Archive for the 'leaders and liters' Category

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

Green curry prawns – an “impossible” pairing from the White House state dinner

obama_singhRight now, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Dr. Manmohan Singh, prime minister of India, is being feted at a state dinner! The Obamas brought in chef Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit in New York to cook a meatless, Indian-inspired meal for the 320 honored guests. (Get full details at In a toast, the President hailed the American relationship with India a ”great and growing partnership.”

But cutting to the chase for us wine geeks, are the wines fulfilling a great partnership with the food? One course in particular caught my eye: guests wanting the green curry shrimp with smoked collard greens will be offered the Beckmen, Garnache [sic] from the Santa Ynez. While I haven’t tried the wine, one of Beckmen’s other grenache wines rolls in at 15.6% alcohol, not exactly my recipe for good times with green curry. I might just hold on to that Riesling from the previous course if I were seated next to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Jhumpa Lhiri, Bobby Jindal or Steven Spielberg tonight.

What would you pair if you were the USA sommelier with this course? (Only American wines are served at the White House.) Full menu selections come after the jump. Read more…

Obama’s gift to Berlusconi: new American wine in old floorboards

What could President Obama bring Prime Minster Berlusconi as a gift for the host of the G8 summit? Berlusconi, an affluent and powerful man, can already get pretty much whatever he wants delivered to him poolside, after all.

Obama chose to present him with something he might never have had before, a gift of American wine! Specifically, a wine from the Vermentino grape grown in North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley made by Raffaldini Vineyards.

See the video below where Thomas Salley of Raffaldini explains how State Department officials requested samples of the wine from this Italian American family. And how the wine will be presented in a wooden case using old flooring from the Oval Office. Reduce, reuse, recycle!

Also note the transcript provided by FOX 8 in High Point NC, which hilariously misquotes Salley as saying, “The Vermentino grape is Sardinia variety so it’s native the the island of sardine.”

UPDATE: Whoops, Obama gave the wine to the Italian President, Giorgio Napolitano NOT Prime Minister Berluscsoni. Berlusconi will have to bum a sip from him.

G20, Bordeaux pricing, Cake wine, Australia – sipped and spit

jamieoliverSIPPED: English wine
Well, now that all the serious business of the G20 meeting is over, we can turn to what wine lovers wanted to know all along: what did they drink? Gone were the lavish dishes of last year’s G8 summit. Jamie Oliver, chef for the dinner at Downing Street, put together a menu showcasing the “best of British cuisine,” which was expected to include Nyetimber, a sparkling wine from West Sussex. (The spouses’ table seemed like the most laughs that evening–Joachim Sauer excepted.) []

SIPPED: a shot glass of sanity?
Chateau Angelus is the first of the top Bordeaux properties to release their 2008 vintage: 50 euros a bottle, or 40% less than the 2007, which was not a strong vintage in the region. Our previous discussion highlighted how mush pricing is relative and based on perception, rather than actual costs. And Simon Staples is back again, quoted as saying that he wouldn’t even be a buyer of Angelus at 30 euros. [Decanter]

SIPPED: wine in the USA
While worldwide wine consumption fell by one percent, Americans tacked on a 1.8% gain in wine last year, the fifteenth consecutive annual gain according to the new edition of Impact Databank.

SPIT: cakes!
On March 23, we laid out the Layer Cake/Cupcake confusion/silly naming. March 26, Layer Cake’s producer (One True Vine) sues the Cupcake producer (The Wine Group) for trademark infringement claiming the name is “confusingly similar.” [Wines & Vines]

Australian wine “has moved from being revered to being reviled” with tremendous speed, writes Jancis Robinson at She asserts this is largely because of the success of “ubiquitous and vapid” low end wines and the high alcohol wines that receive big scores from the Wine Advocate. Then add a glut followed by a drought and fires, industry consolidation and a global recession and it’s not difficult to see why the sledding has gotten a little rough. I’m quite interested in the story of Australia, particularly the one that is not much exported to the US. That’s why I’ll be joining a group wine writers and sommeliers there in June for the Landmark Australia tasting.

Leaders and liters…at Quinta de Vargellas

Yesterday I attended a vertical tasting of single vineyard, vintage ports from Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas. Adrian Bridge, managing director of Taylor-Fladgate, was in attendance in NYC and regaled our group with stories not only about the wines but also about how a local town’s population astonishingly dwindled from eight to three and how an enormous St. Bernard slashed a local realtor’s pride.

More details to come on the wines, the Quinta de Vargellas, and Adrian’s comments on specialty port.

But what grabbed my attention for immediate posting was the fact that they keep a guest book at the winery at Vargellas where visitors are requested to write a poem. I don’t know if these are impromptu poems or if they are told about this before lunch and then have to produce one after lunch–indeed, some of the poems seemed quite “lunch” influenced.

