Timothy Egan has a piece up on the Opinionator column of the NYT with a provocative thesis on the correlation between teetotalism and presidential leadership: “The nondrinkers, at least over the last century or so, were terrible presidents.” Our country has a history of both binging on alcohol and abstaining so it is in an interesting lens for looking at leadership. However, it’s not perfect since Nixon liked wine but his presidency undeniably ended in disgrace and even Herbert Hoover apparently once had a large wine cellar. (For a timely, overseas example on whom voters have yet to render final judgment, President Sarkozy is also a teetotaler.)
But in gazing at the drink preference of Mt. Rushmore’s faces, George Washington liked Madeira and became a whiskey distiller after leaving office, Jefferson, of course, was the best friend wine geeks ever had in the White House, Lincoln once had a liquor retail license and later owned a tavern and Teddy Roosevelt apparently had a nightcap from time to time.
Clearly defining good and bad presidencies skates a little close to partisan coloring for this blog. But Lincoln had a good perspective: “The problem with alcohol, he said, was not that it was a bad thing, but a good thing abused by bad people.”
Even though the White House is no longer printing the names of the wines on the menu nor releasing them after the fact, it turns out that we had our own “deep throat” at the event: none other than the wine person of the last decade, founder of Cellertracker, Eric Levine.
Sure enough, Eric posted the wines served, complete with tasting notes. For the full menu (pdf), click here. And, on a related note, what Michelle Obama has done with the organic garden at the White House is terrific.
Eric says there were a range of options at the bar and he opted for the Thibaut-Janisson Brut NV (limited availability; about $29). USA, Virginia, Central Region, Monticello. This seems to be a staple at the White House since it was on the menu (back when the wines were on the menu) for Prime Minister Singh.
Halibut course and salad course
2009 Peter Michael Chardonnay Ma Belle-Fille (about $80) USA, California, Sonoma County, Knights Valley
Eric describes the wine as “Prototypical Cali Chard.” Peter Michael also has appeared before at state dinners. In fact, the Bush White House served the Peter Michael “Les Pavots” 2003 (about $275) to none other than Queen Elizabeth when she visited in 2007.
Second course: bison Wellington
2008 Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley (about $65) USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
Eric has a lot of experience with the producer but laments how young it is, saying while it worked with the food, the wine is “not so civilized yet at this stage.”
Dessert: steamed lemon pudding atop a bed of apples
2007 Iron Horse Vineyards Russian Cuvée (about $30) USA, California, Sonoma County, Green Valley
The White House usher has frequently poured sparkling wines with dessert; as I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of the idea as I think the dessert’s sweetness is likely to leave the wine tasting too tart, even in this case. Just let dessert be the dessert. Eric says “a nice idea but a tough pairing to really appreciate.” Iron Horse has also been poured numerous times at the White House; this wine, which has a higher dosage (the amount of residual sugar is unspecified), was developed for the Reagan-Gorbachev summits.
I’m still puzzled by the White House not listing the wines on the menu. If there was too much negative reaction to the wines served at the Hu dinner, which seems to have prompted this bizarre cork and dagger policy of not listing the wines, why not list these wines since none was over $100?
And why not be more original and creative? It’s not about simply spending more (as Bush did on the $600 Shafer Hillside select), it’s about being creative, even if you have a (artificially) tight budget. There’s a lot of excitement in American wine. Find it. Serve it. Otherwise, to paraphrase George W. Bush, it’s as if the White House usher is saying “Message: I don’t care.”
Remember the state dinner when the White House served green curry shrimp with a 15.6% alcohol grenache for the Indian premier? (and the typos!) Or a “Carlos Santana” brut sparkling wine with dessert for the Mexican president? Oh how we howled at those selections wondering if the White House wine steward was trying to derail diplomacy single-handedly.
Then, with the open-air state dinner for Angela Merkel, the White House stopped publishing the names of the wines served. Thanks to your contributions, we were able to determine two of the wines.
Was it the slings and arrows of the blogosphere that prompted the new policy? Probably not. It’s more likely that the White House doesn’t want to take the heat at this point in the economic recovery for pouring expensive wines: After the White House served a wine selling worth about $400 a bottle to President Hu of China, Stephen Colbert joked that it “should have been a sweatpants-potluck with box wine and a sleeve of Oreos.” Somehow, I doubt Colbert will ever be the White House usher.
The new policy of vinous non-disclosure prompted Bloomberg political reporter Margaret Talev to investigate. But she didn’t get a substantive response from either the usher or the First Lady’s office explaining the new policy.
