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.)
Forget soccer dads and hockey moms: there’s an even larger demographic that politicians can target. Drinkers! Gallup’s most recent poll pegged 66% of Americans as having some form of tipple.
A couple of weeks ago in Iowa, Obama bought a round of Bud Light at the Iowa state fair, setting off chants of “Four more beers!” Then he gave out a bottle of homebrew from the White House and later revealed the recipe. Now, his campaign store is selling a campaign BYO wine bag and a
beer soda cozy with Biden’s smiling visage on it.
Mitt Romney, a Mormon, does not drink alcohol (though Paul Ryan may like off-vintage Burgundy). Nor does the Romney campaign store have any alcohol-related paraphernalia. Beer and wine as a wedge issue? The issue may not be insurmountable for Romney–recall another teetotaler who managed to win “the guy you most want to have a beer with” in the 2004 election.
At the polls yesterday, French voters bid adieu to President Sarkozy who was famously, and incongruously, a teetotaler as head of France. “President Bling Bling,” as he was known, will now be replaced by “Mr. Normal,” Francois Hollande. As far as our beat is concerned, does that mean that a wine-lover will be returning to the Elysée Palace?
The last Socialist occupant, Francois Mitterrand, was a fan of the fruits of the vine. Segolene Royal, former partner of Francois Hollande and mother of his four children, said when she ran against Sarkozy in 2007 that while working as an adviser to late president Francois Mitterrand in the 1980s, she “learned that eating and drinking were the two pillars of the French art de vivre.” So there’s hope. And Hollande’s current partner, Valerie Trierweiler, was born in Angers and likes his cooking even if he uses too much butter. So there is hope, from a wine geek’s perspective, that he is a Champagne Socialist who might even be able to talk about the terroir.
Hit the comments with any intel you might have about le vin d’Hollande. And note the wine in the above photo.
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.”