I stopped by Willi’s Wine Bar, in operation in the 1st arrondissement since 1980, today for lunch. Afterward I fell into conversation with Mark Williamson a.k.a. Willi. He was lamenting the decline of enjoying wine in the political class in France–as evidenced first and foremost by President Sarkozy. He told me in exasperation that a former prime minister was in for lunch yesterday and he didn’t even order wine. Wow. Lunch and no wine, OK, perhaps. But in a wine bar?!?
Mark has a once-a-month sort of blog. Since it’s nearly impossible to find, I’ll post a link here to a recent rant about Sarkozy and a brief overview of the likes and dislikes of other French pols, past and present. My favorite vignette: the last of the hard core Socialist prime minsters, Pierre Mauroy, polished off the official PM’s cellar within a week back in 1981.
We know that President Nicolas Sarkozy doesn’t drink alcohol because he said he is “too busy” (even if we caught him having a glass of Sancerre on the campaign trail). Even Reuters has a story lamenting the fact.
So what are we to make of this video then of a press conference immediately after Sarkozy had a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, also a teetotaler? As the newsreader mentions in his lead, “apparently they only drank water together.”
The question of which wine to serve the Queen is not one that arises in Washington very often. But last night it did at the state dinner for 130 honored guests. The Teetotaler-in-Chief went with an all-domestic–nay, Napatastic!–youthful, line-up (though somehow a “Champagne” dressing appeared on the salad).
Straight from the White House, last night’s menu:
Spring Pea Soup with Fernleaf Lavender
Chive Pizzelle with American Caviar
Newton Chardonnay “Unfiltered” 2004 (find this wine)
Dover Sole Almondine
Roasted Artichokes, Pequillo Peppers and Olives
Saddle of Spring Lamb
Fricassee of Baby Vegetables
Peter Michael “Les Pavots” 2003 (find this wine)
Arugula, Savannah Mustard and Mint Romaine
Champagne Dressing and Trio of Farmhouse Cheeses
Schramsberg Brut Rosé 2004 (find this wine)
While German Chancellor Angela Merkel may get (unwanted) pats on the back from George Bush–literally–will she win plaudits from Jacques Chirac for her wine choice? “Hell yes” seems to be her answer.
As the current chair of both the EU presidency and the G8, Merkel has to set the agenda not only for talks on trade and the EU constitution–but also the wine list for the formal dinners at the summits.
Chirac may be her toughest critic since he was unable to restrain himself when Britain held the EU presidency a few years ago. Referring to the British, he told Vladimir Putin and Gerhard Schröder, “You can’t trust people who cook as badly as that. After Finland, it’s the country with the worst food.”
While trying to keep Chirac from making off-handed remarks in front of open mics may be tough, Merkel had no trouble to find a riesling for the gatherings according to DeutscheWelle (although they fail to mention what it is).
But the red was more of a challenge. She chose a 2003 “Assmannshausen Höllenberg Spätburgunder,” a pinot noir from the Rheingau region to pour at the EU summit in March and the G8 summit in June. The wine’s name literally translates as “Hell’s Mountain,” a reference to the steepness of the vineyard where the grapes grew. And with an a New Worldy 15 percent alcohol, if enough of the dignitaries drink the pinot noir, they may end up “Sideways” before the end of the conference. One hell of a summit, you might say.
Chirac will be on hand in March but his successor will represent France in June . We will be watching for stylistic differences. George Bush, a teetotaler since his 40th birthday, will perhaps stick with the Gerolsteiner.
“Leaders and liters of wine: French presidential contenders 2007” [Dr. V]
No doubt stung by his Dr. Vino demotion to rural town council last week, Nicolas Sarkozy, Minister of the Interior and a leading candidate in the race for the French presidency, has now announced that he is in favor wine reform.
After the Revue du Vin de France reported that he does not like wine since he’s too busy (“you cannot reconcile alcohol with frenetic activity”), he got a raspberry from this web site.
But now that wine-lover Segolene Royal is gaining ground in the polls, Sarkozy is making nice with wine producers! The BBC reports that he actually tasted local wine while campaigning in Sancerre! No report on whether he looked “dour” as he did during a sherry tasting in Spain. (Be sure to send photos of him in Sancerre if you find them.)
Not only that, but he is now trying to curry favor with wine producers by intimating that he might remove tight restrictions on advertising wine in movie theaters and on TV that date from 1991. “Wine cannot be lumped together with tobacco or drugs”, Sarkozy told the local wine producers.
As if that weren’t enough to bring the downtrodden French winemakers to his side, he “promised to protect French wine producers, vowing to bar from the market imported wines which fail to match the domestic wines’ quality.” Whoa, Nico. While lifting the advertising restrictions is a good thing, who would be the Senior Minister for Wine Quality?
Still, this pandering to wine producers raises Sarkozy’s Dr. Vino rating to: member of the National Assembly.
UPDATE: Leave it to Bertrand, wine photographer extraordinaire, to tip us off to a photo of Sarkozy tossing back the Sancerre. People came from near and far to behold the busy man take time to sip some wine.
This is the first in a periodic series on leaders and the wines they drink.
France has presidential elections in April and May (two rounds, like the best bar stops). Just where do the candidates stand on the important issues? Forget such trivial details as policy positions. What are their views on our single issue–wine?! Fortunately the current issue of La Revue du Vin de France has done the heavy lifting for us. Roll it:
Nicolas Sarkozy: Currently ahead in the polling, this candidate of the center-right might like French wine? WRONG! “He believes you cannot reconcile alcohol with frenetic activity,” the magazine reports. And in a photo published by the magazine of a sherry tasting in Spain, Sarkozy is seen raising a glass dourly.
