Monday, February 16, 2015

Hail to the Chief..of Wine

Recently, a wine-loving Facebook friend mentioned that she was auditioning for the game show Jeopardy.  As part of her studies, she planned on spending a lot of time on presidential history, as this evidently shows up often on Jeopardy episodes.  Though there is no Jeopardy audition in my future, I thought I would also study-up on my presidential trivia, pertaining to wine, of course! 

Current president Barrack Obama made headlines his second inauguration, not by choosing an American-made wine, but by choosing two wines from a lesser known wine state—New York.  The Finger Lakes region’s 2010 Tierce Dry Riesling was served at the inaugural luncheon along with a 2009 Bedell Cellars Merlot from Long Island. 
Tierce Dry Riesling--a Finger Lakes Wine.
For a toast over this same meal, another American wine was featured—Korbel’s Russian River Valley Natural Champagne.  Those of you who know that only wines produced in the traditional method from the Champagne region of France gasped at the label of that wine; you joined the French who were chagrined by the move as well.  However, French law has been loosely translated to allow the grandfathering in of certain sparkling wines as long as they are labeled “California Champagne.”

This isn’t the first time Korbel’s sparklings may have caused a controversy for a president and an inauguration.  Korbel wines crossed party lines and were also served for Ronald Reagan’s inauguration in 1985, George Bush in 1989, Bill Clinton in 1993 and 1997, George W. Bush in 2001 and 2005, and Barack Obama in 2009 and 2013. 
Korbel Natural "Champagne"
Jimmy Carter, known as being a peanut farmer, was actually a grape grower and wine maker.  He made his own wine for years, selling bottles of his private label wines at benefit auctions to support his Carter Center and its philanthropic work.    

President Gerald Ford, from Michigan, often served Michigan wines, wines that are now having a boom in growth and respect. 

President Richard Nixon loved French wines, especially Bordeaux.  It was said that he would often hide his bottle of wine from this prestigious region of France so guests drinking other wines wouldn’t know Nixon was breaking former President Johnson’s rule (and drinking wine much more expensive than theirs!). 

While he was president in the 1960s, President Lyndon B. Johnson ushered in the golden age of American wine in the 1970s as he made the decree that only American wines should be served in the White House.  Up until this time, French wine and food dominated White House dinners.  After switching to American wine, American fare began to be showcased, as regional dishes were served more often as well.    
Ushering in the golden age of American wines.
President John F. Kennedy and his beautiful wife Jackie were the presidential couple known for bringing wine back to the White House table on a regular basis.  They loved French cuisine and also liked Bordeaux wines, but President Kennedy preferred whites, such as Chateau Haut Brion Blanc. 

History of wine in the White House becomes a little less evident before, during, and after the years of prohibition when groups like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union made alcohol a political issue and unpopular for a president to imbibe. 

George Washington was said to drink a lot of Madeira.  So much, in fact, that he spent thousands of dollars on the drink over the course of a year.

Of course, no conversation about presidents and wine would be complete without Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson was known for loving French wine, but he also had a great appreciation for Italian wines, like Barolo.  His Monticello estate had a wine cellar and special dumb waiter just to bring wine from the cellar.  He documented attempts to grow wine grapes in Virginia and the United States.  Unfortunately, at the time, none of the vines thrived.  (I think he would be so pleasantly surprised at the booming VA wine industry today.)   His vast collection of expensive and prestigious bottles was also well documented.  Much more mysterious was the fate of many of these bottles hundreds of years later.  (Read The Billionaire’s Vinegar to learn more about whether one of these bottles still existed to be sold at auction—good book.) 

The Billionaire's Vinegar--a great book on President Jefferson's wine history.
Even if you are not headed to your Jeopardy trial, presidential history is important.  To any wine enthusiast, presidential wine trivia can be really interesting.  From Madeira to Michigan, enjoy the wines of the presidents with a glass for yourself today.  Happy President’s Day!