeles Times, where he and former colleague Jason Felch were finalists for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for their articles about the J. Paul Getty Museum and looted antiquities. His work has also appeared in the New York Times and the Columbia Journalism Review. Frammolino is now a media consultant for various aid projects in Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, where he trains working journalists on investigative reporting techniques and right to information laws.