Dr. Vino appoints this candidate to: rural town council
Segolene Royal: While working as an adviser to late president Francois Mitterrand in the 1980s, the other leading candidate “learned that eating and drinking were the two pillars of the French art de vivre.” WHAT?! Now 54, why did it take her til the 1980s to work this out?
Dr. Vino appoints this candidate: Senator
Domique Voynet: The Green Party candidate may not have a shot at landing in the Elysee Palace, but apparently she is the clear choice for wine lovers! “She can list dozens of good wines from the Jura region and not only organic ones,” the magazine said. Well, good for her!
Dr. Vino appoints this candidate: President
Francois Bayrou: Though hardly known outside of France, Bayrou gets the most improved wine lover award. The magazine reports that “though he started late his first experience was a special one.” Bayrou has told friends that his first big wine binge cured his stammer. Wow. What ailment can red wine NOT cure?!?
Dr. Vino appoints this candidate: Minister of Health
José Bové: This anti-globalization activist and declared candidate is not included in the RVF piece. But he sure ain’t drinking Chilean wine. I’d put him down for a rustic red from the Languedoc.
Dr. Vino appoints this candidate: governor of a breakaway province
Jean-Marie Le Pen: The spoiler in 2002, Le Pen has not yet officially entered the race. You’d expect him to keep it national. But deep down, he has a secret affinity for California cabs…. nay, Algerian wine… or, maybe even…FUEHRERWEIN!
Dr. Vino appoints this candidate to: exile to Tangiers
Source: RVF via Yahoo (sadly RVF doesn’t see the importance of web content)
Winston Churchill. Kim Jong-Il. Jay-Z. Segolene Royal. What’s probably the one thing they have in common? Cognac!
With fans as diverse as this, how could I not know more about this distinctive beverage? Samuel Johnson threw down a challenge to us wine geeks more than 200 years ago when he was offered a glass of claret. “No, Sir, claret is the liquor for boys; port, for men; but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy,” according to Boswell.
Well, I don’t know if I aspire to hero status, but I’m not going to settle for being a mere “boy!” So when the Bureau National Interprofessionnel de Cognac, the trade group representing ALL producers and distillers in the region invited me on a press trip, how could I refuse?They asked me what I know about cognac. I said nothing. They said, “Fine!”
So what do I know about cognac? Let me think out loud:
Actually I do know one more thing: there are various grades of cognac. Here’s my initial impression, pending further research:
For the late, great R. W. Apple Cognac, “properly made and aged, is the best brandy in the world.” The decisive factor in setting cognac apart from other brandies is not the unique climate or soil. Appple ascribed its difference to the humans, saying “the decisive factor is the skills in distilling, blending and maturing that have been perfected over 300 years.”
But with almost all the production exported, looking at who and where it is consumed is arguably just as important as where it is made. In his excellent story “Cognac and its Cognoscenti” in the Wall Street Journal last June, Eric Felten wrote about the rich history of brandy and American musicians, particularly African-American musicians such as Billie Holliday or Dexter Gordon all the way to P-Diddy. Felten observed this change:
With Lady Day and Dexter, cognac was a way to cultivate and project a worldly, savvy and civilized image. By contrast, the hip-hop brandy trend has been more about sheer expense — especially the stuff that sells for four figures and comes in Baccarat bottles. Even so, I suspect that cognac’s appeal to the hip-hop crowd is about more than conspicuous consumption. The authors of the “thug” lifestyle seem to think a glass of cognac is like “a gat in the hand.” Rap’s celebration of yak is an embrace of the venerable notion that cognac is the drink not only of the rich, but of the powerful.
How open are the cognac producers to this embrace? After all, when the Economist asked a representative of Roederer about the house’s top wine, Cristal, being a favorite of the hip-hop crowd he made comments that were interpreted as racist and led to a boycott of the bubbles.
It seems to me that the cognac producers are likely more relaxed about their “cognoscenti.” Their beverage is, after all, a distillate, potent and concentrated. They’re used to blending or just playing it straight.
So next week I’ll be reporting on this and more from the region. I hope to be able to post from the region but that depends on two things. First, internet access, which can be spotty in France. And second, if I can keep my tasting volumes below the “heroic” levels of Churchill.
What I’m reading to get up to speed on Cognac:
Cognac, by Nicholas Faith (2005, Mithcell Beazley)
Cognac, the Seductive Saga of the World’s Most Coveted Spirit, By Kyle Jarrard (2005, Wiley)
“From the Thinnest of Wines, the Richest Spirit: Cognac,” R. W. Apple, NYT, September 25, 2002.
“Cognac and its cognoscenti,” Eric Felten, WSJ June 3, 2006
Cognac.fr, the BNIC site
PS bonus points for anyone who can say who Segolene Royal is. And double bonus for why she is relevant to cognac!
In his 2002 book on the former Iraqi leader, Con Coughlin chronicled Saddam’s rise to power. In the 1970s, Saddam developed a taste for the sweet Mateus rosé–along with American-style ribs, fancy suits, and racetrack gambling.
I remembered this little vignette (indeed, who could forget this wine tragedy?) when I met a representative of Sogrape at a recent tasting. Sogrape, of Portugal, makes Mateus to this day along with a stable of other wines and ports. I couldn’t resist asking him whether the fall of Saddam had meant a reduction in sales to Iraq.
“About two containers” of wine had to go elsewhere the representative told me.
Wow, 2,400 cases is a lot of wine. Was Saddam foisting Mateus on everyone in the palaces until the end?