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Cork and dagger: Should wines served in the White House be disclosed?

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?

Hip hop somms, deforestation, Presidential dining – sipped & spit

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.

VOLUME: cranked!
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]

SIPPED: courage
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]

Wine confidential: state dinner with Angela Merkel

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…

Buckingham Palace pours the good stuff for Obama

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.

In other news from the “Leaders and Liters” desk, Christine Lagarde is a teetotaler.

State dinner menu with Hu Jintao: “quintessentially American”

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 “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…

In India, the prime minister toasts Obama with juice [Indian wine]

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.

Related: “Drinking wine in India
Eternal summer, altitude, and the gyropalette boondoggle: making wine in India

reduced sized crop of AP/Saurabh Das image

British government tops up 39,500 bottle cellar

The Independent reports that the British government has spent more than £17,500 on wine since the May 6 election. This adds to existing cellar of 39,500 bottles bringing the total value of the wine cellar to £864,000. The Foreign Office minister who oversees the cellar, Henry Bellingham, insisted last week that buying the wines young saves the British taxpayer money. With the revelations came calls that they cellar’s contents should be sold.

Since taking office, Prime Minister David Cameron and his cabinet have pushed for budget cuts and austerity including cuts to public sector pay and pensions to right the deficit. The previous parliamentary session had been rocked by questionable MP expenses, such as country manor moat cleaning.

How much is too much for a government wine cellar? The White House wine cellar is pretty small, less than 500 bottles, which has led to an (abysmally executed) ad hoc approach to formal dinners. But almost 40,000 bottles? That seems a little high, especially in an age of austerity.

The government will not provide a detailed inventory of the cellars. Bellingham said, “The database is not released into the public domain because of the likely impact on GH’s commercial interests and those of its suppliers and future ability to obtain value for money.”

Given that there are pricey first-growth Bordeaux, there must be a lot of plonk in there too to arrive at the £21.87 average bottle price in the cellar. And given the stated preference for buying young wines, was the Foreign Office buying futures on Bordeaux 2009? If so, they probably burned up the £17,500 in a hurry. The full statement from the Foreign Office follows after the jump: Read more…

State dinner numero dos: Brut-al wine pairings

Last night, the Obamas welcomed President Calderón of Mexico and Mrs. Margarita Zavala to the White House for a state dinner, the second of this administration. As with the first menu, the dishes served offered a tip of the toque to the visiting dignitaries’ cuisine. This time they brought in Chef Rick Bayless who is known more for his exploring the regional foods of Mexico than for his Burger King ad.

For his part, Daniel Shanks, the White House wine steward, tried once again to derail international relations with the wine pairings. When will they start color coding the menus to warn the guests? The theme, apparently, was California wines with ties to Mexico. Given that, here’s the range of California wines they could choose from: almost all of them. The California wine industry would produce few bottles of wine if it weren’t for the work of Mexican viticultural laborers. Raising any glass of California wine then on this august occasion could be accompanied by a mention of their enormous contributions. They could save the discussion on immigration policy for lunch.

Here’s the official menu, with wine pairings:

Jicama with Oranges, Grapefruit, and Pineapple
Citrus Vinaigrette

[Paul Hobbs?] Ulises Valdez Chardonnay 2007 “Russian River”

Herb Green Ceviche of Hawaiian Opah
Sesame-Cilantro Cracker

Oregon Wagyu Beef in Oaxacan Black Mole
Black Bean Tamalon and Grilled Green Beans

Herrera Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 “Selección Rebecca”

Chocolate-Cajeta Tart
Toasted Homemade Marshmallows
Graham Cracker Crumble and Goat Cheese Ice Cream

Mumm Napa “Carlos Santana Brut” N/V

For the first two courses, nothing pairs with citrus and ceviche like a 14.7% alcohol Chardonnay! Ulises Valdez has a compelling story, no doubt, but perhaps his Sauvignon Blanc might have made a better pairing? (Assuming, that is, that the Chardonnay on the menu was made by Ulises Valdez–there is no mention of the wine on his website, but there is a 2007 Ulises Valdez Chardonnay made by Paul Hobbs.) The third course might actually work, given the chocolately sweetness of the mole that may be reflected in the wine. But with the dessert course, it’s hard to know what’s the most disastrous, pouring a celebrity wine or offering a brut sparkling wine with chocolate and marshmallows!

If you were the sommelier for the day, what would you pour?

reduced-size, cropped image from


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