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President Thomas Jefferson. © Bettmann / CORBIS
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’ Thos. 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.
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.