Being President of the United States means, among many others things, you’re going to do a lot of celebrating — when it’s appropriate, of course.
We know that the beverage of celebration is wine, so it’s not surprising that wine has a long and somewhat colorful history with our Commanders in Chief — dating back to the very first President.
So, on this President’s Day, we check out the wine preferences of our first six Presidents as well as our six most recent Presidents — from Washington to Adams No. 2, and from Carter to Obama…
- George Washington — The “Father of Our Country” loved the fortified wine of Portugal known as Madeira. Throughout his Presidency and the rest of his lifetime, he ordered “pipes” of Madeira from wine shops and directly from wineries. A “pipe” held about 126 gallons of wine. Washington’s stepdaughter, Nelly, once noted that Washington typically “drank three glasses of Madeira” after dinner. More: http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/madeira/
- John Adams — As was the case with most people, Adams’ palate evolved over time. His family had a malt house, but then as a young lawyer he once sought to ban local taverns. His temperance tendencies did not stick, however, and Adams moved on to stronger libations. Eventually, he came to love the wines of Bordeaux, both reds and whites. More: https://earlyamericanists.com/2015/10/30/a-toast-to-john-adams/
- Thomas Jefferson — Early in his adult life, Jefferson emulated Washington, drinking a lot of Madeira. But when he traveled to France in 1784, everything changed. He enjoyed the lighter style, and also found many bottlings from Italy that he liked. Jefferson believed in a clear link between wine and friendship, which he described as “the true restorative cordial.” Famously, Jefferson planted grapevines at his Monticello estate, but had little luck in producing the type of wine he had come to love. In 1985, some of the vineyards were restored and some of the vines were grafted with varieties more favorable to the climate. More: https://www.monticello.org/site/house-and-gardens/vineyards
- James Madison — Like many wine collectors of his time, Madison added a seal bearing his name to each bottle in his cellar. At his Montpelier estate, 15 such seals have been found, a smaller number than expected given the number of bottles discovered at excavated sites on the property. You can view a picture of one of the seals here: https://www.montpelier.org/blog/history-your-hand-james-madison-wine-bottle-seal
- James Monroe — Nobody knows for sure how it happened, but during Monroe’s administration, funding that had been earmarked by Congress for the purchase of furniture was instead used to buy wine. Let’s see… a new couch, or 1,200 bottles of Champagne and Burgundy wine? Hmm…
- John Quincy Adams — The man who brought billiards to the White House also was an avid wine drinker, and fancied himself an expert on the subject. He took great pride in being able to identify specific types of wine and spirits without seeing the label on the bottle or the markings on the keg. He also hosted wine samplings. More: http://millercenter.org/president/biography/jqadams-family-life
- Jimmy Carter — He is known as a peanut farmer, but Carter also inherited a family winemaking tradition. His grandfather farmed 15 acres of grapevines, and Carter himself became a home winemaker, gradually evolving from producing very sweet wines to fully dry ones by studying books and picking the brains of professional winemakers. When a former President of the United States calls, most vintners pick up the phone. More: http://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/Wine-Talk-Jimmy-Carter_2389
- Ronald Reagan — Perhaps because he served as Governor of California before he became President of the United States, Reagan instituted a policy of serving only American wines at the White House. And that policy extended to U.S. sparkling wine in lieu of Champagne. He also was the first U.S. President to serve Zinfandel at the White House, and maintained a personal wine collection there. More: http://wineamerica.org/news/5-presidents-we-want-to-drink-wine-with
- George H.W. Bush — A 2011 Reserve Merlot and a 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon bearing the George Bush Presidential Library & Museum label won “Texas Class Champion” awards at the Houston Livestock Show and 2014 Rodeo Uncorked International Wine competition. Bush signed two 6-liter bottles of the wine, made by Messina Hof Wine Cellars in Texas, which were used in an auction to fund college scholarships for Texas students. More: http://www.messinahof.com/press/post/president-bush-puts-his-mark-on-messina-hof-wine-for-good-cause
- Bill Clinton — Not known as much of a wine drinker, Clinton is said to prefer hard cider and beer. What’s interesting is there is a winery that is more or less devoted to the Clinton family. Clinton Vineyards, located in New York’s Hudson Valley growing region, has celebrated past political victories by Bill Clinton. More recently, it released a 2012 Seyval Blanc called “Victory White” to encourage Hillary Clinton to run for President this year. Should Secretary Clinton win, I wonder what kind of wine they’ll serve at the inaugural ball? More: http://clintonvineyards.com/victory-white-2012-launch/
- George W. Bush — The second President Bush was known as a partier during his younger days, but had stopped drinking by the time he took office. That means when he dined at Bern’s Steak House in Tampa, Florida — as he did twice during his Presidency — he went there only for the food. Which seems just a little bit of a waste, considering Bern’s has long had the largest restaurant wine list anywhere. More: http://www.bernssteakhouse.com/Berns-Wine-Cellar
- Barack Obama — This is not a political blog, but will someone please show President Obama how to properly hold a wine glass? If you Google “Barack Obama wine images,” virtually every picture that comes up shows him holding a wine glass by its bowl, rather than its stem. Perhaps he learned it from Olivia Pope, as we detailed in this blog. Oh, wait, Olivia is a fictional character. Anyway, at least it’s good to know that our President drinks wine. On the night he won the Presidential election and delivered that memorable speech in Chicago’s Grant Park, he sipped on a glass of non-vintage Graham Beck Brut from South Africa. And before he took office, he dined at Rick Bayless’ acclaimed Chicago restaurant, Topolobampo, and ordered the tasting menu with matching wines.
• By the way, you may not think that spicy Mexican fare and wine would make good pairing partners. But at Topolobampo, they can… and do. Check out this blog from 2011 , and then follow the link to see the restaurant’s current wine list.