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Mar 18, 2009 03:17 PM

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:


George W Bush: http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archive...


Carter: (PDF)

General info from (of course) Chowhound:

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  1. don't know much on this subject but I think Nixon served Schramsberg sparkling wine to a Chinese delegation around '72 or '73

    1 Reply
    1. re: ibstatguy

      Thanks! Yup, Schramsberg says that Nixon took the Blanc de Blancs to China for the famous "toast to peace" in 1972.

      Wine trivia is so much fun!


    2. Boeger in El Dorado County likes to note they were the first zinfandel served in the White House. It was under Reagan.

      1 Reply
      1. re: SteveTimko

        Thanks!!! I would love to serve a zin - I'll see if I can track this one down.


      2. Breaking news - the White House served green sparkling wine on St. Patrick's Day!

        Love the pictures, but I'm not going to go there for our tasting ....


        1. 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.

          2 Replies
          1. re: eatzalot

            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:


            1. re: eatzalot

              During Reagan's time in the White House, David Berkeley (now a Sacramento, CA wine merchant) consulted to the White House on their selections.

            2. 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 from 1987, and 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

              1 Reply
              1. re: eatzalot

                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.