What wines did US presidents serve pre-Clinton?
OK, here's a wacko and obscure question:
What wines were served in the White House (for state dinners, etc.) between 1970 and 1992 - that is, under the presidents Bush the elder (George Herbert Walker), Reagan, Carter (have some info here), Ford, and/or Nixon? Info on LBJ would be cool, too, but that's really a long time ago...
My next wine tasting will have the theme "White House Wines." I'd like to have 6 wines from a variety of administrations (not necessarily the same vintage, though). We'll definitely have the Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc from Obama's inauguration luncheon (the idea started as me needing an excuse to buy this wine). And we'll have the Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc, because it's been served for a whole bunch of presidents (Reagan, Carter, Ford, and Nixon, according to Schramsberg's web site).
I've found troves of online info for George W Bush's dinners, a bunch for Clinton, and even some for Carter (hooray for the online menus at the Jimmy Carter library). And, of course, much has been written about the wines (and food) at Obama's first few official meals. (Though I can't find info on the wines served at the March 4 casual-big dinner...)
But I can't find *anything* about the days of George H.W. and Barbara Bush (any search I do turns up his son instead), or Reagan (before the growth of the internet), or Ford (even earlier). And all I know about LBJ is his decision to serve only American wines, forcing Nixon to smuggle in his beloved French wine for state dinners (so Nixonian! :-)
Anyway, are there any wine-obsessed historians (or history-obsessed winos) who can help me with leads to online info? If so, many many thanks!
P.S. By the by, here are the links to my best info sources so far:
Carter: http://jimmycarterlibrary.org/documents/menus.pdf (PDF)
General info from (of course) Chowhound: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/587805
Reagan is important to this question, for his occupancy brought new interest in wines and especially California wines to the White House. I recall reading about a Caifornia red being served pointedly at a state dinner there in 1981 or so. Unfortunately, it was not a wine choice I admired, because it was young (too young?) for its general type, whereas the years 1968, 1974 (especially), and in some examples the drought years 1976 and 77 had all produced world-class California Cabernets, the kind raising eyebrows in international blind tastings then, and these wines were still fairly easily available at the time. (For instance the 1976 BV Georges de Latour Cabernet was new on the market in 1981-82, "expensive" at $20 retail but hey, these are state dinners; this wine was still glorious at age 30. Some 1974s were drinking splendidly in the early 1980s.)
In Reagan years, the Internet was less familiar to the public, but it was indeed active and discussing wines. In searching public archives from the years requested, I found one reference to wines in the White House, a 1984 mention of Jordan Cabernet, but no details.
Thanks for the info! Was the Reagan/Jordan Cab info in this article by the Sacbee?
Pre-Internet era White House dinners are indeed hard to research online. I did find a snippet about Nixon and Chateau Margaux. It was in a blog post about Nixon being a "wine hog" because he drank a better wine (covered by a napkin) than the one served to his guests:
I didn't know about the SacBee story. Below is link to 1984 posting I found (by Dick Dunn, an active wine contributor in those days). Truth be told, online searches are spotty for any deep or specialized subject at all. Friends who do a lot of research professionally often tell me that most of the substantial information is either in paid databases or print. The convenience of googling seduces many into forgetting serious limitations of what we can find that way. I'll bet there was an excellent theme article or two on "White House wines" in specialized wine publications not accessible by Google.
Though they may not touch often on White House dinners, early Internet public postings are actually the easiest place to search for information. That's because before hypertext tools gave rise in the 1990s to "Web sites" with private ownership and content control, all _public_ Internet discussion occurred (and some still occurs) via newsgroups, whose content does not reside on a "site" but is broadcast net-wide and can be archived at will. Therefore, millions of postings from those days have been public ever since they appeared. The only prerequisites to searching them are knowing they exist, and if possible the names of the newsgroups. (Regrettably, this subject is muddled in Internet histories by people who did not experience those days, and it also gets confused with the private networking firms like Prodigy Interactive and CompuServe, which tried for some time to compete with the Internet, ultimately merging into it, middle to late 1990s.)
