Anyone who has ever stopped into a Virginia winery likely knows about a certain famous Virginian's near obsession with wine. While most know Thomas Jefferson as the author of the Declaration of Independence whose monument has a primo view of the cherry blossoms, wine lovers remember him as one of their own.
From his own Quixotic attempt to grow wines that would rival those of Bordeaux in his native Virginia to his passion for sharing and drinking those same French wines, Thomas Jefferson was a passionate wine drinker.
When a bottle of Chateau Lafite that supposedly belonged to Jefferson came up for auction, it became the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold. From there, the story told in The Billionaire's Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace unfolds - opening up a world of wine writers, critics, auctioneers, winery owners, con men and James Bond super-villain style wealthy eccentrics who buy, sell and drink rare wines with other wine writers, critics, auctioneers, winery owners, con men and James Bond super-villain style wealthy eccentrics.
The book tells the story of this world in a gripping and captivating way, all the while offering more clues for the reader as to whether or not the bottle of Jefferson's authentic or not. I don't want to give too much away, because I urge you to read the book. Failing that, I urge you to see the movie starring Brad Pitt once it is released.
Through it all, the reader learns more about this small universe of highly-exclusive, super rare wine world where reputations are made and destroyed on the ability to provide the rarest wine possible, regardless of what it tastes like. The story weaves in Jefferson's own love of wine - all the while giving readers a glimpse into the types of people who would pay $156,450 for a bottle of wine and how, after paying that much, would have a vested interest in assuring that the bottle was authentic.
As a wine lover, I enjoyed reading the book as much for the supporting role Jefferson plays in the narrative as well as how the case of the Jefferson wines twists and turns. I was also saddened by the type of one-upmanship that the highly-exclusive wine drinkers demonstrated. For me, looking for the oldest and rarest wine would take away from the enjoyment of actually drinking the wine.
With spring and summer upon us, The Billionaire's Vinegar is a great book to read along with a glass of wine, giving a hat tip to Thomas Jefferson and letting the uber-wealthy enjoy wine that is overpriced and way past its prime.