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Forkmedia LLC


by Fred McMillin
for April 13, 2000


The President's Pick


The third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, was born on this date 257 years ago. There has never been another holder of that office with as much knowledge of viticulture. What wine did he rate best?

The Rest of the Story

Sobon Estate Let's look for some hints.

German?—In July 1784 Jefferson sailed from Boston to France to become the United States' first minister to France. Four days before boarding the ship, he bought forty eight bottle of German wine to drink at sea.

Madeira?—During his eight years as president, Jefferson frequently served Madeira...very frequently...a total of four thousand bottles.

Champagne?—Author James Gabler tells us that in one four-month period 207 bottles of champagne were poured for 651 dinner guests. (A review of the expenditures for one year showed the cost of wines was greater than for groceries!)

Italian "Nebiule" [Nebbiolo]—The Piedmont red "is about as sweet as the silky Madeira, as astringent on the palate as a Bordeaux, and as brisk as Champagne. It is superlative wine."

Chateau d'Yquem Dessert Wine—On Dec. 18, 1787 Jefferson wrote in French,

Monsieur D'Yquem,

    Not having the honor of making your aquaintance, I trust in your good faith to excuse me the liberty of writing you directly. I will have need for some small provisions of white sauterne during my residence in France...If you still have some of the sauterne first quality, of the year 1784, would you kindly let me have two hundred fifty bottles.
Th: Jefferson

Bordeaux and Burgundy—Wines from both regions were great Jefferson favorites, too. Yet, none of the above won top rating. Here's the winner.

The President's Pick

"The White Hermitage is the first wine in the world without a single exception"...Jefferson, 1791

The Roussanne has been traditionally associated with the Rhone's White Hermitage, and Lee Sobon grows it in Amador County. Here's what he says about it. "A truly remarkable grape, producing a crisp, flinty wine in its native France, where it is one of the best aging of all white wines. Our California counterpart's flavors are both honeyed and minerally. Serve with rich dishes of either seafood or fowl."

The wine...
Sobon Estate Roussanne
California Shenandoah Valley
Contact—Phone Shirley Sobon about availability, for production is small. (209) 245-4455, FAX (209) 245-5156
Rating—Highly recommended.
Price—$17 range

Postscript—The Price Is Right

Thomas Jefferson didn't pay $17 for "the first wine in the world." His notes recorded the cost as 83 1/2 cents a bottle.

Note: For further evidence of Lee Sobon's deft touch with Rhone white-wine varietals, see WineDay, May 4, 1999, "The Comeback Kid"...the story of the Rhone's Viognier growing on the Sobon Estate.


  • Passions, The Wines and Travels of Thomas Jefferson, James M. Gabler
  • Jefferson and Wine, R.T. Lawrence

    About the Writer

    Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


    This page created April 2000