Public Internet wine discussion occurred on the newsgroup net.wines from 1982 to 1986, renamed rec.food.drink from 1987, and alt.food.wine since 1993 or so. A limitation of the searchable Google archive linked below is that it is notably incomplete for "recreational" newgroups (such as food and wine topics) from late 1980s to early 1990s. However I searched the wine newsgroups for their entire history, and found very little mention of "White House," the only one slightly relevant to this query is the 1984 message below. I also had a vague memory of Jordan Cabernet in this connection. The firm's first vintage was around 1976 and it has done a good job of holding and slowly releasing older vintages.
Jordan Vineyard & Winery
1474 Alexander Valley Rd, Healdsburg, CA 95448
Great link - thanks! I have now spent far too much time searching around on Google Groups. Though I didn't find much about White House wine, I found millions of my old postings (since 1984!). And here I thought they had long since disappeared into the ether...
Seems I was a food-obsessed (and wine-obsessed) chowhound even back then. Some things never change.
Richard Nixon wrote an article for the Oct. 1, 1990, Forbes magazine in which he talked about wine. He loves Bordeaux, particuarly first growths. Good luck finding those.
He also had this statement:
I used to put at the top of my list one of the finest wines in the world, Germany's Bernkasteler Doctor. I often served it at the White House. But in later years, I found it a bit too sweet for my taste.
Here's a few lines from a July 24, 1986, Los Angeles Times article:
Except for the Nixon presidency, it has been the practice since the Kennedy Administration, for the White House to serve American wines at official occasions. French Bordeaux and Champagne and German white wines appeared at the Nixon state dinners.
The policy of serving California wines predates Reagan. In the Carter years, the Executive Mansion served, at one time or another, wine from every wine-producing state, but primarily California wines and a New York Champagne at state dinners. Popular at the Reagan state dinners is California Schramsberg Champagne.
There's an Oct. 21, 1980, article in the Washington Post that says the Regans served Mitterand a 1970 cabernet sauvignon, Freemark Abbey-Bosche, a 1950 Abudarham and a 1970 Chateau d'Yquem.
A June 1, 1984, Washington Post article said Reagan's favorite wine was Beaulieu's Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.
There's also this article from the Aug. 16, 1981, New York Times:
Legh Knowles, B.V.'s president and an ardent yarn-spinner, tells stories of Prince Charles of England, Henry Kissinger, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and several inhabitants of the White House who have called the B.V. offices here in Rutherford to order the Georges de Latour Private Reserve. ''Beaulieu has been served to 10 Presidents, and that's not bad,'' he says.
Wow, Steve - you're a researcher par excellence! This is all great info. Thanks!
Interesting about the LA Times saying that the Kennedy administration started the American wine thing. I've seen it attributed to LBJ - I thought the Kennedy's were big into French wine (like Nixon). But maybe they stressed it non-exclusively, and it was Johnson who said "only American wine."
>> Beaulieu has been served to 10 Presidents, and that's not bad,'' he says.
I bought a bottle of BV cab - the $20 one - for our tasting because of this sentence. Though I bet the White House serves Beaulieu's more expensive wines. (The White House clearly has a bigger wine budget than I do... )
Nixon was notorious for having himself served the finest French Bourdeaux while his guests were served much less expensive red. But that kindof makes sense considering it was Tricky Dick.
Later, after his resignation, he then showed up at Chateau Lafitte (if memory serves), kindof invited himself in, and proceeded to get totally plowed on their good stuff.
Back in the late 80s, a lot of wineries posted on their walls printed White House menus from the Reagan when their wines had been listed and served. Don't remember the details - just remember that it was common.
The Obamas had a Michigan ice wine at their first White House dinner: the A Capella Riesling Ice Wine from Black Star Farms.
I've had their Maple desert wine, and it's lovely. Not cheap, either. I wish we had the budget for the ice wine, but I consol myself that we wouldn't be able to find it in town, anyway (no time for mail-order, either).
<I believe Gerald Ford served Michigan wines to some of his guests.
