State dinner numero dos: Brut-al wine pairings

Last night, the Obamas welcomed President Calderón of Mexico and Mrs. Margarita Zavala to the White House for a state dinner, the second of this administration. As with the first menu, the dishes served offered a tip of the toque to the visiting dignitaries’ cuisine. This time they brought in Chef Rick Bayless who is known more for his exploring the regional foods of Mexico than for his Burger King ad.

For his part, Daniel Shanks, the White House wine steward, tried once again to derail international relations with the wine pairings. When will they start color coding the menus to warn the guests? The theme, apparently, was California wines with ties to Mexico. Given that, here’s the range of California wines they could choose from: almost all of them. The California wine industry would produce few bottles of wine if it weren’t for the work of Mexican viticultural laborers. Raising any glass of California wine then on this august occasion could be accompanied by a mention of their enormous contributions. They could save the discussion on immigration policy for lunch.

Here’s the official menu, with wine pairings:

Jicama with Oranges, Grapefruit, and Pineapple
Citrus Vinaigrette

[Paul Hobbs?] Ulises Valdez Chardonnay 2007 “Russian River”

Herb Green Ceviche of Hawaiian Opah
Sesame-Cilantro Cracker

Oregon Wagyu Beef in Oaxacan Black Mole
Black Bean Tamalon and Grilled Green Beans

Herrera Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 “Selección Rebecca”

Chocolate-Cajeta Tart
Toasted Homemade Marshmallows
Graham Cracker Crumble and Goat Cheese Ice Cream

Mumm Napa “Carlos Santana Brut” N/V

For the first two courses, nothing pairs with citrus and ceviche like a 14.7% alcohol Chardonnay! Ulises Valdez has a compelling story, no doubt, but perhaps his Sauvignon Blanc might have made a better pairing? (Assuming, that is, that the Chardonnay on the menu was made by Ulises Valdez–there is no mention of the wine on his website, but there is a 2007 Ulises Valdez Chardonnay made by Paul Hobbs.) The third course might actually work, given the chocolately sweetness of the mole that may be reflected in the wine. But with the dessert course, it’s hard to know what’s the most disastrous, pouring a celebrity wine or offering a brut sparkling wine with chocolate and marshmallows!

If you were the sommelier for the day, what would you pour?

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28 Responses to “State dinner numero dos: Brut-al wine pairings”

  1. Ouch on the immigration discussion!

  2. My family is origninally from Mexico (via Switzerland in the 1900´s), so I would have poured our 2005 La Cruz Syrah to pair with the Black mole Beef. There is a hint of sweetness in black mole that really works well with syrah that also has a touch of sweetness and nice tanins to really give you a nice experience.

  3. For dessert, no question, I would pour a Viognier. In the winter at my winery (Hard Row to Hoe, Washington State) we serve just-barely-dry Viognier with s’mores around the bonfire. The cold, crisp Viognier with the sweet, warm, gooey marshmallows and chocolate…sublime!

  4. Bill Daley of the Chicago Tribune was apparently as baffled as I was about the Valdez wine. So he called the winery and found out that it is an as-yet-unreleased Chardonnay made by Ulises Valdez. Contrary to what was stated on the menu, it is a 2008 wine and from the Valdez’s Silver Eagle Vineyard in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley.

    Read his full posting here:

  5. Geez, international relations are difficult enough without a wine steward doing his best to sabotage them. I’m no expert at pairing with Mexican food, but you don’t have to be to know that these wines aren’t the best choices. If even a wine steward can’t get beyond Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, how can we expect the rest of the country to? The White House should hire someone willing to leave the familiar behind pronto.

    How about a St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc, a Riesling or a sparkling wine with the ceviche? What about a Ravenswood Zinfandel with the beef? (Not sure about this one. Just a thought.) Quady would probably have something perfect for the dessert.

  6. Congrats to the Valdez family.
    But 2008? Where is it on the oakamometer at this point in its life? Chard is a food wine not a salad wine.
    Doesn’t that house have a cellar? Or did Chaney take it with him?
    OK, it is a great promotion. But I’d have looked around for something in the California Sherry taste-alike category against citrus and vinegar.
    Next time, they should do Ceja in Napa (they have a great bar/salon in downtown Napa where they teach salsa on Saturdays. Dancing would have paired well with Michelle’s beat obesity program.)
    I wonder what WSWA would have proposed? Or did they?

  7. Let´s hope they read this blog and see that there are people out there who actually care what you drink with what you eat.

  8. Uh oh! What would you have chosen, Dr. Vino?

  9. I, too, am flabbergasted at these wine choices. I should apply for that job!

    Agree that a sauvignon blanc, dry & crisp for the salad…although strictly from a pairing perspective, I wouldn’t choose a CA SB, but I understand their strategy. I like, even more, the suggestion for a sherry.

    Agree withe Zinfandel suggestion with the mole; or, a Rhone Ranger heavy on the grenache.

    The dessert sounds hideous regardless of the pairing, but even worse with their pairing. I would have done a white dessert wine from vidal blanc or chenin blanc. A red would probably not work with the marshmallows or goat cheese ice cream. It’s hard to say not knowing how much chocolate is in it. The viognier suggestion, to me, is almost as bad as the Brut.

