What sort of wine trivia should one write about for the first quarter of the year? Perhaps Valentine’s Day? Or maybe Presidents Day? Or perhaps we could combine those two subjects into a brief discussion of some President’s illicit love affair? But, as many as there have been, how do you choose which one to write about? So, I guess I’ll just concentrate on Thomas Jefferson’s deep passion for wines (rather than William Jefferson Clinton’s deep passion for “cigars”). I believe Thomas Jefferson might be a subject I could broach without offending anyone. (Well, as long as we leave his offspring out of it, right?)
Our third President had extremely diverse interests and talents and could truly be called a Renaissance man. In fact, he is sometimes referred to as the Leonardo da Vinci of America. At a White House dinner in 1962, President Kennedy told a group of Nobel Prize winners, “This is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever gathered together in the White House with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” But, of course, as President, Jefferson rarely dined alone. His dinner conversations spanned the range of human knowledge with an emphasis on his passions: architecture, gardening, music, wine, food and his years in France.
Jefferson called wine a “necessity of life.” His wine interests went far beyond just drinking wine. He was extremely interested in its viticulture, making notes on German and Italian grape growing and examining “the details relative to the most celebrated wines of France.” He was the most knowledgeable wine connoisseur of his age and was a wine advisor to Presidents Washington, Madison, and Monroe.
As ambassador to France, Jefferson made it a point to visit as many of the European wine centers as he could. By the time he became president he was well known for his fine taste in wines. Favorites on the White House list were Burgundies, Rhônes, Bordeaux, and the sweet dessert wines Austrian Tokaji and French Sauternes. His personal collection was extensive and some of the highest priced wine bottles ever sold were bottles of Chateau Lafite Bordeaux, presumably owned by Thomas Jefferson because of the markings on the bottles.
So, if you should happen to find yourself enjoying a glass of fine wine on Presidents Day, raise a glass in honor of our third President and wine aficionado extraordinaire, Thomas Jefferson.