The Jefferson Bottles

I’ve been a little obsessed with the story in this week’s double issue of the New Yorker about high-flying wine counterfeiters since I read it last weekend. I think it’s a great story. (A great movie?)

Anyhow, if you’re not a subscriber, you can now read it here.

Starting in 1980, Rodenstock began holding lavish annual wine tastings, weekend-long affairs attended by wine critics, retailers, and various German dignitaries and celebrities. He opened scores of old and rare wines, all provided at his own expense, and served in custom-made “Rodenstock” glasses that were supplied by his friend the glassmaker Georg Riedel. Impeccably dressed, wearing stylish Rodenstock eyeglasses and shirts with stiff white collars, he bantered with guests, exclaiming, over an especially fine bottle, “Ja, unglaublich! One hundred points!” He was punctilious about being on time, barring latecomers, and when serving older wines he banned spitting, which prompted some guests, alarmed at the number of bottles they would be sampling, to hide spittoons in their laps. “You don’t spit away history,” Rodenstock admonished them. “You drink it.”

Rodenstock made no secret of having discovered the Jefferson bottles; on the contrary, the record sale to Forbes had made him a celebrity in the wine world. In the spring of 1985, he would later explain, he received a phone call about an interesting discovery in Paris, where someone had stumbled upon some dusty old bottles, each inscribed with the letters “Th.J.” Rodenstock refused to reveal who had sold him the bottles, but apparently the seller did not realize the significance of the initials. “It was like the lottery,” Rodenstock said of the experience. “It was simply good luck.” He would not say how many bottles there were—in some accounts, it was “a dozen or so,” in others, as many as thirty. Nor would he disclose the address in Paris where they were discovered.

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