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Monday February 16th is George Washington’s Birthday. In the USA , we celebrate it as Presidents’ Day. I’m just starting to read a book titled An Evening with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson: Dinner, Wine and Conversation (James Gabler 2013).
Here are some wines from France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Germany enjoyed by our Founding Fathers and still available today:
Chambertin. Jefferson rated Chambertin the best of Burgundy’s red wines. He imported 100 bottles during the 3rd year of his presidency. Grape varietal Pinot Noir: Except for the allowed but obscure blending of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir from Chambertin will be 100% varietal. The classic, definitive Chambertin has flavors of black cherry, black raspberry, olive, combined with the famous smoked meat essence and offers up herbs, smoke and flowers. It’s hard to find a more complex Pinot Noir anywhere in the world.
Montrachet. Jefferson was introduced to this wine in 1787 when he travelled to Burgundy. Even then, it sold at a price equal to Lafite, Margaux, Latour. Wines from Montrachet are composed almost entirely of Chardonnay, unlike in other white Burgundy wines, where up to 15% of Pinot Blanc can be added. These wines have a purity and crispness.
White Hermitage. Jefferson called it the ” first wine in the world without exception” and ordered 550 bottles during his presidency. Rich, dry white wines are produced from a blend of Marsanne and Roussanne.
Châteaux Grillet. Jefferson called Grillet the best white wine of Northern Rhone, white wine from Viognier grapes producing full-bodied wines with a lush, soft character. The Viognier varietal has notes of peach, pears, violets and minerality.
Provence and Languedoc
Blanquette de Limoux. Vineyards around the town of Limoux. Jefferson imported this wine during his retirement. This wine was sweet and sparkling then, the same as it is today. The main grape of the region is the Mauzac. Wine historians believe that the world’s first sparkling wine was produced in this region in 1531, by the monks at the abbey in Saint-Hilaire.
Vin Blanc de Rochegude. A sweet fortified wine that Jefferson sent to President George Washington.
Bellet (near Nice). Jefferson was introduced to these wines on his 44th birthday. Robert Parker of today’s wine world says the wines of Bellet are “Nice’s best kept secret.” Red, White, Rosé wines are made in this small appellation. The reds are based on the local Braquet and Folle grapes as well as some Cinsaut and Grenache. Braquet is the main grape used in the red wines. It is thought to be a grape that is native to the area and is the same as or similar to the Italian Brachetto which is used in the famous Brachetto d’Acqui wines from Piedmont. The other red wine grape is Folle which is sometimes called la Folle Noire. The Rosé may be made from a mixture of some or all of these grape varieties as well as the white varieties. The whites can be made from a wide variety of grapes but the most popular variety is Rolle. Rolle is a grape that is native to the area around Nice and is used in the production of the white wines of this appellation. It is the same as, or very similar to, the grape the Italians call Vermentino.
Châteaux Lafite, Châteaux Margaux, Châteaux Latour. Left bank blends from top-quality Châteaux are 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc and 15% Merlot. Right Bank blends from top-quality Châteaux are typically 70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon.
Carbonnieux. This is the only one Jefferson mentioned that seems to still exist. Grape varieties are Sauvignon Blanc – Semillon, a classic white wine blend. Châteaux Carbonnieux is one of the oldest estates in the entire Bordeaux wine region with a history dating back to the 12th century! Grape varietals- 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 38% Semillon and 2% Muscadelle. Fresh lemon, lime and floral notes.
Châteaux d’Yquem. Jefferson served this wine at White House dinners, while secretary of state he ordered it for himself and 360 bottles for President George Washington. Sauternes is made from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle grapes that have been affected by Botrytis Cinerea, also known as noble rot. Sauternes are characterized by the balance of sweetness with the zest of acidity. Some common flavor notes include apricots, honey, peaches but with a nutty note. The finish can resonate on the palate for several minutes.
