Game time: see if you can correctly identify the photo of an official state wine cellar with the correct country, US, UK, and France.
Okay, okay, it’s photographic hyperbole — but the White House really doesn’t have a wine cellar to speak of. Downing Street (top) buys the wines on release and stores them for official occasions. Buckingham Palace has some terrific wines too as you may recall that when Obama went there on a state visit, the Queen uncorked some DRC and ’63 port. The Elysée Palace (middle) has an impressive cellar, as you might expect. The White House, by contrast, procures wines for state functions on-demand so rarely serves wines with much age on them.
The relative paucity of the White House wine cellar has its roots in our country’s love/hate relationship with alcohol: loved it so much that it became a political issue leading to Prohibition. While the shadow of Prohibition looms over the industry in the form of restrictions interstate shipments (among other things), the fact is that Americans are into wine now, as witnessed by instagram feeds or the fact that per capita consumption has increased for 20 consecutive years. So a big chunk of America would probably take pride in having some decent American wines slumbering in the White House basement.
How likely is that to happen? When pigs fly. The UK and France have both reduced their wine collections recently in the name of austerity. China introduced a ban on expensive alcohol at state banquets in the last quarter of 2011. And with an economy that’s not exactly firing on all cylinders here, there’s no way the White House would engender criticism for that kind of expenditure. Still, an American wine lover can but dream. Maybe, as a matter of national pride, Bill Koch could endow the White House with a starter collection of well-vetted wines from his cellar? Read more…
President Francois Hollande has many notale differences from his predecessor. But the one that most concerns us: he actually likes wine.
So it may come as somewhat of a surprise that he is trimming the presidential wine cellar, putting 1,200 bottles–about 10 percent of the stash–on the block. But at least it’s for a good cause since the sale at the end of May will go toward a cellar rehab.
The cellar has some gems, as you might expect, including 1990 Petrus. But all the wines have the patina of the state functions. Virginie Routis, chef sommelière of the Palace, made the selections about which wines to put on the block. Kapandji Morhange will start the sale on May 30.
Thanks to a 2012 posting on La Feuille de Vigne, we have some intel on who liked what at the Elysée:
* Charles De Gaulle created the wine cellar
* Madame Chirac had a weak spot for Pauillac wines, which explains why they are overrepresented.
* St. Estephe? The site credits these selections to Mitterrand.
* Burghound? That was Valérie Giscard d’Estaing who was a member of the Chevalier du Tastevin. Read more…
The BBC has a story out on the UK Government’s wine cellar, valued at about $5 million. Needless to say, it puts the dinky White House collection to shame. (Check out the slideshow from the London vaults.)
One item that grabbed some attention in the vinosphere is that they served Obama a wine their tasters had described as “soapy” at his last state dinner at Buckingham Palace. In 2008, they wrote, “Slightly soapy odd palate – hope it comes round. Review in 2011.” Upon review in February 2011, they wrote, “Not soapy, but harsh acidity.” Then the wine was served at the May 2011 state dinner. The article does not note the feedback, if any, from the Palace.
So what was the nasty wine? Well, digging through our “Leaders and Liters” series, we can inform the vintelligentsia that it was the 2004 Domaine William Fevre, “Les Clos,” a grand cru site in Chablis. (Find this wine at retail.) You can check out a few critical reviews here, where the scores ranged from 92-96 points, and none of them used the word “soapy” or comments on the acidity in a negative way. In fact, they bandy around terms such as “star of this extraordinary line-up” at William Fevre, “show-stopping,” “suave,” “seamless,” with an “incredibly intense finish that reminded me more than a little of a great Corton-Charlemagne.” (Whew, that read like a Zagat tasting note.) Clearly premature oxidation is an issue with white burgs, but harsh acidity is not commonly a premox note.
So, what say you: should the White House be offended that they were served a wine their internal tasters panned? Or is the BBC trying to gin up some controversy since the wine has a pedigree and was well-reviewed? See the rest of the wines served at the state dinner. Pity we don’t have the tasting notes for the rest of the wines–would love to have seen how their tasters reviewed the 1990 Domaine de la Romanée Conti, Echezeaux or the ’63 port–such dogs!
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.
Thomas Jefferson is often known in wine circles as the best friend that wine enthusiasts ever had in the White House. He might even have been the sommelier-in-chief since he frequently poured wine at official functions (he abhorred whiskey, the main drink of the day) and had wine vaults built below the east colonnade for his collection. At that time, entertaining expenses came out of the president’s own pocket; a story in the now-defunct Wine News once put the valuation at $11,000, or about $200,000 in today’s money.
However, Jefferson was also complicated and deeply hypocritical argues an op-ed in yesterday’s Times. While Jefferson maintained that men were “created equal” in the Declaration of Independence, he continued to own slaves at Monticello for fifty years after the Declaration even while some (but not all) of his contemporaries freed theirs. And to make the connection to wine, there was this passage in the op-ed:
[Jefferson] sold at least 85 humans in a 10-year period to raise cash to buy wine, art and other luxury goods.
The article doesn’t state whether this was after his presidency. But it does reveal the economic basis for at least some of his wine purchases, which casts the real Jefferson bottles in a different light.
Even though their positions still seem far apart, the general tone afterward was positive and one of comity (probably better than comedy, in this situation). Setting the mood early, President Obama publicly wished Speaker Boehner a happy birthday before the meeting started. Afterward, Boehner’s aide was seen carrying a wine bottle in a shimmering bag. The Times wrote that Boehner prefers merlot, but that the president gave him a 1997 Brunello, “a pricey Italian red.” Boehner’s aide later tweeted a picture of the 1997 Poggio Antico, “Altero.” (find this wine)
No matter how you look at it, the gesture was very nice. But wine geeks can now parse it for meaning: would a ’97 Barolo have shown hard tannins and indicate the president was digging in his heels? Or is Obama showing the rewards of patience, meaning he’s ready to pop and pour, as it were?
Either way, the gift makes for better diplomacy than giving Boehner some Ding Dongs, which are quickly on their way to becoming collectibles.
The former Soviet republic of Georgia has found an unusual labor source at harvest time: Former candidates for President and Vice President of the USA.
John McCain and Joe Lieberman picked grapes at the vineyard of the Georgian president and then crushed them underfoot. Mmm.
Which election year will we see current candidates for high office posing for the cameras and doing harvest work in the US? It will take a while for the perception of wine as some effete drink to wear off before it transforms into something that the coveted everyman voter likes to drink. I’ll go with 2032.
(Note: photo of McCain and Lieberman in action not available.)