Wine and politics, American-style
Wine might often bring people together, but it can also create problems, as U.S. President Barack Obama discovered last month. One of the wines served at his post-inaugural lunch was a California sparkling wine. But it was shown on the draft menu (issued to the press in advance) as “Korbel Natural, Special Inaugural Cuvée Champagne, California.”
You can imagine the reaction from champagne producers, because (as I pointed out here a few weeks ago) only sparkling wine made in Champagne, in France, is champagne. But the issue is a bit more complicated than that. The U.S. and France signed an agreement in 2006 that forbade the use of “champagne” on sparkling wine made in America, but the rule referred only to new producers. Any winery already referring to its fizz as “champagne” was permitted to continue the practice, as long as the word “champagne” was preceded by the state it was made in. So calling the presidential wine “California champagne” would have been all right; “Champagne, California” was not.
The order of the words was corrected before the official menu was printed, and a diplomatic incident was avoided.
But note that it was American bubbles that were served (and paired with apple pie, no less, to make dessert a quintessentially American course). It’s now a rule that U.S. presidents serve only American wines at official events, and it has been that way since the early 1980s. The turning point might well have been that famous blind tasting in Paris in 1976, when French judges (to their horror) rated some American wines higher than several iconic French wines. (That’s the tasting featured in that awful movie, Bottle Shock.)
Until the 1980s, the wines served at presidential occasions were most often French, reflecting the prevailing view that French wines were the best in the world. The last president to serve French wine was Richard Nixon who, although felled by the Watergate scandal, was a big fan of beverages stronger than water. It’s said that when Nixon visited the Soviet Union as U.S. vice-president in 1959, President Eisenhower sent his own brother along to make sure Nixon didn’t get into too many martinis before meetings that required tact and diplomacy.
As for wine, Nixon’s favourites were first-growth bordeaux, especially Château Margaux. Those were the days that such wines were affordable, and didn’t cost hundreds of dollars a bottle on release. But even so, Nixon was mindful of the taxpayers’ dollars, and while he enjoyed Château Margaux at official dinners (the bottle’s label discreetly hidden by a serviette), his guests were poured inexpensive and mediocre bordeaux.
These days, the wine list more transparent, and I don’t imagine Obama sipped champagne from a small grower-producer near Reims, while his guests drank Korbel California champagne.
Anselmi San Vincenzo 2011
From the Veneto region of Italy, this white blend (garganega, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc) has quite bright aromatics and well-defined flavours. It’s dry and crisp, and goes with many poultry and seafood dishes. 13-per-cent alcohol; $15.95 (948158, Vintages Essential)
Villa Sandi Prosecco
There’s a lot of flavour and a little sweetness in this prosecco, more than in most in this price range. The acidity is brisk and refreshing and neutralizes some of the sweetness. This is a natural for spicy Thai dishes. 11-per-cent alcohol; $14.15/750mL (249722) or $8.05/375mL (194191)
Gérard Bertrand ‘Cuvée Spéciale’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
This recent arrival in the LCBO is a very well-priced cabernet sauvignon from the south of France. Look for concentrated, solid fruit from start to finish, good acid balance, and light tannins. It’s an easy choice for red meats and sausages. 13.5-per-cent alcohol; $11.75 (234815)
Penfolds ‘Thomas Hyland’ Shiraz 2010
From Adelaide, in South Australia, this is a perennially popular shiraz. It has all the fruit concentration you expect, but adds impressive structure and balance. Dry, moderately tannic, it’s a great choice for grilled or roasted red meats. 14.5-per-cent alcohol; $21.95 (611210)