I would not recommend following his lead>
I'm guessing you have not tried many Michigan wines recently. One does need to be selective, but there are some very tasty wines coming from there.
Plonk also comes from California....... 8-O
Thanks for all the help! Here's a report on our "white house wines" tasting.
Executive summary: The wines were great, and we had fun with White House Wine Quiz:
I used quite a bit of leeway in chosing the wines - many vintages are unavailable today, and others were just too expensive for us. But everyone loved the wines I chose.
Here's what we had, along with my notes, the sale price in Minnesota (as of last month), and a link to "source" information on the wine's appearance in the White House:
Domaine Carneros Taittinger 2005 Brut Cuvée ($25.50)
President Clinton served this winery's Le Rêve sparkling wine for President Rawlings of Ghana in 1999. It was paired with Kente wrapped mango(?), pineapple ice cream, and Gold Bars chocolate. However, because Le Rêve is a limited-release wine that costs about $85, we substituted the widely-available Brut.
My comment: Lovely stuff! Rich, creamy, and just a wee bit sweet - I can see this being served with dessert. (We paired it with with Roth Kase aged gouda and surimi-cream cheese tartlets.)
Schramsberg 2005 Blanc de Blancs ($26)
Presidents Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, and Johnson have served this wine at many White House events. It gained international recognition in 1972 when President Nixon served it at the historic "Toast to Peace" in Beijing, China.
My comment: Very nice. Drier than the Dom. Carneros - very tart and lemony. The group thought it was bland (they tasted this after the Carneros), but I thought it was a great aperitif wine. Nice with our cheap Costco brie.
Duckhorn Vineyards 2007 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($26)
President Obama had this wine at his inauguration luncheon. It was paired with a seafood stew in puff pastry cups.
My comment: A big, impressive wine. Love the taste. Richer than many sav blancs, but very nice when paired with surimi-cream cheese tartlets (my cheapo version of the White House seafood stew).
Ferrari-Carano 2006 Siena ($25)
President Clinton served this blend of Sangiovese and Malbec to President Zedillo of Mexico at a luncheon in 1995. Sadly, the food pairing is lost in the mists of time.
My comment: Very easy to drink. I can taste the malbec. This would be very popular at a party. Our balsamic-glazed chicken skewers were a decent pairing with this wine; the domestic parmesan (SarVecchio - yum!) was even better.
Pacific Rim Riesling 2007 Vin de Glacière ($20)
As administrations change, so do wines. When President Bush served this wine to the president of Poland in 2002, it was Bonny Doon Muscat Vin de Glacière, and it was paired with peaches and cherries, ginger-almond ice cream, and cookies. Now it has been spun off as part of the Pacific Rim line and is made with Riesling grapes from Washington State. We're serving it with baked pears and puff-pastry palmiers.
My comments: Wow! I love this wine. Sweet and fruity, yet complex and acidic enough to be interesting. Very nice with the pears, and glorious with Maytag blue cheese.
Adelsheim Deglacé 2006 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($27)
President Bush served this dessert wine at a 2006 dinner honoring Arthur Mitchell and the Dance Theater of Harlem. It was paired with lemon custard cake and coconut ice cream.
My comment: Nice, but seems one-dimensional after the Pacific Rim. Very sweet and syrupy. And it's a lovely pink. None of the food pairings sang, though it's nice with the puff-pastry cookies.
So, after we taste, we vote on a favorite. The winner (by two votes only) was the Ferrari-Carano Siena. This is a group that likes easy-drinking reds, and the Siena is a very nice one.
There was a four-way tie for second place. The wine with the least votes was the Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs. Not that it was bad - everyone loved it - but they loved the others even more.
My personal favorites, in no particular order, were the Domaine Carneros Taittinger, the Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc, and the Pacific Rim Vin de Glacière. (The Adelsheim is already my "house dessert wine.")
P.S. My favorite presidential wine quote is from Thomas Jefferson:
"No nation is drunken where wine is cheap, and none sober where the
dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage.
Wine brightens the life and thinking of anyone."