True crime meets rare, expensive French wine.
There’s not much actual poison in the narrative. In reality, the plot involved just one sick mind attempting to extort €1 million from one of the richest men in France. This book is much more a reflection of Potter’s exposure to Burgundy on assignment for Vanity Fair in 2011. His first taste of the heady wine was a 1999 La Tâche, which was worth hundreds of dollars per bottle. During his assignment, the author received personal guidance through the best wineries in the world by the vignerons, and he was shown the basic art of creating the “ghost in a glass.” The real star of the book is Aubert de Villaine, the proprietor of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Growing up amid the vines, he produced wine of the greatest quality when others produced only quantity; he is the face and the driving force of Burgundy’s heritage. Through his eyes, readers see the rich history of wine production in this fecund area of the world, which has consistently produced what have been the most expensive wines in France for almost 300 years. “At auction,” writes the author, “a single bottle of Romanée-Conti from 1945 was then fetching as much as $124,000.” The Institut National des Appellations d’Origine codified the hierarchy of French wine in 1935, taking into consideration the history of the vines and the remarkable science and mysticism of terroir. Though Potter does explore this concept and provides a solid picture of Villaine and his top-notch wines, the true crime narrative doesn’t live up to the billing.
The countryside backdrop is much more interesting that the supposedly hideous criminal plot, but the book may be useful as a guide to the wines of the Côte D’Or.