This week, David Cameron will be in DC for a state dinner. Without knowing the menu, I think the White House should look to repay the courtesy of the Queen when the President visited London and underscore the “special relationship” between the two countries. After highlighting some up-and-coming producers, it would be appropriate to uncork some California cabernet with age, such as a top wine from the 1991 vintage, or reaching even further back to one of the gems from the 1970s. Subtle, elegant, distinguished and generous–it’s hard to argue with those qualities at the highest level of hospitality.
What do you think the White House should pour for Cameron? And do you think they should return to printing the wines on the menu or otherwise disclose the names of the actual wines poured?
SIPPED/NOT SIPPED: Presidential wine
President Obama dined at restaurant Daniel in NYC last night. Wine director Daniel Johnnes (pictured above, right) tweeted that the wine selections would include Sandhi Chardonnay made by his friend sommelier Raj Parr. He tweeted: “Sandhi means alliance. What could be better?” But chef Boulud himself joined the discussion: ” Sorry @danieljohnnes , the #President @barackobama is not drinking tonight.”
SMOKED: something powerful!
In re: Bordeaux 2010 futures: “The wines are actually great value and I hope that the very good results of last year will be confirmed this year.” -Alain Juppé, Mayor of Bordeaux & French Foreign Minister [decanter]
SIPPED: bigg eurozzz
Liv-Ex compiles a list estimating the 50 Bordeaux chateaus worth more than 50 million euros.
Sommelier Levi Dalton rounds up “the sommeliers I’ve rapped with.” [SoYouWantToBeASommelier]
ALMOST SIPPED: ABC gum (not gum arabic)
I like unfiltered wine but, really, can’t they get the chewing gum out before selling? [BBC]
You can make lemons into lemonade. But coal slag heaps into wine? It’s happening in Pas-de-Calais in France. [WSJ]
SPIT: vineyard development?
In other vineyard development news, deforesting 2,000 acres for proposed vineyards meets resistance in Sonoma. [AP]
Last night the Obamas played host to Angela Merkel for a “State Dinner” (even though she is the head of government, not state–gasp!) in the Rose Garden. The meal included a salad from the White House vegetable garden; the full menu follows below. Oddly, the wine pairings were not announced! Has the usher at the White House grown tired of the slings and arrows from the blogosphere with each state dinner menu?
No matter–that leaves us a chance to do the pairings ourselves! Read more…
Even with word of cutbacks in the wines poured at British state events, the Queen offered some choice wines for President Obama and guest this week: 2004 William Fevre, Les Clos, Grand Cru Chablis; 1990 Domaine de la Romanée Conti, Echezeaux; and a 1963 port. Just a tad better than the selections at the White House!
However, perhaps in a nod to the White House, which only serves domestic wines, Buckingham Palace also uncorked an English sparkling wine, the 2004 Cuvee Merret Fitzrovia Rosé from Ridgeview in Sussex. The Palace served a 2002 Veuve Clicquot, cuvée “Rich” (how blingy!), with 28 g/l dosage.
Obviously, a lot of issues are on the metaphorical table as President Obama entertains China’s president Hu Jintao. But what’s in the glass? They can’t serve Lafite, after all, since the White House only pours domestic wins and this menu is set to be “quintessentially American.”
Given previous bombs served up by the White House usher, I chuckled when I saw the headline at the nytimes.com: “White House looks to avoid gaffes during Chinese visit.” But that’s just what they’ve done with a conservative menu and wine pairings. Read more…
The Obamas’ first state dinner was in honor of Indian Prime Minster Manmohan Singh and his wife. As you may recall, the White House wine steward tried to start an international conflagration by pairing a high-alcohol Grenache with green curry prawns.
So with the return leg of the India-America state visits, marking what the leaders hailed as “the defining partnership of the 21st century,” the eyes of wine geeks in the two countries were on the menu for New Delhi. When the moment came to raise a ceremonial glass, Prime Minister Singh did so–with juice. It turns out that no alcohol is served at state dinners in India, but that didn’t stop a local wine personality from chiding the President, encouraging her to uncork Indian wine on such occasions.
On his blog, Subhash Arora added, “Mercifully, they are all allowed to drink in private.” On Twitter, after she commented on the event, I asked Chicago-based sommelier Alpana Singh what she thought the prime minister opened behind closed doors. She replied, “Oh! That’s easy – if he’s a true Singh it’s Johnnie Walker – Blue, Black or red in descending order of preference.”
While China has recently caught the attention of the wine world with eye-popping sales, India has yet to break out. Despite having a population over one billion, the Indian market uncorked only 17 million bottles, amounting to only a sip per year per inhabitant. (China was about eight times that amount.) Interestingly, about three-quarters of the wine consumed in India is red and an even higher percentage is made domestically.
reduced sized crop of AP/Saurabh Das image