The White House has refused to make public the wines that will be served tonight at the state dinner hosted by President Obama for UK Prime Minister David Cameron.
For Obama’s first three state dinners, honoring the leaders of India, Mexico and China, the White House released the name, year and appellation of the wines, all of which were American, paired with each course.
Disclosing wines served at state dinners is a tradition observed by previous presidents, including George W. Bush.
This tradition came to an end after Obama’s dinner last year for Chinese President Hu Jintao.
One of the wines served was a 2005 Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley from Washington state that originally sold for US$115 a bottle, but went for $300-350 by the time of the dinner after receiving a perfect 100-point score from Robert Parker.
After the dinner, Quilceda Creek’s profile in Asia got a “pretty significant” boost, according to the general manager.
The price the White House paid per bottle was not made public.
At the next state dinner, on June 7, 2011, for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the menu made public by the White House did not include details of the wines.
“An American wine will be paired with each course,” stated a note at the bottom of the menu released by the White House.
Wine writer Tyler Colman said in an interview that the shift in menu protocol may reflect political considerations given the sluggish US economy.
“They’re probably sensitive to displays of wealth at a time when the economy is not firing on all cylinders,” he said.
Though keeping the wine list private undercuts promotion of US winemakers.
“A state dinner isn’t a picnic or casual get-together, it’s justifiable from diplomatic and trade standpoints for the White House to spend money to showcase fine American wines,” Colman added.
White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest refused to answer questions about the shift in practice.
Wine has been regularly served at the residence since 1800, except from 1877-1881 under President Rutherford B. Hayes.
In the 20th century, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon were known for their familiarity with French wine. The policy of serving American wine took hold in Lyndon Johnson’s administration.
Having your wine served at a state dinner can lead to a huge boost in sales.
Kerry Murphy of DuMOL Wines in Orinda, California, saw sales of his 2008 Russian River Chardonnay quadruple in China after it was served at the Hu Jintao dinner last year.
“It makes me feel good because we’ve got some dollars coming back to the US from China,” he said.