Inauguration wines: plonk and circumstance

Which corks will pop at the lunch immediately after President Obama’s second inauguration on January 21? With Charles Schumer as the chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee planning the inauguration festivities, wine enthusiasts could anticipate that New York wines would make a showing. Indeed, two appear on the menu: the 2009 dry riesling from Tierce in the Finger Lakes will accompany the lobster and Bedell Cellars’ 2009 merlot pairs with the bison. While I haven’t tried these wines, it’s refreshing to have estate wines from New York at the event instead of California wines dominating.

However, there’s some outrage that Korbel is being poured and in the fanfare announcing it where it was touted incorrectly as “Champagne.” While that is a valid point, let’s not lose the real focus here: they’re pouring Korbel at the inauguration! If a sailor offered such plonk to Neptune, the sailor would be practically baiting ramming whales, storms, broken masts and scurvy. The wine is not representative of the exciting things happening in California wine today. Granted, there are surprisingly few quality sparkling wine producers. But finding a good one shouldn’t be too hard for a committee whose members just averted the fiscal cliff. Now, if only they could bring us back from the edge of this vinous precipice.

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23 Responses to “Inauguration wines: plonk and circumstance”

  1. …and hell, if we are on New york: I can come up with at least three Finger Lakes bubblers that would rate at the top of the domestic heap.

  2. Or Virginia sparkling..

  3. Curmudgeon: give me a name or two. Haven’t had a VA sparkler and would like a try.

    Are you still judging the Eastern Intl.? I’ve been abandoned.

  4. VA sparkling? Thibaut-Janisson is on a lot of top wine lists in DC.

  5. They are idiots. There is an awesome sparkler made just about 100 miles from the Capitol, Virginia’s incredibly charming traditional method Thibault-Jannison. Like Champagne with a spark of independence. Grown and produced near Monticello. Fairly priced. Duh.

  6. It is appalling that Korbel was selected as the sparkling wine. It is a terrible wine, and Korbel’s insistence on using “Champagne” on their labels and web site is indefensible. Chuck Shumer scored with the NY wines, but who picked Korbel? After all, Gary B. Heck, owner/president of Korbel, contributed thousands to Mitt Romney’s campaign.

  7. Maybe it’s to encourage Republicans to toast Obama responsibly. Korbel isn’t a bad product at all, but it’s a tawdry, ill-considered mismatch to the occasion. I hope it’s just a blip on the part of whoever did it.

  8. Er, um, at the risk of sounding ironically obvious, I would suspect that selection of wines for these affairs is all politics!

  9. I agree 1000% with Thibaut-Janisson over Korbel. Plus, the White House is clearly familiar with it; they’ve served it at state dinners and other official events!

  10. How many people will be swilling the stuff? Maybe Microsoft didn’t come up with enough money to support the festivities? And could Obama win some votes with a Red State offering? Maybe a nice Utah, Nebraska or Wyoming ;).

  11. I had the good fortune to be at one of the Clinton White House Christmas dinners (outside, actually) where Iron Horse Wedding Cuvee was served. It was quite good, actually. I’m noy sure who is charge but there are decent American choices – from Virginia, New York and Michigan as well as the West – and there is no reason not to choose them. Except, of course, many/most(?) of the people in the wine biz are Republicans.

  12. I guess Senator Schumer is not a subscriber of Wine Advocate. I am certain that Parker and Galloni would not agree with these suspect choices.
    There are no 07 CdP’s, 09 Bordeaux or 2010 California Cabernets on the list. Oh the Humanity.

  13. Of note: this is the Joint Congressional Committee organizing this lunch at the Capitol. Schumer is chairman, Nancy Pelosi is the only California representative on the committee. It is not a White House function per se. Here’s the link:

  14. Thomas – which ones do you like from NY? Probably, for political balance, it’s good to have more than one state’s wines represented.

    Curmudgeon – Yes, which do you like from VA?

    As to those suggesting Thibaut-Janisson, it may well have been a good choice (I haven’t tried those wines). But they do seem to be a favorite of the White House Usher, Daniel Shanks, as they have appeared at several state dinners.

  15. Douglas – Thanks for the info about Gary B. Heck’s contributions to Mitt Romney — ah, the irony!

    Here’s the link for those who missed it:

  16. It might be interesting to try to match the chosen wines to D.C. wholesalers and then look at donations. Might explain the some of the choices. It’s improbable Shanks (at Chandon prior to White House) would not have been involved in a decision that put Korbel on the menu. If the decision was based on political leanings I think Schramsberg would have been a good choice.

  17. Tyler,

    There are about a dozen FL sparkler producers that make me smile. Here are six: Chateau Frank, Glenora, Wiemer (sparkling Riesling), Lamoreaux Landing, Goose Watch, Casa Larga, McGregor.

    You have to make a trip up this way soon.

  18. I can understand the omission of Texas wines from the wine list since President Obama will snub Texas every opportunity he can. It is politics as usual. What no fruit wines from Hawaii or Miller Lite?

  19. I believe the choice of Korbel is brilliant. It tells the majority of the people in the USA that the White House has chosen a modestly priced wine. It allows people to toast with their favorite affordable “champagne” at a national event. Choosing a smaller production sparkler could have invited comments on how elitist the administration is and how no one could find the “champagne” at their local store.

  20. Funny from Huff Post.

    We would urge the inaugural committee to follow that law and not state the sparkling wine being served is Champagne, as they did in today’s release,” director of the Champagne Bureau Sam Heitner told The Hill, urging them to use the term “California Champagne” instead. “Champagne only comes from Champagne, France,” he added.

    Well, excusez-moi.

    Yet, it seems Heitner does have a point. Most countries only recognize sparkling wine as champagne when it comes from the particular region in France. The U.S. only allows winemakers to use the word “Champagne” if the sparkling wine’s origins are clearly stated and it was made before 2006.

    The French are known to be particularly persnickety about their wines. They’ve also taken issue with the U.S. using the term Chateau on wine labels, the Washington Post reports.

    In response, the Americans seem markedly less concerned by the error. Matt House, spokesman for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, who urged the lobby to “have a glass of their own product and relax.

    Meanwhile, California Rep. Jared Huffman says the French are just jealous.
    (Jared Huffman (born February 18, 1964) is the U.S. Representative for California’s 2nd congressional district which covers the North Coast from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border) I think that covers Napa/Sonoma???

    “Only the finest champagne should be served at President Obama’s inauguration celebrations, and in my opinion, the Inaugural Committee made the right call,” he told the New York Daily News.

    Korbel Natural=only the finest Champagne?
    Okay if you say so Representative Huffman. At least it aon’t tea served at the party.

  21. […] all the uproar over Korbel “champagne” being poured at Monday’s inauguration, it’s time to […]

  22. Hey, it’s not just any old Korbel plonk. Sez here it’s a “Special Inaugural Cuvée.”

    Rep. Huffman: Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

  23. If they any real knowledge of a great California sparkling wine they would have chosen Schramsberg.


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