Monsieur Dorsay’s in Ay. Jefferson preferred non-sparkling Champagne. Yes, that’s right. Champagne was a still wine in those days. I’ve read that this Champagne vineyard is owned now by Champagne Bollinger. The primary grapes used in the production of Champagne are Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. The dark-skinned Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier give the wine its length and backbone. Chardonnay gives the wine its acidity and biscuit flavor.
Nebiule (Jefferson’s spelling of Nebbiolo). During Jefferson’s times ( the 18th century and into 19th) in Piedmont the fermentation was not allowed to finish, leaving the wines sweet and frizzante. Today this wine region produces wonderful, tannic, dry red wines – Barolo and Barbaresco – which are no longer sweet or effervescent, and are very delicious. Grape varietal is Nebbiolo.
Montepulciano. Jefferson’s favorite Tuscan wine and described it as ” equal to the best Burgundy.” After Sangiovese, Montepulciano is Italy’s second most widely dispersed indigenous grape variety. Montepulciano has moderately low acidity and softer tannins, round, plummy and weighty red wine.
Dry Sherry. Jefferson imported substantial amounts of these Spanish wines during his 8 years as president. There are only three white grapes grown for Sherry-making: 1)Palomino: the dominant grape used for the dry sherries. Approximately 90 per cent of the grapes grown for Sherry are Palomino. 2) Pedro Ximénez: used to produce sweet wines. When harvested these grapes are typically dried in the sun for two days to concentrate their sugars. 3) Moscatel: used similarly to Pedro Ximénez, but it is less common.
Madeira. Jefferson was a Madeira enthusiast. While in Paris, Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette shared 110 gallons of this wine. The four major styles of Madeira are named according to the grape variety used. Ranging from the driest style to the sweetest style, the Medeira types are:1)Sercial, characterized with high-toned colors, almond flavors, and high acidity. 2)Verdelho, characterized by smokey notes and high acidity. 3)Bual, characterized by its dark color, medium-rich texture, and raisin flavors. 4)Malvasia (also known as Malmsey or Malvazia), characterized by its dark color, rich texture, and coffee-caramel flavors.
Brauneberg. Jefferson also enjoyed Wehlen, Grach, Piesport. The Mosel is famous for its wines made from the Riesling grape. Because of the northerly location of the Mosel, the Riesling wines are often light, low in alcohol, crisp and high in acidity, and often exhibit “flowery” rather than “fruity” aromas.
Schloss Johannisberg. Jefferson wrote someone that he was taking vines with him back to America to his home at Monticello and planned to grow them there, but there is no evidence that he took these when he left France in 1789 to return to America. Some 1,200 years of viticultural history are associated with Johannisberg. An eventful history led to the creation of the world’s first Riesling wine estate. Founded as a Benedictine monastery, the Johannisberg abbey quickly became a viticultural focal point and initiator in the Rheingau.
Thomas Jefferson was a known foodie and Gabler writes ” the most knowledgable wine connoisseur of his age.”
Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826) was an American Founding Father, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776), and the third President of the United States (1801–1809). He was a spokesman for democracy, and embraced the principles of republicanism and the rights of the individual with worldwide influence. In May 1785, he became the United States Minister to France and later the first United States Secretary of State (1790–1793) serving under President George Washington. In 1803, President Jefferson initiated a process of Indian tribal removal to the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi River, having opened lands for eventual American settlers. In 1807 Jefferson drafted and signed into law a bill that banned slave importation into the United States.
Considered an important architect in the classical tradition, he designed his home Monticello and other notable buildings. Jefferson was keenly interested in science, invention, architecture, religion, and philosophy; he was an active member and eventual president of the American Philosophical Society. He was conversant in French, Greek, Italian, Latin, and Spanish, and studied other languages and linguistics, interests which led him to found the University of Virginia after his presidency.
As long as he lived, Jefferson expressed opposition to slavery, yet he owned hundreds of slaves and freed only a few of them. Historians generally believe that after the death of his wife Jefferson had a long-term relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings, and fathered some or all of her children.