White House wine – what do US Presidents drink?

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As election day approaches, we take a look back at the favourite tipples of the many wine-loving US presidents, with facts and anecdotes from ‘Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt’ by Mark Will-Weber.

Image: The White House
Image: The White House

White House wine – what do US Presidents drink?

Barack Obama

During his 2012 presidential campaign dinner in Harlem, Obama supplied some top American vintages, as you might hope for $30,000 a ticket. In ‘Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt‘ Mark Will-Weber noted the menu:

Hermann J. Weiner, Semi-Dry Riesling 2000 from the Finger Lakes region, paired with Lobster salad.Braised short ribs with Ridge, Geyserville ‘Essence’ from Sonoma County, and Brown Estate, ‘Chaos Theory’ 2009 from African American-owned winery in Napa Valley.

Obama toasts Nordic leaders at a White House State Dinner earlier this year. Credit: Getty
Obama toasts Nordic leaders at a White House State Dinner earlier this year. Credit: Getty

George W. Bush

The trigger for Bush going teetotal was allegedly his vastly overindulgent fortieth birthday party in Colorado Springs.

‘Silver Oak wine at sixty dollars per bottle was the libation of choice,’ wrote Will-Weber, referring to the well-known Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. ‘Bush remembers the bar tab as “colossal”.’

Ronald Reagan

‘Despite his Hollywood background (or perhaps because of it), Reagan resisted any attempts to get him into the make-up room prior to appearances’, said Will-Weber.

His trusted advisor Michael K.Deaver recalled how he discovered a remedy for the president’s ‘ghostly pale’ complexion:

‘[Reagan] could not resist a good French wine, and I figured if I put the bottle on the table, and he could see the label and the vintage, he’d have to have a taste.’ The president’s love of high-end French red wine ‘brought all the capillaries out in his cheeks’.

• Read Julien Hitner’s article ‘Politics and Wine’ in the December issue of Decanter, on sale now. Subscribe to Decanter here.

Image: (Left to right) Nixon, Reagan, Ford and Carter raise a glass in the Blue Room, 1992. Credit: Getty
Image: (Left to right) Nixon, Reagan, Ford and Carter raise a glass in the Blue Room, 1992. Credit: Getty

Richard Nixon

One of Nixon’s favourite wines was the First Growth Château Margaux. Another was Château Lafite Rothschild and particularly the 1957 vintage. However, Will-Weber has noted that ‘Tricky Dick’ was loathe to share his Bordeaux wine:

‘His guests were typically given a decent (but far less expensive) wine — and the waiters were instructed to serve it with a towel wrapped around the bottle so as to hide the label.’

John F. Kennedy

Like most presidents, JKF enjoyed Champagne, and the First Lady, Jackie Kennedy’s favourite was Veuve Clicquot.

Will-Weber has included an account of a particularly bubbly White House dinner party with the Kennedys, published by the former managing editor of the Washington Post Ben Bradlee:

‘Champagne was flowing like the Potomac in flood, and the president himself was opening bottle after bottle in a manner that sent the foam flying all over the furniture…’

Thomas Jefferson

Image: Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Mather Brown. Credit: WikiCommons//cliff1066
Image: Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Mather Brown. Credit: WikiCommons//cliff1066

‘Jefferson will always be regarded as the First Father of Wine in the United States’, asserted Will-Weber.

His diplomatic travels in 1787 to ‘southern France and the Italian Piedmont’ instilled in him a lifelong passion for European fine wine.

‘Jefferson’s favourite wines appear to have been top-quality vintages of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Sauternes’, wrote Will-Weber.

The third president also had high praise for white Hermitage, reportedly naming it ‘the first wine in the world without single exception’.

Jefferson ordered vast amounts of wine from Hungary. In 1801 he bought 240 bottles to be precise, along with more than 100 gallons of Madeira wine, according to Will-Weber.

Unfortunately, Jefferson’s wine obsession sank him into crippling debts, leaving him ‘on the brink of bankruptcy’ by the time of his death.

Written by Laura Seal for Decanter.com

Translated by Sylvia Wu / 吴嘉溦

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