Wine Report from the Fort
By Fred McMillin
Happy Birthday, U. S. of A.! What vines and wines did our founding fathers like?
The wine scene, July 4,1776
California: It would be six more years before the first wine was made in the Golden State.
Italy: Today’s popular Chianti and Barolo were far below present quality and were not exported.
Spain: Rioja reds also were far below today’s quality.
Bordeaux: Clarets, using Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, were rapidly approaching world leadership.
Champagne District: Thomas Jefferson felt the still wines were much better than the sparklers at Reims.
Burgundy: Arguably, the best wines in the world were from Burgundy.
And now to our founding fathers on the East Coast of America
George Washington: President Washington spent a bundle and brought to Virginia German winemakers and Riesling vines. (The vines died.) My class tasted some West Coast Rieslings and gave this wine high marks: Epiphany Cellars (Santa Barbara County, $18).
Washington, Jefferson and associates chipped in a total of $90,000 in 1774 to import Italian vines and vignerons. So my class tasted some California wines from Italian varietals and gave very high marks to these two: Pinot Grigio from Coastal Ridge Wines (California, $7), and Barbera from Shooting Star (bottled by Steele, Lake County, $30).
More Jefferson: In March of 1787 Jefferson’s carriage took him to Burgundy. He noted the high quality of white wine from the Chardonnay vines; he had planted some in his Monticello vineyard two years earlier. My class’s Chardonnay choice: Gallo Family Vineyards (Sonoma County, $15).
John Adams: When Jefferson was representing the United States in France, John Adams commissioned him to send an order of French wines. Adams did not realize Jefferson’s expensive taste until he learned that the duty alone on his order would be about $1,000. In terror he rushed a letter to the future president saying, “For Mercy Sake, stop all my wine ... [or] I shall be ruined.” My class’s favorite wine from a French varietal (Cabernet Sauvignon): J. Davis (bottled by Schramsberg, Napa Valley, $75).
James Monroe: Monroe startled his White House guests when after dinner he eschewed the traditional port. Instead he poured a dessert wine made from the native American varietal. My class sipped this wine by the best dessert wine producer in California: Quady Elysium (Black Muscat, $20).
Guys make passes at dolls who take classes
Edgar Vogt and I teach wine classes for S.F. City College (Fort Mason campus) each month, Saturdays at 1 p.m. Here is the schedule this month:
• July 11: California vs. the World – California wines versus those from the rest the world (France, Australia and more).
• July 18: Basics for Beginners – Learn the five basic type of wines and how they are made
• July 25: Taste the Terms – Taste wines that illustrate the 100-plus terms used to describe wine.
Many people take Taste the Terms over again because the wines and terms are different each time. To enroll or wait-list, phone San Francisco City College at 415-561-1840, or visit www.ccsf.edu Services/Continuing_Education.
Fort Mason teacher Edgar Vogt and Presidio Cafe teacher Michael Perry have given us three of their favorite wines for super sipping.
Vogt’s Votes: (1) Jarvis Wines Chardonnay Reserve Napa Valley 2007; (2) Joseph Phelps Vineyards Insignia Napa Valley 2005; (3) Germain-Robin Brandy Shareholder’s Reserve California NV
Perry’s Picks: (1) Macon-Lugny les Charmes Chardonnay 2007; (2) Clos du Caillou Cotes du Rhone 2006; (3) Blandy’s Madeira 5-year-old Alvada NV
And a final wine smile – viva variety!
Wine comes in a variety of colors, red, pink and white … which reminds me of Henry Ford’s statement when he produced his first autos: “You can have any color you want, as long as it’s black.”
Credits: Edgar Vogt (tastings); Ophelia Mercado (statistics)
Fred McMillin, voted one of the best wine writers in the United States by the Academy of Wine Communications, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. Phone him with questions about wine or his wine courses at 415-563-5712 or fax him at 415-567-4468.