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by Fred McMillin
for February 22, 2000


Native Son, Washington


On George Washington's birthday we're reviewing our founding fathers' affair with the grape. Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe were our first five presidents.

George Washington was not only first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was also the first of the five to plant a vineyard...2,000 vines went into the ground in 1768. Sadly, the climate killed all the European vines he planted in Virginia, except those eaten by the horse of a German general.

John Adams commissioned Thomas Jefferson, who was living in France at the time, to select and ship him wines of the country. However, he didn't realize the grand scale of Jefferson's style. When he saw that the tariff alone on his order would be $1,000, in terror he rushed a letter to Jefferson which said, "For Mercy Sake, stop all my wine...[or] I shall be ruined."

James Madison's wife was the legendary hostess, Dolley. She not only startled presidential guests with a very cold dessert that we know today as ice cream, she was a friend of the grape, too. Dolley Madison's "Wine Soup" used a bit of Sherry...TWO CUPS!

James Monroe suprised his guests at the White House when he abandoned the traditional Port after dinner. Instead he served a dessert wine made from the native American grape, the Scuppernong.

Thomas Jefferson stature is best indicated by this one fact. He was the principal wine adviser to all four of the above presidents. He ordered much of Washington's wines. Let's see how they were served.


Dinner with George

Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve President Washington would line up his servants in powder and wig. Then, after waiting five minutes past the dining hour of 4 P.M. to allow for the tardy, he would bring his guests, "as many as my table will hold," to the dining room...The dinners were "bountiful and elegant," featuring an unusully plentiful amount of claret... (by Michael Kernan) So, tonight's toast to President Washinton's birthday will be made with a wine from the two leading varietals of claret, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.


Wine of the Day

This bottle is 21% Cab, 79% Merlot, and is one of the best Kendall-Jackson wines my panel has ever tasted.

Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve 1995 Merlot, $47
Grape Sources—98% from half a dozen Sonoma County vineyards.
Aging—18 months well spent in 100% French oak. Summary of my panel's comments—"Wonderful"
Rating—EXCELLENT
Contact—(707) 547-4745, FAX (707) 569-0105


Postscript

President Washington didn't fool around when he brought over wine from France. I'm looking at copies of two orders, one for 30 cases and one for 40. I can see why that claret was "plentiful."

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 
 


This page created February 2000

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