Drink like a Founding Father
February 18th, 2012
12:30 AM ET
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Ray Isle (@islewine on Twitter) is Food & Wine's executive wine editor. We trust his every cork pop and decant – and the man can sniff out a bargain to boot. Take it away, Ray.

When it comes to Presidents and wine, there’s pretty much one name floating around out there: Thomas Jefferson.

Sure, Reagan enjoyed Beaulieu Vineyards' Private Reserve Cabernet, and Nixon was a fan of first-growth Bordeaux (and, somewhat surprisingly, Riesling from the Mosel’s Bernkasteler Doctor vineyard), but Jefferson put them all to shame. He made a number of attempts to grow grapes and make wine at his Monticello estate; during the five years he served as U.S. Minister to France, he undertook at least two lengthy tours of French, Italian and German wine regions; he had wine shipped to him in the U.S. from many of Europe's greatest estates; and he built a subterranean wine cellar for himself, complete with iron-barred, fortified, double-locked door (no one was getting their greedy hands on ol' Thomas J's private stash).

So what did Jefferson drink? A lot of things: Madeira, Port, Sauternes, Bordeaux (he was particularly fond of Château Haut-Brion), Champagne, Hermitage, Rhine and Mosel Riesling, Sherry, Tuscan reds, Volnay and Montrachets from Burgundy, you name it.

In any case, here are a few wines from some of his favorite regions; drink a glass or two, then write yourself a Declaration of Independence. Always a great thing to do with a spare evening.

Haut-Brion will set you back a pretty penny—about $900 a bottle for the ’09 vintage. But its owners also make a much more affordable yet quite good Bordeaux red, called Clarendelle; firm and lightly earthy, it runs about $20 for the ’05 vintage, which is still in stores. For about the same price, and from roughly the same area as Haut-Brion, the 2009 Chateau Haut-Vigneau is worth seeking out; for ten dollars more, Chateau Haut-Bergey’s 2006 and 2009 vintage are both terrific.

Champagne is pricey by nature, but there are some great quality-for-the-money plays lurking in the world of ‘grower’ Champagnes (also referred to as ‘farmer fizz’). These are small estates that produce their own wines, rather than selling off their grapes to the bigger houses like Clicquot, say, or Moët. A few names to look for are Milan, Barnaut (particularly the Blanc de Noirs), Camille Saves, Rene Geoffroy, Paul Goerg, and Gimonnet.

Tuscan Reds
A broad category: Tuscany produces over 50 million gallons of wine per year. Amongst all of that, there are some super values to be had. Capezzana’s Barco Reale bottling, from the Carmignano zone, is bright with cherry fruit and spice, and can usually be found for under $15. The basic Chianti from La Maialina is about $10, and is a berry-bright steal. And Monte Antico, in which the local Tuscan grape Sangiovese gets a bit more oomph from small percentages of Merlot and Cabernet, is a perennial value, about $12, give or take.

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© 2011 American Express Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

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Filed under: Content Partner • Food and Wine • Presidents Day • Sip • Wine

soundoff (49 Responses)
  1. Philbert

    Sorry, but this article doesn't even mention Madeira. This was a favorite.


    February 19, 2014 at 12:02 pm |
    • Glenn

      Sure it did. Paragraph 3, second sentence.

      February 19, 2014 at 1:53 pm |
    • Brad

      The article does mention Madeira. First, actually.

      February 19, 2014 at 1:58 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      What they said. There is no presidential wine without Madeira. So it got mentioned. Way up top.

      February 19, 2014 at 2:41 pm |
    • Jdizzle McHammperpants ♫♫

      I see you got your Internet Glasses on. Side effects include wanting to point out a mistake so bad that you make a huge blunder yourself instead. LOL

      February 19, 2014 at 2:49 pm |
  2. RC

    How (and why) do you guys dig up these old threads?

    February 19, 2014 at 11:28 am |
    • Jdizzle McHammperpants ♫♫

      Keeps them looking busy to the boss. LOL. Like when I'm typing here, looks like I'm working.

      February 19, 2014 at 2:51 pm |
  3. palintwit

    Did you ever notice that tea party patriots still like to build their own stills and make moonshine? Drinking out of a mason jar is a time honored tradition for those people. Especially south of the Mason-Dixon line.

    February 19, 2014 at 10:04 am |
    • Ye Olde Founding Father

      Please killeth thyself forthwith.

      February 19, 2014 at 10:15 am |
    • TechRookie

      Did you ever notice how morons like you smoke pot and lower their IQ...permanently.

      February 19, 2014 at 10:32 am |
    • Jdizzle McHammperpants ♫♫

      There he is. Wondered where he went.

      February 19, 2014 at 2:52 pm |
  4. Cynic

    People did a lot of drinking in the 19th century. Much more than we do now. Furthermore, pot was legal. Sort of makes you want to go back in time, doesn't it?

    February 17, 2014 at 2:46 pm |
  5. Fish

    My favorite at present is Robert Mondavi's Cabernet Sauvignon as it is not as sweet as others and its subtle flavor makes it go well with most foods particularly ribeye steaks of which I have at least two per week!!!

