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Are you a secret wine snob? Jackie O was, and so was Nixon


So now we know: Jackie Kennedy was a cheapskate.

The always entertaining, Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post’s Page Six today reports that when Jackie was First Lady (1961-63), she “had her White House majordomo serve expensive bottles of wine for the first course, but replace the empty bottles with a cheaper wine for the second course.”

This is according to the Presidential historian, Barry Landau, whose book, The President’s Table, details his decades of work in the White House as an event planner.

It reminded me of Woodward and Bernstein’s reporting, in All the President’s Men, of how President Nixon would have the butlers pour him Chateau Margaux — discretely wrapped in a white linen napkin — at state dinners, while everyone else got Mouton-Cadet. I guess even Presidents of the United States and their wives have to live within their budgets!

But it got me thinking. I always insist I’m not a wine snob, but do I hierarchize (is that a word?) wines in some way that reflects a prejudice? This is a complicated question, so let me put it in context. When I have dinner with my cousin Maxine and her husband, Keith, I always bring the best bottles I can, because they’re really into wine, and I know they’ll appreciate and even talk about the nuances. On the other hand, if I have dinner with, say, a neighbor who’s not particularly into wine, and doesn’t want to be, but will happily drink whatever I supply, why would I waste the good stuff?

By the way, there’s one thing in Landau’s story I don’t get. “Replace the empty bottles with a cheaper wine for the second course”?? Does that mean they served the same wine, or type of wine, for two consecutive courses? How could that be done? Here

is a menu (click to enlarge) for a State Dinner Jackie presided over on April 29, 1962. The First Course featured a Puligny Montrachet; the Second Course had Mouton Rothschild. Under the Landau scenario, if the second course was beef Wellington (ah, the good old days), the majordomo would have poured a modest Bordeaux Superieur — but from a Puligny Montrachet bottle? If someone can explain this to me, I’ll be grateful.

Anyhow, Landau made his remarks at a luncheon at the Justice Department, whose guests included Ben Bernanke. No word on what wines, if any, were served, but it’s reassuring to know that the Federal Reserve chief had a nice nosh while the economy was melting down.

  1. great post! I can see it. I can see Jackie doing it, too. However, be warned that once you are spotted, you are over. Toast. It is better to err on the side of truth. Though I had a ’94 Opus One the other day and though it had a very fresh aroma and was not over the hill, was not as impressed as I expected to be. You will find good values under $15, better values under $20, some really top wines at $80, but for celebrating a really good meal with friends I think $30 – $50 offers overwhelming choices.

  2. I can relate

    I used to try and expose my dad to great finds with complexity and subtlety until he started complaining that they were “thin and watery”.

    Now I let him buy and serve raisiny $10 wines from the supermarket. I still need to find a way to sneak in my own stash and discretely sip that while he raves what great wine he bought…..

  3. So, being the fraud freak that I am, I wonder if it means they refilled the Mouton bottles with bulk wine (French, of course) from a continual rotation of bottles from dinner to dinner.
    (And who supplied the bulk wine? Come forward, please!)
    Does this happen at other posh dinners I don’t get invited to?
    If anybody can tell us, I’m all ears. Thanks, Steve.

    Meanwhile, when a winery puts out a press release that its wine was/is/will be served at the White House, is there an agreement the bottles can be refilled or that they absolutely cannot? Does the winery have someone with security clearance pick up the empties?

    Don’t ya just love the sidebars of history…(….are we entering conspiracy theory territory?)

  4. Kathy, that story does raise more questions than answers, doesn’t it. I doubt if we’ll ever know what really went on.

  5. In greening the White House, I suppose Virginia wines only until we replace fossil fuels? I hate to think of the carbon footprint European or West Coast wines have, with all that stinky diesel fuel it takes to move them!

    Looks like Norton and Cabernet Franc for the new regime.

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