Flashback Friday: American Wine at State Dinners

Editor's Note: Friday Flashbacks offer a quick snapshot to a better-remembered moment in wine history.

This past February, at a State Dinner with French President François Hollande, United State President Barack Obama served "modest" American wine. In response, the wine world threw up their arms in disbelief. If the White House is going to serve American wines, why not make them the most prized? After all, there are plenty of American wines (with French influence, to boot) that would knock the socks off the experienced palates the likes of Hollande. But there had been sizable blowback when Obama had served expensive wine — "does he even know what a budget deficit is!?!" people yelled — and the White House had decided to avoid a similar reaction. But rather than appreciate them heeding the criticisms, the wine world questioned the decision not to put America's best foot forward.

While Obama is in a seemingly no-win situation, this whole debacle reminded us that the White House had a long tradtion of serving American wine at State Dinners. In fact, the first time was well over a century ago, all the way back in 1861. President Abraham Lincoln’s wife Mary Todd put local wines on the menu, including one produced from Norton, a grape indigenous to North America and grown by Missouri winemakers who happened to be German immigrants. And back then, the United States was competing with even less of a reputation for wine, making Lincoln's better half's decision a bold one.