California wines for Obama's inauguration – and thoughts about wine at the White House

I have to say that Americans sure know how to throw a big party. Case in point, Barack Obama’s inauguration, which is drawing an incredible line-up of artists over these few days, and millions of people in tow, to witness this historic occasion.

It may be presumed that, at some of these functions, wine will be served.

Actually, it is certain that wine will be served, including three California wines at the Inaugural Luncheon, served for the new president, the vice-president, their wives, and 200 other members of Washington’s who’s who, in the Hall of the Capitol.

In honor of the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, the menu is based on the famous president’s personal taste – including an apple and cinnamon cake, to be served with Korbel California Champagne.

California Champagne? Won’t that cause some diplomatic embarrassment with France?

Apparently not, since, as Dave McIntyre pointed out on his blog, Korbel’s use of the term champagne is protected by a grandfather clause, included in a bilateral agreement between Europe and the USA. If you start a winery now in the US, you’ll be making sparkling wine. Korbel’s special inaugural cuvee (about which few details have been given by the winery), however, holds on to the privilege of being “champagne”.

In any case, the wine choices for the first two courses of the luncheon seem more up to par: a sauvignon blanc with a seafood stewand a pinot noir with a dish of pheasant and duck, both from Duckhorn, which labels them the “presidential pair” (available in a neat little boxed set, of course). The recipes for the dishes are even on the web page about the Pair, allowing you to create your own inauguration meal, if you’re so enclined.

Wine at the White House

Now, for a couple of decades, American wine has held a monopoly at White House dinners and functions. Which is fine by me: promotion of what’s good about a country is certainly part of a statesperson’s work. I’d love to see more ice cider and refreshing vidal served at Quebec official functions, personally.

Others, however, like Mike Steinberger in Slate Magazine, (I got that link on a tweet from Alder Yarrow) think that the winds of change blowing on Washington should include the wine list at the White House. Hosting the French or the Greek presidents with a wine from their country would be a great courtesy, he points out. Why not, indeed, be more generous about it. Wine for thought, surely.

But may I also suggest another direction, for an environmentally-conscious president like Barack Obama? Why not go local, organic, and in general, green?

As Dave McIntiyre pointed out, one environmentally-minded inaugurational gala will be featuring local wine, more specifically Virginia wine – pretty much as close as you can get to the District of Columbia. Dave should know, as one of the co-founders of the Drink Local Wine web site, which I have the pleasure of working with periodically.

It’s a good example to follow, I believe. One certainly hopes that, in any case, States and Provinces will head in that direction, giving local wines priority. There’s plenty of good wines to be had in just about any part of North America, nowadays, so there’s little excuse from most local and regional governments.

As for the Nation’s Leader, local wines may take on a wider definition – or else, face considerable lobbying from at least half the country’s winemakers. Which is where a little more insistence on environmentally-friendly wines would be a great way to go. Presidents should be standard bearers, and appeal to the better angels of our nature, shouldn’t they?

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  1. Posted January 23, 2009 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Presidents should absolutely be the standard bearers. They should feature wine from a different state each week. The small family owned wineries should get first crack at stardom. Oh, and….when in doubt add more wine.

  2. Posted February 18, 2009 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

    The obvious choice, in my mind, is pinot noir from The Eyrie Vineyards. Everyone told David Lett that pinot noir couldn’t be grown in Oregon, yet he said (in effect), “yes we can” — and look at the result. The wines are classic and true. So I hope that the White House sommelier will sock away more than a few cases!

  3. winecase
    Posted February 19, 2009 at 2:18 am | Permalink

    Excellent point about the Lett pinot. I think the same spirit could apply in serving Kinkead Ridge cabernet from Ohio or Wölffer cab franc and merlot from Long Island. All winemakers that have gone against conventional wisdom to do things that others said couldn’t be done.

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