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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

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.


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