Stories by Felix Salmon

The $34K bottle of wine

A liber pater ad.
The 2009 wine, at $4,500 a bottle, was a lot cheaper than the 2015 will be.

Loïc Pasquet is probably the most controversial winemaker in the world. He specializes in making wine the way it was made before the phylloxera epidemic wiped out most of France's grapes in the 19th century. His ungrafted vines bear rare varietals like castets, mancin and pardotte, and he ages his wines in amphorae rather than oak barrels.

Where it stands: In 2015, 500 of Pasquet's precious autochthonous vines were destroyed by vandals who cut them down to the roots; a couple of months later, Pasquet was found guilty of defrauding the European Union of more than $650,000 that he received in aid and grants for promoting his wine, mostly in China.

Millions of Americans make 5x leveraged bets on their homes

Data: Unison Home Price Volatility Index; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

You wouldn't make a 5x leveraged bet on the S&P 500 — not unless you were an extremely sophisticated financial arbitrageur, or a reckless gambler.

Even then you wouldn't put substantially all of your net worth into such a bet. Stocks are just too volatile. But millions of Americans make 5x leveraged bets on their homes — that's what it means to borrow 80% of the value of the house and put just 20% down.

Jeffrey Epstein and the utility of fake billions

Illustration of a one hundred dollar bill, Benjamin Franklin has a Pinocchio-like nose.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

It's easier to turn power into money than it is to turn money into power. That said, if you want power, and even if you want money, it helps a lot if people think you're a billionaire.

Driving the news: Jeffrey Epstein, whose pedophilia is now back in the public eye, was almost invariably described as a billionaire even when there was no evidence that he was worth anywhere near that much money.