A Great American: Founding Father and Wine Enthusiast-Thomas Jefferson
Happy 4th of July!
In celebration of the 4th of July, I’m spending the day reading
The Billionaire’s Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace.
Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence of the United States. He also wrote about great wine. He left us with this proverb for contemplation:
“No nation is drunken where wine is cheap.”
This was good advice for an infant nation where rum and hard liquor were easier to come by than wine. Thanks to his stint in France as American ambassador of the fledgling nation, he brought back cases of wine and introduced our founding fathers to the fine flavor of Bordeaux.
The Billionaire’s Vinegar is a page-turning non-fiction adventure of how, some 200 some years later, a stash of 1787 Bordeaux wines labeled Th.J were unearthed in a Parisian cellar.
Ultimately one of those bottles was auctioned off by Christies and sold to Malcom Forbes for the ghastly sum of 105,000 pounds or the equivalent of $156,000 at the time.
Most of us will never have the opportunity to taste a bottle of this vintage – neither did Forbes get to taste the wine from this bottle (if that’s any consolation) but I did once see a bottle from this era – not in France but at the Massandra Palace winery in the Crimea (Ukraine).
You can do as Thomas Jefferson did. Rather than enjoy a bottle of wine in Paris, it’s nowadays a simple feat to hop on the TGV train for Bordeaux. The TGV departs from the Montparnasse train station. If you leave early in the morning, you can catch a wine tour offered by the Bordeaux tourism office and return to Paris by early evening. (Be sure to book these tours a minimum of a week in advance! Even earlier during September and October).
If you have more time to spend in France, I would recommend leasing a car and heading for the Burgundy region (also visited by Jefferson). There you can actually buy one of the most expensive bottles of wine in the world, a Romanee-Conti. However, it is SOMEWHAT complicated.
To begin with you must place your order in advance. The last time we called – the waiting time was three years. You cannot buy just one bottle. You place an order which includes several other bottles of wine along with your bottle of Romanee-Conti. The best way to do this is to go directly to the Burgundy region, get the telephone number for the Domaine Romanee -Conti and arrange an appointment to place your order. There’s no substitute for being in the region. If you stay at a bed-and-breakfast (chambre d’hote) near the Romanee vineyards, that will increase your chances for meeting someone – who knows someone etc.
I cannot possibly imagine someone buying a bottle of wine with no intention of ever drinking it. There should be a law against that. So, if any of you big spenders out there are just buying a bottle of Cheval Blanc just to say you did it – and have no intention of breaking open that bottle – all I can say is –Shame, shame, shame on you! Meanwhile, I’m just getting to the chapter about Tim Littler (Mgr of GW Travel Ltd)– who was the man responsible for getting us to the Crimea and the Massandra Palace to see the 1775 bottle included in this post. (We didn’t get to taste such an old vintage – but the recent vintages of madeiras and tokays for the which the Massandra winery is world famous were lovely).
It’s not so easy getting to the Massandra Palace in the Crimea, but you can easily get to the Loire Valley chateaux that inspired Massandra’s architect.
Angers is a good place to begin and it’s just a half day’s drive or a quick train trip away from Paris. You can enjoy sipping a pleasant Loire Valley wine along the Loire River – and know that you and Thomas Jefferson have shared one of the great moments of life: tasting wine in the French countryside. Thanks Mr. Jefferson for allowing us the freedom to enjoy the finer things in life – and for showing us where to find them!
Note: Thomas Jefferson lived at 92 Champs Elysees when he sojourned in Paris as the US Ambassador. He introduced Parisians to some American favorites, fresh from his garden including sweet potatoes and watermelon.
Bordeaux Tourism Office
12, Cours 30 Juillet
33000 Bordeaux, France
+33 5 56 00 66 00