U.S. presidents are pretty sophisticated people, we like to think. But how savvy are they about wine?
It varies. Wildly. In honor of Presidents Day on Monday, let’s check some out:
▪ George Washington toasted his inauguration with Madeira wine and kept a good supply at Mount Vernon, paying for it with flour from his plantation. Madeira, a Portuguese wine from the island of Madeira, off Morocco, was the go-to wine of the revolutionaries because, being fortified with brandy up to 20 percent alcohol, it wouldn’t spoil under poor storage conditions.
▪ Thomas Jefferson was a wine connoisseur, educated while U.S. ambassador to France. He had a spacious wine cellar at his home at Monticello, filled with wines from France, Italy, Germany, Madeira, Spain, Portugal and Hungary, according to Forbes.com. He tried for years to grow grapes at Monticello, but they succumbed to downy mildew.
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▪ James Madison drank French Champagne.
▪ James Monroe drank a sherry cobbler, made of sherry wine, citrus and sugar, served over crushed ice. Historians call it “America’s first cocktail.”
▪ John Quincy Adams knew Madeira so well he once identified 11 out of 14 in a blind tasting, according to an item in The New York Post.
▪ John F. Kennedy and wife, Jacqueline, were sophisticated about wine. They liked France’s respected Bordeaux Chateau Haut Brion Blanc, and Dom Perignon Champagne was their house wine, according to The Wall Street Journal.
▪ Lyndon Johnson, a Cutty Sark Scotch whisky drinker himself, decreed the White House henceforth should serve American wines at state dinners, Wine Spectator says.
▪ Richard Nixon, when entertaining guests on his yacht, Sequoia, was widely reported to have his aides pour him superb, expensive Chateau Margaux Bordeaux from a bottle hidden in a towel, while serving his guests lesser wines.
▪ Jimmy Carter, who had made his own wine from grapes from his farm, stuck to alcohol-free sparkling wine while dining at the Willard Hotel, according to its bartender.
▪ Ronald Reagan, a former governor of California, served his state’s sparkling wine instead of French Champagne. He sent in a supply of wine from Beaulieu Vineyards, Sterling, Stag’s Leap and other California wineries.
▪ George W. Bush did a lot of beer and bourbon in his youth, his wife told ABC News, but he stopped drinking after his 40th birthday. His go-to beverage while in office was diet cola with a slice of lemon, according to the Washington Post.
▪ Barack Obama’s best-remembered alcohol outing was the 2009 “Beer Summit.” He sipped a brew with Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and police Sgt. James Crowley, who had arrested Gates for disorderly conduct, setting off a racial controversy. Obama had a Bud Light (which didn’t endear him to beer sophisticates), Gates a Sam Adams Light and Crowley a Blue Moon. Obama already had displeased some uppity wine fans when he told People magazine that under-$20 Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay was a staple in his house. First lady Michelle Obama likes a $15 sparkling wine from South African winemaker Graham Beck.