Most of the poems do not have the author’s name attributed in the brochure, but a few did. In the latest addition to our series “leaders and liters of wine,” consider this poem from a visit (during a war!) by the sitting Defense Secretary of the United States. I’ve redacted his name and his wife’s for your guessing pleasure in the comments.

“From out of the sky they flew into Vargellas,
Richard Cheney, his party and Lynne.
But the hosts in Oporto forgot to tell us
the numbers we had to fit in.
Mais Cabirto called “Gilly,”
the hostess so cool,
as forty turned seventy three.
While the wine-hacks with training stood by at the pool
serving port to all they could see. “

Hope and change: wines for Obama and the inauguration

obama_wine2After learning that the wine vote carried Obama to victory, it’s no surprise that wine writers can barely contain the corks from popping until next week.

John and Dottie dig up this vignette from the the White House Historical Association: “In 1840, the Whigs presented their candidate, William Henry Harrison, as a simple frontier Indian fighter, living in a log cabin and drinking cider, in sharp contrast to an aristocratic, Champagne-sipping Van Buren.” But then they say they don’t know what Obama will have after the inauguration.

Cue Elin McCoy. She’s got the intel on this one. And it ain’t all pretty. To the tape: “Fortunately for Barack Obama, the first wines he’ll sip as president include some pretty nice California bottlings, though one of them poses a foreign-relations test. At the inaugural congressional lunch at the Capitol, right after the swearing-in ceremony, the wines will include 2007 Duckhorn Vineyards sauvignon blanc ($30; find this wine) and 2005 Goldeneye pinot noir ($55; find this wine). Two hundred dignitaries will toast the new President with 15 magnums of Korbel Natural sparkling wine ($15; don’t find this wine). It’s labeled “California Champagne,” so better not show it to the French.” Korbel? Puh-lease. And how did Duckhorn hit a double (they also make Goldeneye; see the inaugural lunch menu at their site)?

Mike Steinberger pops off a piece on Slate bristling with his usual brio. He has his own version of financial stimulus and suggests expanding the paltry White House wine cellar, introducing mature wines as opposed to current releases, and flattering foreign dignitaries by re-introducing wines from their own lands (presumably as an aperitif). I’ll raise a Montelena to that.

What will you pop next Tuesday? UPDATE: Or, if you were in charge of the inauguration lunch, what would you pour for the 200 honored guests?

Related: “The Sorry History of Wine in the White House,” p. 54, A Year of Wine
Leaders and Liters of wine

Let them sip Hillside Select, KJ, Thanksgiving, dogs- sipped and spit

SIPPED: too much
As G-20 leaders met in Washington this weekend while the economic world burns, they sipped Shafer Hillside Select 2003, a $250 Napa cab (find this wine). This raised the hackles of bloggers at CNN (perhaps because they could only find it for $500?). The era of the teatotaler-in-chief is soon over! (Thanks, Arthur!)

white_house_kjSPIT: too little
An eagle eyed publicist at Kendall-Jackson spotted a mention of their Chardonnay in an interview the Obamas did with People magazine. The maker of this supermarket staple then sent “a few congratulatory cases of the brand” to the Obamas, care of the Democratic National Committee. Celebrate a historic victory such as his with a $12 chardonnay? But what did Shafer send them?

SPIT: Sauvignon blanc
NYT restaurant critic Frank Bruni goes public about his dislike of Sauvignon Blanc as he tasted one from California, “he offered a grimace and a cry of anguish.” And what did his colleagues do to him after that. Why, laugh at him. Get the full story and their wine picks for turkey day in Eric Asimov’s column.

SPIT: 2008 Hospice de Beaune
The climate, both meteorological and economic, put a damper on the annual charity auction for barrels of red Burgundy. [Reuters]

SPIT: celebrity wine
Michael Vick’s 22 dogs will appear on a new wine line called “Vicktory Dogs.” A portion of the proceeds benefit the shelter in Utah where the dogs now reside. [ESPN]

The candidates and their wines – a Wine Politics giveaway

Last week we heard about the Palin syrah and because it’s organically grown in Chile, we knew it was the perfect wine for the veep wannabe, Sarah Paleen (as they say in Alaska, methinks). Check out reader Nate’s tasting note.

In anticipation of this Thursday’s debate (when we will need mucho vino), put your country first and decide which wine is best suited to each of the three other candidates! I already had my say during the primaries, so now it is your turn.

To sweeten the pot, I will be giving a away a signed copy of my book, Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters, and Critics Influence the Wines We Drink, a book in which none of these four candidates is mentioned!

Post your pairings for the non-Alaskan candidates here in the comments. Friday after 3PM Eastern, check back to see the winner, selected at random. Everyone, to your snow machines!


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