It seems the entire world is atwitter about Barack Obama’s inauguration as the 44th president of the United States, and no group is more excited than wine drinkers. After watching the previous guy struggle to recover from alcoholism, having a real wine drinker enter the White House feels as significant as the end of Prohibition. Now, everyone and their sommalier are speculating about what the President and First Lady will serve at the White House. Forget healthcare, what about the Obama’s wine policy?
In an excellent article on Slate, Mike Steinberger highlights Bush’s policy of catering to the snob factor. Among the recent offerings to foreign dignitaries were: Robert Mondavi 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve – $106 USD, Kistler Carneros 2005 Chardonnay – $70, Caymus 2004 Cabernet – $72, Newton 2004 Unfiltered Chardonnay – $48, and Peter Michael Les Pavots for a whopping $280 per bottle. These are the US retail prices you and I would pay – if we could – and perhaps the White House got deep discounts, but still. The Bushes went nuts on high-end wines the president couldn’t even drink. What kind of message does that send?
And who can forget the scandal ignited when $250 bottles of Shafer Hillside Select 2003 were poured at the White House during November’s emergency economic summit. Oh, the irony of blowing taxpayer money on a cult wine at a meeting called to avert a global economic meltdown. It was as if Bush had channeled Marie Antoinette and said, Let them drink Screaming Eagle.
By comparison, the wines chosen for Obama’s inaugural events are such relative bargains, we can drink them at home. There’s the $24 USD Duckhorn Vineyards 2007 Sauvignon Blanc and the $27 Goldeneye 2005 Pinot Noir to be served at the Inaugural luncheon. Kicking it up a notch while still not breaking the Federal Reserve, the Inauguration Conservation Gala will serve $40 bottles of Virginia’s Barboursville Vineyards 2005 Octagon Eighth Edition, as well as their 2006 Cabernet Franc Reserve at $23 per bottle.
And while the Nixons poured Scharffenberger and the Clintons favored Roederer Extra Dry, the Obama’s are planning to pour humble little Korbel Natural in a “Special Inaugural Cuvee,” the regular Natural being available for $12 USD on the Internet. This choice warms my bargain-minded, Russian River-rooted heart to no end.
On their own, the Obamas appear even more frugal in the wine department. On election night, they toasted his mind-bendingly historic election with a simple $13 USD South African sparkler from Graham Beck. Prior to that, People magazine reported seeing a bottle of Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay on the Obama’s kitchen counter, a wine that can be had for $12 a bottle, or less. Ok, maybe someone gave it to them the day before, but at least it was in view.
So, with all this pre-inaugural wine information, what can we deduce about Obama’s official wine policy? That the offerings will stay American in origin, yet remain on the everyday side of the aisle? Or will they reach for impressive foreign producers when random acts of diplomacy are required? Will they continue to pour affordable bottles to mirror the economic experience of the nation, or will they begin to splurge on cult wines once they settle in?
Who knows what the Obamas will drink, but one thing is for certain: the whole wine world is watching.
Cheers to Obama!