Just a little background first: the White House, being one of the seats of government here in the U.S., has a policy of serving domestic wines which dates back to the Kennedy days. At least that’s when they began to serve domestic wine in addition to the usual suspects from France.
President Nixon had a penchant for German wines from time to time, but Bordeaux and Champagne mostly ruled the roost. What else have presidents imbibed? Read on to take a look!
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Back in the days before Nintendo and MTV, people had very limited means of entertaining themselves. Perhaps coincidentally, the consumption of alcohol back then was pretty high too. In fact, President Washington was a big spender when it came to booze. How big? Over $6,000 from September 1775 to March 1776. Mostly on Madeira, and thank god for it. I think much of our first great general’s strategerizing was done over bottles of Madeira!
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TJ is sadly well known in wine circles, not for his careful purchases of great wines, but rather for wines that were attributed to him and sold to unsuspecting dupes over the past decades in a scandal that became a book: The Billionaire’s Vinegar.
Jefferson was an intellectual of the highest order and his approach to wine was totally in character. When he laid out his home, the famed Monticello, Jefferson built not only a cider room, he also built a 17.5 by 15 ft wine cellar to hold all his amassed purchases. And even beyond that, Jefferson was a pioneer in planting European wine grapes here in the states. He didn’t live to see them successfully produce wine, but he planted the seeds of an industry.
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Was Ben Franklin a booze hound? I’m pretty sure he was some kind of hound, so booze hound might not be much of a stretch. As evidence, I’ll resort to the lowest form of proof, using his own words!
"Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance."
"When Wine enters, out goes the Truth."
"Never spare the Parson's wine, nor the Baker's pudding."
"Wine is sure proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."
"Take counsel in wine, but resolve afterwards in water."
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Fast forward to the last U.S. President to serve Bordeaux in the White House, though rumor has it mostly to himself.
Nixon was known to love wine and in particular the Bordeaux first growths and German wines from the Bernkasteller Doktor vineyard. The Bordeaux tended to be expensive and in a move we can all admire, Nixon economized by serving lesser wine to his guests while drinking, according to lore, Chateaux Margaux from a napkin-covered bottle kept out of sight. To this day, people continue to refer to someone “pulling a Nixon” when they keep the good stuff hidden.
Okay, it is me who refers to people as “pulling a Nixon,” but I’m trying to get it to catch on!
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Californian Ronald Reagan really transformed the White House wine service, thoroughly and enthusiastically embracing the best of California for all state affairs.
Reagan is even credited with serving the first Zinfandel in the White House, a Boeger from El Dorado County, though it was well known that his favorite wine was Beaulieu’s George de la Tour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Rumor has it that Reagan served this wine to many famous politicians and celebrities who eventually became ardent fans of the California classic.
So we should probably define state affairs before asking what wines Bill Clinton was serving. I can hear it already, “I did not imbibe!” Well the Internet says otherwise Mr. President!
In fact, a quick scan of some of the official White House dinner menus shows that some kick ass wines were on offer.
1991 Ridge Monte Bello
1997 Macari Chardonnay ( Go NY!)
1995 Horton Nebbiolo (Go Va!)
Nice going Clinton White House!
Want to Learn More?
Don't miss a chronological look at what our Presidents were serving at State Dinners in Presidential Dinner Menus, Part 1 over on What's Cookin'!