Just got off the phone with Bianca Nicolosi, a journalism student at Ithaca College in upstate New York. She'd earlier emailed me a couple of questions dealing with her pursuit of a report that a riesling from the state's Finger Lakes region will be served at President Obama's inaugural luncheon in January. Here's her questions and how I replied:
1) What are your thoughts or ideas about which winery this riesling will hail from? I'm not surprised that a Finger Lakes riesling has been chosen to be served at an inaugural event. It's the varietal that shows best in Finger Lakes. Of course, January in Washington, D.C., isn't exactly riesling season. Riesling is a wine best savored during spring, summer and fall, when the weather is warmer and sunnier. Nevertheless, the dining room where the wine is to be served could be hot and stuffy, particularly if House Speaker John Boehner is among the invited, which is likely to be the case, given that he is a member of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies responsible for planning and executing the inauguration's activities. But regardless of season, riesling from Finger Lakes is an apt choice if fish or shellfish is on the menu. Or, for that matter, if the signature ingredient of traditional political meals is in play - chicken. Strictly by coincidence, in fact, we had a Finger Lakes riesling just last night, when the entree was chicken in a spicy coconut and basil curry sauce with jasmine rice. (If the Joint Congressional Committee or the White House wants the recipe, I'll send it on its way.) The wine was the Ravines Wine Cellars 2010 Finger Lakes Dry Riesling, whose fresh if delicate fruitiness, touches of minerality, and crisp acidity made it a quiet yet confident companion with the dish.
At any rate, is Ravine Wine Cellars a candidate to have its riesling poured for the President's inauguration? Could be. Its wines are diverse and solid, and the story behind the winery is one of determination, imagination, relocation and family, a theme with which the Obama Administration easily could identify. Nevertheless, I suspect the wine will be from one of the region's older wineries that has been instrumental in showing the fine caliber of riesling that the area can yield. Dr. Frank's Vinifera Wine Cellars comes to mind. So does Hermann J. Wiemer. Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars, Anthony Road Wine Company, Thirsty Owl Wine Company and Swedish Hill Winery all turn out consistently impressive rieslings, among other varietals.
2) What's the overall process of selecting wines for major national events? I'm not sure, but I suspect that some sort of mutually beneficial arrangement between host and winery is worked out to feature a wine at a high-profile happening. I wouldn't be surprised if a kind of payment were involved. As to the Presidential inauguration, on the other hand, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies no doubt makes the call on the wines to be poured, and I've a hunch committee members defer to the chairman to select the wines. When President Obama first was inaugurated four years ago, three California wines were served at the inaugural luncheon. The chair of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies was Sen. Diane Feinstein of California. The committee's chair this year is Sen. Charles "Chuck" Schumer. And, yes, he's from New York. But why only one Finger Lakes wine?