Wine and the Presidents: History and Current State Dinner Selections
Presidents: Thomas Jefferson, Nixon, Joe Biden
The history of wine and the Presidents is evolving with each passing decade and administration. Each President and his sommelier have their own preferences when it comes to wine. Since the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, many US Presidents have preferred serving all USA-produced wines. The choice of a bottle for a White House function, especially a State Dinner, carries a particular political significance in many cases. State dinners are intimate affairs with only 120 guests seated. Can you imagine trying to chart the seating arrangements given today’s political maneuverings?
President Biden has hosted several important state dinners since the Pandemic. We’ll look at the France and South Korea state dinners, the latter occurring only last week. This subject is a favorite of mine, so you will see additional newsletters on this topic in the future. In past newsletters, I have focused on other Presidents; see Mar. 9, 2021, “Wine and the Presidents: Jefferson, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton.” Wine and the government has a rocky relationship in the early 20th century, but now the wine choices for state dinners are seriously pondered.
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The Founding Fathers
The Founding Fathers loved their wine and spirits. As this photo suggests, the list of drinks for the celebration of the drafting of the US Constitution included:
54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, 8 bottles of whiskey, 22 bottles of port, 8 bottles of hard cider, 12 beers, and seven bowls of alcohol punch large enough that “ducks could swim in them.” They toasted the signing with the Madeira, George Washington’s favorite wine.
Thomas Jefferson: His Place in Wine History
Most Americans are aware that Thomas Jefferson served as the US Minister to France, Governor of Virginia, Secretary of State under George Washington, and was the third US President. Many people are not aware that he was America’s most famous wine expert. Jefferson’s notes on wine were considered by the French (along with 3 other wine experts) to help classify the premier cru Bordeaux wines. There are over 40 “Jefferson was here” plaques around France including the one below taken of me in Dijon, the main city in the Burgundy region of France.
As we move into the modern era, American wines are emerging out of the shadows of Prohibition. The Franklin Roosevelt administration and the US Congress abolished Prohibition with the 21st Amendment. FDR called Prohibition “a Stupendous Blunder.”
Nixon and China: Schramsberg Vineyards Blanc de Blanc, Napa Valley
In 1972, the opening of a formal relationship between the US and China occurred. It was a remarkable political event. President Richard Nixon traveled to this previously economically closed country to honor the occasion. Traveling with President Nixon to Beijing onboard Air Force One were a couple of cases of 1969 Schramsberg Vineyards, Napa Valley, Blanc de Blanc, one of the earliest US Sparkling wines. The owners of Schramsberg Winery, Jim and Jamie Davies, had no idea their wine would be used for the “Toast to Peace” with Chairman Zhou Enlai and President Nixon.
Only when a neighbor called and said, “Turn on your TV. Barbara Walters on the TODAY Show is talking about your wine,” did the Davies of Schramsberg Winery know about their wine being used for the toast.
Actually, the Schramsberg sparkling wines have been among the most frequently served wines at official State functions including the most recent during the Biden South Korea State Dinner.
Biden and Macron: The French President Visits the US
In December 2022, President and Dr. Biden welcomed French President Emmanuel Macron and Mme. Macron to a black-tie State dinner. Paired with Maine Lobster with American caviar and a calotte of beef were wines that reflected both American and French heritage. Of note, Joe Biden is a teetotaler. Ice cream is his favorite vice and is frequently incorporated in the State dinner desserts.
US France State Dinner Wines, December 2, 2022
Decanter Magazine, 94 Points
This elegant sparkling wine, produced in chilly Mendocino County, California is owned by the famous French Champagne house, Champagne Louis Roederer.
Wine Enthusiast, 91 Points
This wine is owned by the French luxury firm LVMH. Unfortunately, much of their cellar was destroyed in the California wildfires in 2020.
James Suckling, 95 Points
This wine is owned by the Jackson Family Wines, but crafted by the Jacksons’ friend and business partner, Bordeaux winemaker Pierre Seillan.
Biden and South Korea: East Meets West State Dinner, April 26, 2023
While the White House served a South Korean influenced menu, the President of South Korea, Yoon Suk Yeol, sang the first verse of “American Pie” to the delight of the State dinner attendees. Served alongside the lemon bar ice cream and berries dessert was the 2019 Schramsberg blanc de blanc, the same wine President Nixon took on his historic peacemaking trip to China. The Beef short rib and yellow squash soup with cured strawberries courses served had recipes straight from the “Smoke and Pickles” cookbook of Edward Lee, the Korean American chef and TV personality. The wines served were produced in California and Washington state.
Wines served at the US South Korea State Dinner
Wine Enthusiast, 93 Points
Wine Spectator, 91 Points
James Suckling, 92 Points
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