  10. Dearest Doc, there seems to be a significant trend here. All who replied are women! (dont know about Drink me Mag).
    Maybe that is the disconnect between the plate and the pour at the White House.
    Considering you see few women commenting in the top wine blogs, this is a significant breakthrough (or significant that we are/step up to be designated “pairers”).
    And confirmation that we (not me, as you know) are serious lurkers.

  11. Definitely should have served a wine Armando of Ceja produced. Mexican Americans make the American wine industry possible, shamefully few have the chance to be successful and talented wine makers like Armando.

  12. I would have gone with Quady essencia or or something incolcing black muscat or whatever the equivalent of a California banyuls would have been.

  13. FYI,
    The wines are all made by Mi Sueno Winery.
    Rolando Herrera is the Owner-Winemaker and is a Mexican emigrant. Great Story, check it out!

  14. I would have chosen wines entirely differently, starting off with the attitude of an Alexander Valley Vineyard Gerwurtz, followed by one of Mexico’s oaked Cabs and finish with a Texas Port from Bernhardt Winery which has a well aged Cab finished with a 20 year old Brandy. Mole and Mexican Cab MMMMMM. Who cares about immigration when you have such diversification!

  15. With fresh oil bubble in Gulf choice of Exxon Valdez Chardonnay has ultimate perverse in the pairing! Real sommelier can be only the Dick Cheney! Don’t be so naive!

  16. Honestly, without having tasted the dishes or knowing the wines, I don’t see how people can dissect the selections that were made. Wine pairings are funny like that…sometimes things that don’t sound like they would work do and vice versa.

    Interesting idea to come up with your own pairings though…

  17. So many choices and this is what they come up with. The Obamas need a new wine guy!

  18. Thanks for your comments. Especially the funny ones!

    For more information on the Cejas that Chris proposes, here’s a piece on them from 2004:

    But, really, the role of Mexicans in the California/American wine industry is such a rich and important topic that the wine steward could have spun it in a lot of ways, especially to have both symbolism and the pleasure of a harmonious pairing. Although the tip of the toque approach to the menu is a nice touch in many ways, in the instances of both India and Mexico (the two state dinners thus far), it does ratchet up the degree of difficulty on the wine pairings, and would certainly make me think beyond chardonnay, cabernet and celebrity brut sparkling (of note: the last menu also featured a brut sparkler with dessert). But I would start with quality and style and then filter the wines by symbolic choices. Incidentally, it has been protocol for several decades to only pour domestic wines at the White House.

    Also, I wonder how they sourced the unreleased Valdez wine? Shanks told Bloomberg in that link above that they only buy from local wholesalers.

    But when I spoke with the previous executive chef at the White House, he said that they bought directly from wineries.

    Perhaps they are buying directly again? Would this help HR 5034 meet with a veto then if it ever got voted out of Congress?

  19. Everything in DC is politics. Everything. NVVA, WSWA, Mexico, encore. They all have lobbyists. (To promote or kill HR 5034, to negotiate trade tariffs).
    Were there reporters in the wine world, I’d tell them to call the Valdez family and ask who promoted them. Ask them whether the salad goes their wine. Ask if they tried to replicate the dinner. Ask if they were there.
    Then call WSWA and NVVA. And Thompson and the Wine Caucus and the White House sommelier.
    (Maybe someone has done this but I am busy…)
    Still, huge congrats to the Valdez family. It will be interesting to see the notes on a wine no one would have paid attention to otherwise.

  20. Tyler, while I was writing, your note appeared. Nice. Call the White House and ask. And WSWA. Bon courage.
    Is anyone monitoring the Spanish blogs?
    PS Happily, Chris agreed with my note on the Ceja family.

  21. […] los vinos descorchados, todos californianos, que da cuenta Mr. Tyler Colman en su reconocido blog Dr. Vino, me llamó la atención un “sombrerudo” que no tuvo la delicadeza de despojarse de su […]

  22. DC retailers can purchase directly from the winery — don’t know how that affects the White House… they obviously don’t sell wine, but the wine laws in DC are quite liberal.

    Also, CEJA does make some great wines that are very food friendly and they figure prominently among Mexican-American winemakers/vineyard owners.

    My 2 cents on the pairings:
    Matanzas Creek Sauvingnon Blanc
    Peter Michael Les Pavots
    Bonny Doon Dessert Muscat

  23. Interesting! Did you get to go?
    There are more and more wines actually coming out of Mexico too!

  24. […] The White House wine cellar is pretty small, less than 500 bottles, which has led to an (abysmally executed) ad hoc approach to formal dinners. But almost 40,000 bottles? That seems a little high, especially […]

  25. […] curry prawns – an “impossible” pairing from the White House state dinner” “State dinner numero dos: Brut-al wine pairings“ Permalink | Comments (11) | | American wine, leaders and liters This entry was […]

  26. […] 1990 Domaine de la Romanée Conti, Grands Echezaux; and a 1963 port. Just a tad better than the selections at the White […]

  27. Tyler, you should check with Robledo Family Winery. Reynoldo Robledo, Sr. was invited to the White House in 2010 when the Mexican President was visiting the White House.

  28. Daniel Shanks is the best for the job. You should read his choices listen and learn from his expertise !


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