You can’t get past the first page of author Alex Prud’homme’s new Dinner with the President without stumbling across a glass of white Hermitage, in this case served at an elaborate secret dinner in 1790 hosted by then-future President Thomas Jefferson, prepared by Jefferson’s half-brother-in-law and Paris-trained slave chef James Hemings, and attended by rivals Alexander Hamilton and then-future President James Madison.
Based on Jefferson’s personal notes, Prud’homme says the Hermitage was followed by a white Bordeaux, a Carbonnieux to be precise. Jefferson likely served a Montepulciano with the stuffed capon before opening a Chambertin to accompany boeuf à la mode. What’s now known as the trio’s Dinner Table Bargain to move the federal capital out of New York was sealed over Jefferson’s signature dessert, ice cream in a puff pastry, paired with a still Champagne. Prud’homme reports that the same cloudy, still Champagne non-mousseux had also helped Jefferson win over President George Washington.
Dinner with the President brings us tableside with 26 U.S. presidents in total, from Washington’s fondness for Madeira to Jefferson’s wine cave to conductor Leonard Bernstein’s thoughts on attending White House dinners hosted by President Dwight Eisenhower vs. those of President John Kennedy (one of them served wine, cigarettes and bonhomie; the other did not).
A chapter on President Richard Nixon includes his infamous stealth Margaux self-servings and a firsthand account from winemaker Hugh Davies of his family’s Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs landing on the international stage, courtesy of Barbara Walters, when Nixon brought it on his famous visit to China.
More recent wine-friendly administrations including those of Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all get substantial attention, as does the Trump family’s winery in Virginia. And for the pairing-minded this President’s Day weekend, Prud’homme highlights Vermont’s Plymouth Cheese, the family creamery where President Calvin Coolidge grew up.
Dinner with the President: Food, Politics and a History of Breaking Bread at the White House by Alex Prud’homme (Alfred A. Knopf, 470 pages, $35)
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