White House or Wine House? The United States presidents’ favourite wines

by Nov 3, 2020News0 comments

Gerald Ford toasts with Queen Elizabeth II.  Credit: White House Historical AssociationGerald Ford toasts with Queen Elizabeth II.  Credit: White House Historical Association

Gerald Ford toasts with Queen Elizabeth II. Credit: White House Historical Association

Dear reader,

As we last updated this post (January 20, 2021), Joe Biden is the 46th American president, months after defeating incumbent president Donald Trump. United States issues and political preferences aside, our main issue here, as you know by now, is wine.

So why not make an overlook of the favourite wines of the American presidents throughout time, from Washington to Trump?

I’m Breno, head of content at Alti Wine Exchange. Let’s dig into the history of wine among the U.S. presidents.


What are the preferred wines of the American presidents?

From George Washington’s love of Madeira, to Thomas Jefferson’s French adorations, to JFK and Nixon’s respective appreciation of Champagne and Bordeaux, to the later promotion of American wines for state dinners, there’s much to discover on what the most powerful men in the world enjoyed having.

Thanks to this seemingly never-ending election and also to Wine Enthusiast’s recent account, we were inspired by Fred Ryan’s new book Wine and the White House: A History to show you a glimpse of this centuries-old history.


Credit: Wine Enthuasiat, InstagramCredit: Wine Enthuasiat, Instagram

Credit: Wine Enthuasiat, Instagram



Luxury to the brink of bankruptcy

The Wine House (sorry for the pun), or White House, has been home to the tradition of wines ever since Thomas Jefferson moved in, in 1801. Literally: Jefferson built a wine cellar under what today is the West Wing, in a certain house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

After years living in France as U.S. ambassador, the third American president became famous for his consumption and imports of Burgundy, Bordeaux and Rhône – to the point of, by the end of his life, he nearly went bankrupt for purchasing so many expensive wines.


Madeira enthusiasts

But even if the president who years before had drafted the Declaration of Independence and used to toast over a few (three or four) nightly glasses made history in making the White House a nearly sanctuary for wine, no one other than George Washington, the first U.S. president, was also a big fan.

It is well-known that Washington was an enthusiast of Madeira, commissioning casks of the fortified wine from the Portuguese Atlantic island for aides and confidants — and celebrating the Declaration of Independence over a toast of it. His successor, John Adams, and other subsequent leaders, such as John Quincy Adams and James Buchanan, were all also very fond of this Portuguese delicacy.


Bypassing Prohibition

The drinking habits of US presidents have been widely documented throughout the centuries, and among them, wine has been a personal favourite of many.

Woodrow Wilson’s bottles survived ProhibitionWoodrow Wilson’s bottles survived Prohibition

Woodrow Wilson’s bottles survived Prohibition

While James Madison was known to be a Champagne-loving president, James Monroe was nearly engulfed in a scandal after 1,200 bottles of Burgundy and Champagne were charged to an account that Congress had separated for furniture for the presidency.

Calvin Coolidge, instead, wasn’t much of a drinker, but enjoyed Hungarian sweet beauty Tokaji.

(A note: arguably one of the most celebrated US presidents, Abraham Lincoln was a very seldom drinker.)

Herbert Hoover had a wine collection that went to the drain with Prohibition – grudgingly presided over by Woodrow Wilson, who was staunchly against the Congressional decision to enforce this dry period. Wilson is said to have been was able to bypass the law and take his wine collection to his post-presidential residence. 


A 007-inspired JFK

Frank Sinatra and JFK enjoyed wine and talks  (GAB Archive)Frank Sinatra and JFK enjoyed wine and talks  (GAB Archive)

Frank Sinatra and JFK enjoyed wine and talks (GAB Archive)

John F. Kennedy and wife Jacqueline (Jackie) were French enthusiasts in many aspects. Champagne, among them. While Jackie had Veuve Clicquot as her favourite, JFK, appreciated Dom Pérignon thanks to early James Bond films. Inspired by the great late Sean Connery’s 007 role starting with Dr. No, Kennedy started serving the bubbly to other world leaders in his famously fancy state dinners, with different wines served throughout the courses.

(Curiously, Ryan reports how JFK, in 1961, served a 1953 Mouton-Rothschild to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev before screening him ‘From Russia with Love’ later on.)


They called him ‘Tricky Dick’


Infamously known as Tricky Dick for the scandals that plagued his two-term-cut-short presidency, Richard Nixon was a Bordeaux fan. While the embattled president would have Château Margaux or Château Lafite Rothschild poured for him, his dinner guests unknowingly received more ordinary wines (wrapped in towels so they wouldn’t see their label), according to Ryan.

