Archive for the 'leaders and liters' Category

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.

About those Jefferson bottles…

thomas jeffersonThomas 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.

Obama gives Boehner a birthday Brunello

At the White House yesterday, our political leaders met to find a way from steering the country over the fiscal cliff.

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.

Politicians crush it, overseas

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.)

Campaign booze paraphernalia

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.

Sarkozy, teetotaler, is out; Hollande, in. But is he a Champagne Socialist?

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.

Nondrinkers are terrible presidents. Discuss.

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.”

Deep throat reveals Cameron state dinner wines

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.

Appetizers: crostini
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.”


Wine Maps

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

See my op-eds in the NYT
"Drink Outside the Box"
"Red, White, and Green"


Monthly Archives


Blog posts via email



Wine industry jobs


One of the “fresh voices taking wine journalism in new and important directions.” -World of Fine Wine

“His reporting over the past six months has had seismic consequences, which is a hell of an accomplishment for a blog.”

"News of such activities, reported last month on a wine blog called Dr. Vino, have captivated wine enthusiasts and triggered a fierce online debate…" The Wall Street Journal

"...well-written, well-researched, calm and, dare we use the word, sober." -Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher, WSJ

jbf07James Beard Foundation awards

Saveur, best drinks blog, finalist 2012.

Winner, Best Wine Blog

One of the "seven best wine blogs." Food & Wine,

One of the three best wine blogs, Fast Company

See more media...


Wine books on Amazon: