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Billionaires Vinegar

 


‘Wine is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” Benjamin Franklin

In what may yet be another movie, based on the book “Billionaires Vinegar - The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine” by Benjamin Wallace, the narrative focuses on the scandal surrounding an auctioned cache of wine bottles purported to have been owned by wine enthusiast Thomas Jefferson. It included the mystery of the world’s most expensive bottle of wine, to date. It was a 1787 Chateau Laffite with the initials “ThJ” etched in the side that sold, to the Forbes family, at auction, in 1985 for $156,000. It is a journey into the lucrative world of fraud and counterfeiting that would appear to have faked out the whole of the haute wine world, pouring common vintages into old bottles or reproducing old bottles and labels and passing them off as precious rarities. It is a story to which we don’t yet really know how it ends.

It would seem that lavish, exclusive and quite decadent parties are organized with tastings of old, rare and renowned if not legendary vintages like Chateau Laffite, Petrus, Romanee Conti, Yquem or Chateau Margaux. Some have been described in superlative terms having survived many decades if not centuries in caves and cellars.

In the collectable wine industry, wealthy individuals are known to hoard huge collections valued at millions of dollars with individual bottles selling at auction for tens of thousands of dollars each. It is clear that pretense, ego, envy and trophyism all play some part in this snobbery. The good news is that while a curious topic with an air of mystery, luxury and conspicuous consumption this article will be short as this does not much apply to kosher wine.

There is even a story about sweet Champagne found in a 200 year old ship wreck in the Baltic Sea that was described as “fantastic”. Can a wine survive 200 years and still taste good? I have never been invited. There are conflicting opinions. Some actually argue that wine will never again be as good as pre-phylloxera wines when the vines were grown on the original root stocks. Perhaps the wines were different but I have a hard time believing they were better given all the other improvements in enology and viticulture.

Such attitudes contribute to and promote the mystique, status, and ultimate exclusivity of fine wine. To inspire conduct that is deceptive and fraudulent is decidedly not kosher, but then again as I said earlier, neither is the wine.

While I certainly have some wines that I am saving for special occasions or have acquired when I thought they represented a special value I do not have a vast wine collection or cellar. It is my view that there are stunning quantities of wine in decline in racks and cellars all around the world. It is a very small minority that truly benefits from long term storage.

"By making this wine vine known to the public, I have rendered my country as great a service as if I had enabled it to pay back the national debt." Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was a true wine enthusiast often spending vast sums to import wine directly from the top vineyards of France. If you visit Monticello today you can still walk among the vineyards used by Jefferson in his production of wine there.

I understand the first promotional use of an imprinted T-shirt was in 1939 to publicize the movie “The Wizard of Oz.” Prior to that, T-shirts were presumably white and used for underwear. Today, imprinted T-shirts and sportswear represent a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide. You can buy a perfectly usable, plain T-shirt for a dollar or so but put a vanity logo or commercial emblem on it and it can be twenty dollars or more.

There are some great labels and packages out there, making wine an even more desirable gift item. But beware: Wine can also be a product for which far more attention is paid to the package than the contents. You will have to wait until I take on “single malt scotch” in my next book on kosher liquor, beer and liqueur to get my view on that industry.

So we are left to ponder which factor is most important: image or identity. This, after all, is a good criterion to consider in making choices in general in life, another one of those profound wine metaphors related to balance: Money, power, status and influence or humanity, dignity, charity and compassion. Is wine a blessing or a curse?