    February 17, 2014 at 12:27 pm |
  6. bobbo

    How do you drink like a founding father? Drink a lot of everything. Are you guys hiring?

    March 1, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  7. house

    wow no desert wines

    February 28, 2012 at 5:17 am |
    • Spelling Nazi

      Nah. They're too hot & dry to write about.

      February 28, 2012 at 7:08 am |
      • billy

        good one.

        March 1, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • jdavison1

      Sauternes are desserts, so are, in some uses, Ports and Madeiras.

      February 17, 2014 at 4:08 pm |
  8. Steve

    Times were different...wine and beer was a good thing, slavery was in effect, and there were also hot clothing and uncomfortable shoes. It is 2012 and we now do things the way we want and not like 230 years ago. Although, I like TJ's mindset when it comes to all wines deserving a taste or two.

    February 22, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  9. LynnAnn

    CNN needs to stop spreading lies about our Christian, family valued, founding fathers drinking alcohol.

    February 21, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • EmyB

      Doesn't matter that they were Christian or a founding father, drinking was part of everyday life during that time period. Neither one of those are deterrents from drinking alcohol. It was a business and a hobby to some during the found fathers era.

      February 22, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • wow

      family values eh? are dozens of slaves part of your family too? I hope you were being sarcastic

      February 22, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  10. michael

    I bet POTUS and Muchelle drink well on the tax payers dime

    February 20, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
    • Bob in LG

      Michael: I bet you complained about your mother's milk too.

      Not only are you a disgusting whiner but ignorant too: THE US PRESIDENT PAYS FOR ALL OF HIS OWN FOOD, DRY CLEANING, SNACKS, EVERYTHING. Google it if you dare, Michael.

      February 20, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
    • hecep

      It's one thing, michael, to waste bandwidth. It's another thing to do so in such an ill-considered, obnoxious way.

      February 21, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • jellybean

      so what you think now stupid?

      February 21, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  11. hecep

    I wouldn't mind drinking like our founding fathers as long as it din't mean ending up plastered and laid out under a rough hewn table with a 300 lb. serving wench. That's where I draw the line.

    February 20, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • UR Phunee

      picky, picky

      February 21, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  12. mark wilson

    Jefferson brewed his own BEER as well and promoted the idea of a government run brewery. This looks like a veiled attempt to foist wine as being something special when in fact it was simply one alcoholic beverage made at home by a president. George Washington had his own home brewery as well as did John Adams, etc. So hoist a glass of any of these fine drinks, but let's not make wine his unique beverage of choice. It was simply one among many.

    February 20, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • MrHighMighty

      If the Founding Fathers could have tasted the craft beers brewed now out in San Diego (especially the IPA's), they would have made San Diego our nation's capital.

      February 20, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • KWDragon

      Washington was also the nation's leading producer of whiskey at one time.

      February 20, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
  13. FirstAve

    PBR me ASAP

    February 20, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  14. Todd

    They also smoked Pot... But thanks to Nixon and his lies... that won't happen anymore.

    February 20, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • William

      As opposed to Dem Presidents who run and claim to hate the war of drugs, then grow the DEA as soon as they are in office. Obama wont even answer the question when it was presented to him on a Q&A webcast.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:47 am |
  15. The Joe

    Why does the price of wine tripple when it gets to Tn. stores?

    February 20, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • the Man is keeping you down

      realize that the Man's sole goal is your unhappiness

      February 20, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • or go native American

      and just eat some pschedelic mushrooms

      February 20, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • hecep

      Because the bottles are three times as big?

      February 20, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • Bob in LG

      Because you cant spell triple?

      February 20, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
  16. Conrad Shull

    Shortly before the Founding Father became such, there was a piece written lamenting the demise of the two bottle-a-day man. The reference was to the fairly common practice of a man downing two bottles of spirits a day.

    February 20, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  17. Beenie

    The title would sound better if it was: "Drink like Thomas Jefferson"

    February 20, 2012 at 11:23 am |
  18. Martin

    No wonder Jefferson died heavily in debt! Fortunately wine making has come a long, long way since his day and you can get perfectly drinkable, quality wines for a fraction of what his favorite wines would cost today.

    February 20, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  19. MOJarry

    2-Buck Chuck still wins!

    February 20, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • hecep

      Ah, yes. A fine bouquet. Impudent... yet bovine.

      February 20, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  20. John Westrick

    It is a shame the author forgot (or missed in his research) to mention the OTHER red Bordeaux that Jefferson loved: Chateau Rauzan Segla, a 2nd growth from Margaux which is much cheaper and rarely disappoints. Since the elevation of Mouton Rothschild to 1st growth status in 1973, it is the highest ranking 2nd growth, though it has been eclipsed by some so-called "super seconds." And, it has an even more affordable second wine called Segla that also provides a fine price-quality ratio.

    February 20, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  21. john q public

    What about American spirits like beer, cider, brandies and whiskey?

    February 20, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • Martin

      They don't hold a candle to a good Bordeaux!

      February 20, 2012 at 11:18 am |
      • KeithTexas

        Why would anyone drink wine when there is Beer and Whiskey?

        February 20, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
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