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by Fred McMillin
The President's Pick
The third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, was born on this date 257 years ago. There has never been another holder of that office with as much knowledge of viticulture. What wine did he rate best?
The Rest of the Story
Let's look for some hints.
German?—In July 1784 Jefferson sailed from Boston to France to become the United States' first minister to France. Four days before boarding the ship, he bought forty eight bottle of German wine to drink at sea.
Madeira?—During his eight years as president, Jefferson frequently served Madeira...very frequently...a total of four thousand bottles.
Champagne?—Author James Gabler tells us that in one four-month period 207 bottles of champagne were poured for 651 dinner guests. (A review of the expenditures for one year showed the cost of wines was greater than for groceries!)
Italian "Nebiule" [Nebbiolo]—The Piedmont red "is about as sweet as the silky Madeira, as astringent on the palate as a Bordeaux, and as brisk as Champagne. It is superlative wine."
Chateau d'Yquem Dessert Wine—On Dec. 18, 1787 Jefferson wrote in French,
Bordeaux and Burgundy—Wines from both regions were great Jefferson favorites, too. Yet, none of the above won top rating. Here's the winner.
The President's Pick
"The White Hermitage is the first wine in the world without a single exception"...Jefferson, 1791
The Roussanne has been traditionally associated with the Rhone's White Hermitage, and Lee Sobon grows it in Amador County. Here's what he says about it. "A truly remarkable grape, producing a crisp, flinty wine in its native France, where it is one of the best aging of all white wines. Our California counterpart's flavors are both honeyed and minerally. Serve with rich dishes of either seafood or fowl."
Postscript—The Price Is Right
Thomas Jefferson didn't pay $17 for "the first wine in the world." His notes recorded the cost as 83 1/2 cents a bottle.
Note: For further evidence of Lee Sobon's deft touch with Rhone white-wine varietals, see WineDay, May 4, 1999, "The Comeback Kid"...the story of the Rhone's Viognier growing on the Sobon Estate.
This page created April 2000