Leaders, wine and war: a taste test

Heads of state, heads of governments, leaders of the sovereign—whether they sit atop dictatorships, democracies, or feudal orders—often have a passion for the fruits of the vine. Louis XIV kept the aristocrats well lubricated at Versailles. Thomas Jefferson tried (unsuccessfully) to plant vines at his property in Virginia following a stint as Ambassador to France. Winston Churchill celebrated the end of WWII (and everything else) with some Pol Roger Champagne.

Today’s leaders have brought us to the brink of war. Can their wine preferences help us predict the outcome? I have sorted through my clip file and have this quiz to offer. Connect the leaders involved in the current realpolitik with their preferred drink.

Mix ‘n match—who likes what?

Leader list Wine preference choices
1. Jacques Chirac a. “Lots of French wine, in big glasses”
2. Tony Blair b. Teetotaler
3. Vladimir Putin c. “Sickly sweet Portuguese rosé”
4. George Bush d. French wine and lots of it
5. Saddam Hussein e. Anything goes
6. Gerhard Schroeder f. Teetotaler
7. Kim Jong-Il g. Doesn’t linger over a bottle the way he used to

Before revealing the answers to the quiz, the general theme here of wine in international relations does provide the opportunity to mention a couple other instances of wine as a political symbol.

Pity the French who are the major victims of this being the world's largest wine exporter. Indeed, when trade disputes break out among advanced industrial societies, symbolic products such as wine or cheeses are often the targets of stiff tariffs (or even those nasty non-tariff barriers). Beyond trade, the ruffling of diplomatic feathers provokes a similar response. When the French announced nuclear tests in the south, what did the Australians do? Why boycotted French wine, of course. Whenever the Americans do something controversial, flags are burned, McDonald's windows broken, Coke is boycotted. Wine hasn't made it to a national symbol yet for the US.

So, getting back to our leaders, who are the teetotalers among them? Surely they must include the only Islamic leader in the bunch. In fact, no. The two teetotalers are George Bush, who now has sworn off the stuff, and Vladimir Putin.

Several contenders are out there for the French wine title. Surely one must be Jacques Chirac? Indeed it is. He likes lots of French wine having been embroiled in a scandal while mayor of Paris for having improperly spent 2.2 million euros (about $2.3 million) on food and wine from 1987-1995 (The Independent, October 30, 2002).

Who else? Kim Jong-Il, it turns out, likes "lots of French wine, in big glasses" according to a source in the Financial Times (October 19, 2002). Maybe Chirac has more diplomatic leverage here than previously thought?

Anything goes? Well, that, of course, is Tony Blair. At the Anglo-French meeting at Le Touquet on February 4, the wines included Saint Aubin premier cru 1997 and Taittinger Champagne (FT 2/5/03). But he has also been photographed returning from the bar with a couple of pints. (Prince Charles, for what its worth, who was in France recently promoting and eating British beef, declared "nothing enhances the flavor of beef like a glass of good French red wine." Unfortunately there was none on hand and the staff had to scramble to find some. Daily Telegraph, 2/7/03)

So who doesn't have the time to enjoy wine the way he used to? Must be Saddam, bracing himself. In fact, no it is Gerhard Schroeder, the German Chancellor. Winning re-election in September has given Schroeder new issues to brood over. The Times of London claimed that "instead of lingering over a bottle of wine as he [Schroeder] would four years ago, he rushed back to his papers" after a non-political meeting (12/16/02). "He is like a dog that cannot settle" the columnist quoted a Schroeder "courtier" as saying.

Lastly, that leaves the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein with "sickly sweet Portuguese rosé" (NYT, 12/15/02). Indeed, in his recent book on the Iraqi leader, "King of Terror," Con Coughlin chronicles Saddam's rise to power in the 1970s and how he developed a taste for the sweet Mateus rosé (along with American-style ribs, fancy suits, and racetrack gambling). Wow. Rosé. Hopefully this information will make it to the Security Council.

The answers

Leader list Wine preferences
1. Jacques Chirac d. French wine and lots of it
2. Tony Blair e. Anything goes
3. Vladimir Putin b. Teetotaler
4. George Bush f. Teetotaler
5. Saddam Hussein c. "Sickly sweet Portuguese rosé"
6. Gerhard Schroeder g. Doesn't linger over a bottle the way he used to
7. Kim Jong-Il a. "Lots of French wine, in big glasses"
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2 Responses to “Leaders, wine and war: a taste test”

  1. […] Given Kim’s apparent deteriorating health, would he and President Roh Moo-hyun raises glasses of wine to toast the summit? As the picture picture above shows, he’s still enjoying red wine in big crystal glasses! […]

  2. […] time I see a bocksbeutel (not to be mistaken for similarly shaped bottles of Mateus [ironically, Saddam's favorite wine–ed.]), I automatically buy it. Unfortunately, they’re so popular in Franconia, that Franken […]


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