A few historians have wondered whether the Founding Fathers (and Mothers) were alcoholics.
I beg to differ.
Life was hard back in the early 18th century and while early Americans loved to drink fortified wines from Portugal and hard cider from stills hidden in the hills, they also had a religious streak which prevented them from wanton waywardness. Temperance may have stopped at the tavern door — and there were many taverns in Boston, Philadelphia and New York — but it still meant something to walk straight in the streets and stand dignified in meeting halls.
Certainly, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were the greatest wine drinkers among the Founding Fathers. Jefferson went into debt building 15 extensive wine cellars throughout the course of his life, which ended on this day, July 4, 1826. John Adams, who favored cider, died on the same day as his revolutionary friend.
As for Franklin, he stocked over 1,000 bottles of French wine at his Paris residence during his ambassadorial services. He loved to party with the ladies of King Louie’s court.
Imagine what the Founding Fathers would think of the American wine industry today? We started from scratch, centuries of perfection behind the French, Italians, Spanish and Portuguese, yet today the United States is among the world’s largest — and best — producers of wine. There are wineries in all 50 states. The industry, which didn’t reach its potential until the mid-20th century, is worth nearly $40 billion to the U.S. economy, and is growing.
Our founders, if they were here today, would be proud to share a glass of red or white with any of our innovative winemakers. And here’s what I’d suggest they drink:
• George Washington — The father of our country loved Madeira, a fortified wine shipped in from Portugal. It was the drink of the day. Two Napa Valley brands would delight the General: NV Ficklin Vineyards 10-Year Tawny Port ($27) and NV St. Amant Amador County Tawny Port ($35). Both are smooth and relaxing after a tough day in the field.
• Martha Washington — The Wine Goddess insists that we serve the women of the White House too. I agree. She believes that the first First Lady would enjoy the clean, crisp, citrusy flavor of a Dr. Frank Konstantin’s Dry Riesling ($14.99) from Finger Lakes, N.Y., or any one of Pacific Rim’s Rieslings ($14) from Washington State, some of which are produced from organically grown grapes.
• Thomas Jefferson — He wrote the Declaration of Independence and is lesser known for the voluminous tasting notes he authored on French-style wines. His palate served the country well: Jefferson filled the wine cellars of the first five U.S. presidents. In the 21st century, he’d be a big fan of the Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots turned out by Napa Valley’s Chateau Montelena and Chateau St. Jean, as well as Chateau St. Michelle of Washington State.
• Ben Franklin — A great inventor, Franklin would admire California’s entrepreneurial spirit in combining Old World and New World techniques. He’d fly a kite over the big, juicy fruit flavors of Bogle’s Essential Red ($17), a blend of Old Vine Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah. He’d also have to try Bogle’s 2009 The Phantom ($18.99) and winemaker David Phinney’s classic Zinfandel/Cabernet blend, The Prisoner ($36).
• John Adams — The Quincy Patriot was a bit of a snob and often talked behind Franklin’s back, but he rarely refused Ben’s wine flask while in Paris. The nation’s second president would probably warm up with a big, bold, dark fruity Fess Parker Syrah ($28) from Santa Barbara or the Domaine Serene Rockblock Reserve Syrah ($42) from Walla Walla, Wash.
• Abigail Adams — Ah, she’s one of my favorite women of all time, holding down the fort in Braintree and bucking up her husband’s spirits while on the road to independence. She’d love America’s Chardonnays, both oaked and unoaked. I can see Abby by the fire sipping a nice Wente Morning Fog Estate Chard ($15) or one from Buena Vista Winery ($14), and La Crema ($19) in Sonoma Valley. A real treat would be a 90-pointer from Linden’s Winery in Virginia at $22.
• James and Dolly Madison — I’ll treat them as a pair because I know what they’d like: Pinot Noir. President Madison is now acknowledged to have had a great influence on Jefferson’s decisions, and was one of the three key writers of The Federalist Papers. Dolly, meanwhile, wins accolades for heroically saving Gilbert Stuart’s famous portrait of George Washington from the White House, as it burned to the ground in 1814 during a British invasion. Cambria Estate Winery Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir ($21.99) would go to the couple, along with the bargain-priced, 92-point 2011 Balletto Estate Pinot Noir ($29).
• Alexander Hamilton — He was Washington’s top military aide, loyal to the rebel cause, and the brilliant architect of the U.S. banking system, which saved the
young republic from financial ruin. We owe a lot to this West Indies native, who lost his life in a duel with the scoundrel Aaron Burr. A Nickel & Nickel Merlot ($53) or its fabulous — and expensive — Cabernet ($95) would be shared in the pergola with this great man.
• Thomas Paine — He’s often forgotten as a Founding Father, but Paine’s 46-page pamphlet, Common Sense, was the spark that electrified the rebel cause to action. He, of all the patriots, was known to drink a tad too much, but for that he is forgiven. I’m giving him the pick of any bottle he wants in my modest wine cellar. Still, I’d be honored if he were to join me on the deck for a vertical wine tasting of the 2009 and 2010 Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon ($14).
Happy Fourth of July!
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