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Whine at the White House

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Today, the White House decided not to list the wines and vintages served at state dinners. Too bad. I understand that they are sensitive because sometimes they serve pretty expensive stuff there and they don’t want to seem out of touch with the regular people that drink two buck Chuck.

This is a mistake.

Years ago, I began collecting wine. I started drinking it because I had a brother in law that lived in the Sonoma Valley. Being young and recently out of college, wine “tasting”, more like guzzling, appealed to me. I go to a winery, they give me a free drink. How bad can this be? It was a good way to get into wine. The one that got me hooked forever was a 1984 Glen Ellyn Merlot. Drank it on my deck with my wife and it showed me what wine really could be.

When I moved to Geneva, IL, I used to hang out at a shop called the Wine Seller. It’s still there on Third Street. A bunch of regular patrons, the proprietor called us “swine”, would hang out and open several bottles and share. You can learn about wine by reading about it, but it’s much better if you drink it. We were called swine because we would drink anything. We also would buy out all the close outs from sales guys that came in. Once got some vintage French champagne for $10 a bottle. That didn’t last long….

When each of my daughters were born, I laid down a case of wine for their 21st birthday. I put down a case of 1991 California cabernets for my oldest daughter and many of them were tremendous when we opened them in January of 2012. My youngest was born in 1993, and it was a damn good year in Burgundy, so she can look forward to those. She also has two bottles of 1993 Mouton. A friend of mine was in France and picked up a bottle for me. Wine, because they put a year on it and grow it in a vineyard give you a sense of time and place. It’s one of the appeals.

By the way, if you want to put down something for your kids, and you are years late don’t fret. Go out and find a bottle of port from their birth year, or a bottle of dessert wine. Sauternes are great. They will last for sure and will be a sweet accompaniment to any 21st birthday dinner.

My neighbors and I really got into it. We went to both the Sonoma and Napa Valley Wine Auctions. At the Napa one, my wife mistakenly bought a vertical of Storybook Mountain Zinfandels! She exclaimed, “You better have a good day at work Monday!”. Jerry Seps, the winery owner, was at the table next to ours and started laughing. We struck up a relationship. I continued to buy magnums year after year and after several years he came out and we opened all the bottles at one time for a special dinner. It turned out, the owner of the Geneva Wine Seller had a Joseph Swan 1979 Zinfandel in his celler and we opened it too. It was the first wine that Jerry had ever made.

I don’t really collect wine anymore. I just buy it and drink it. So many other regions of the world make really good wine. When I first started drinking it, the good wines were Californian or French. Some Italian, some German, some Portuguese. South America and Australia were just coming on. Oregon and Washington state had some decent wines, but weren’t producing hundreds of great wines like they are today. I have found if you work at it, you can find some really tremendous wines from somewhere in the world for under $20.

That brings me back to the White House. As the US President, he ought to pump up US wineries. It’s a world wide market and when a wine is served at the White House, the winery advertises it. It helps their sales. I have spoken with vintners that had wine poured at state dinners and they are really touched when the White House does that. It’s a feather in their cap.

I also think that you put your best foot forward when company is in town. If the White House is going to host a state dinner, they ought to pour the good stuff. Sometimes the good stuff in the haute cuisine served at a state dinner is really expensive, and in short supply. So what if the White House pours out the nice grape juice when they are entertaining. It helps perception of America when they advertise that we are serving really good American wine too. We aren’t just a bunch of uncultured pigs. Drink a top pinot from Oregon and you might think you are sipping a fine grand cru burgundy.

I have a vested interest in this. Someday, I hope to be invited to a state dinner. I don’t want to drink swill. My wife and I pour good stuff when we have people over. When it’s just family, we pour the cheap stuff. Why should the White House be any different?

So President and Mrs. Obama, please continue to pour great, expensive American wine at state dinners. Heck, next time uncork some Screaming Eagle. It’s good for business. It will be good for me someday too. I am sure my invitation is in the mail.

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