“Over the years the practice became known as ‘pulling a Nixon’”, he writes, as per Wine Enthusiast’s account. Wow.


America (wine) first

obama trump wine.jpgobama trump wine.jpg

In spite of nearly never drinking, Jimmy Carter would go “America First” in terms of starting to serve mostly U.S. wines at the White House.

Californian Ronald Reagan, who Ryan worked closely with, is praised by him for having promoted the California wine industry as president (but, personally, with a soft spot for Bordeaux).

Bill Clinton (a fan of the curious cider-lager mix known as snakebite), George W. Bush (in spite of having quit drinking many years before), and Barack Obama (a beer fan) continued the policy of preferably serving American wines, betting on Napa Valley, Sonoma and Oregon’s produce.

Trump vs. Biden: out of the few in common, teetotalism

The 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump, instead has his own winery, led by son Eric in a Virginia estate.

Speaking of politics, it is hard you will find anything that bonds Trump and his successor, Joe Biden. However, both are fairly known for being teetotalers because of the struggles lived in their families.

As the New York Times reports, Trump has repeatedly mentioned over the years how he witnessed his brother Fred’s struggle with alcoholism, which would eventually cost his life. While he every now and then toasts with wine, his famously preferred drink is Diet Coke.

Biden, instead, has frequently spoken about alcoholism and addiction in his family, saying this potentially genetic compound made him stay away from alcohol.


Politics aside, wine is already part of the White House traditions. Let’s see what the future brings.

Until next time!

More wine and entertainment reads:

Explore More from Our Blog

Would you bring your child to a winery?

DEAR READER, What a pleasure to be back! I admit it: these mailbags are now my favorite point of the week. Even during the contentious back-and-forth, I always enjoy opening my inbox to see words from you all. “Kind” ones, sometimes—but as you know from last week—I...

Our Sommeliers suggested wine

DEAR READER, I must be honest—I expected many more well wishes after posting that old journal entry. Everyone is modest when they say they don’t want well wishes, and so I expected there would be a few of you who saw through my “plea for privacy”. But, I forgive and I...

Because Life Needs Good and Evil

Black and white. Chaos and order. Sinner. Sinless. Life is a constant search for the happy medium, the yin and the yang. It’s as renowned psychologist Jordan B. Peterson explains, “Order is not enough. You can’t just be stable, and secure, and unchanging, because...

Thank you, Lehman Brothers?

On this day, 13 years ago, the world broke out in a panic when Lehman Brothers filed for Ch. 11 bankruptcy. Still the largest bankruptcy filing in US history, it was the climax of the Great Recession of 2007-2009. Subprime mortgages were to blame, lending money to...

Beer vs Wine, a timeless debate…

DEAR READER, Blah blah blah let’s get right to it! Dear Sommelier Ferdinand, You’ve dropped some hints that you look down on beer. Why is this, Sommelier Ferdinand? You have a growing fanbase—surely, you’re aware the effect that your insults have? And before you...

What would you do if you found an expensive wine in a cellar?

DEAR READER, Never in my life have I been happier to pontificate about wine than at my computer desk. In person is stimulating, sure, but they always talk back at some point. My lovely readers, however, only speak when I like! This internet thing has utility!...

The Beginning and The End.

Alas, the sun has crossed the celestial equator from north to south. Summer is now quite uneasy, shifting into fall in the north, while life is springing into action down south. What a beautiful time of the year! When grapes are cut from the vine to create new wine,...

Ever heard of a wine cocktail?

DEAR READER, I hope some of you learned from the reader letter last week [hyperlink to Week Ten post] and checked your attics! You never know how much wine sits above you, waiting to be uncorked and decanted—on someone else’s dime! Dear Sommelier Ferdinand, I have a...

The Future of Wine

We humans are bold if nothing else. Unlike any other species (that we know of), only we have chosen time and again to go boldly where no other has gone before. This holds especially true to the modern European, the first to really “discover” ignorance. Though they...

Could Mozart Make Your Wine More Complex?

We usually do three things when drinking wine: look at it, smell it and taste it. We activate three of our five senses to understand what’s going on in the glass. I propose we go further by incorporating sound and touch. Surely what we’re listening to while...

What on earth is a ‘Wine Decanter’?

DEAR READER, It’s come to my attention that many of you are ill-informed, misinformed, and frankly, uninformed about how wine is to be consumed. Were I only a wine enthusiast, it would be wholly dispiriting. But—wine is my profession, and I’m obligated to recognize...

“What’s My Next Question?” – Benjamin Kaplan

What’s My Next Question? On a random day like today 11 years ago, a legendary Harvard Law professor and lawyer, Benjamin Kaplan, died at 99 years of age. A rich, marked life that left an impact long after his last breathe. Apart from influencing the likes of Ruth...