My goal here is to share with other wine enthusiasts my discoveries as I judge at wine competitions and visit wine regions, with occasional commentary about issues touching the wine scene, especially in California.
Newly secure in his job, President Obama looks to be loosening up. On Friday, as budgetary talks between administration officials and Congressional leaders got under way, the President gave the Speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner, whose birthday was the next day, a gift bottle of wine. In the past, the President has been largely quiet about his purported interest in wine, going so far earlier this year to try to keep secret the identities of wines served at a state dinner.
At any rate, the President's choice of a birthday wine for Rep. Boehner appears to have been carefully considered. The wine is the Poggio Antico 1997 Brunello di Montalcino Altero, a wine made solely from the black grape sangiovese. The winery and the denomination are in Tuscany, where 1997 was an especially benefical year for wine grapes. The choice of a Brunello di Montalcino from Poggio Antico may have been an inside joke among the President's wine-drinking pals, given that the estate is one of the more liberal-leaning wineries in the region, whereas Rep. Boehner is conservative in his political philosophy. The Altero, which is a proprietary name, is aged solely in French oak barrels contrary to the area's traditional practice of aging sangiovese in Slavonian oak casks. "Altero," incidentally, translates as "proud."
Washington insiders already are speculating that the choice of a wine from the 1997 vintage is a sly reference to the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, intended to effect $160 billion in spending cuts and to balance the federal budget by 2002.
Open to speculation is whether the wine came from the President's private Chicago cellar, reportedly stocked with some 1,000 bottles, or whether it was bought recently in Chicago, where it can be found for $109 per bottle, or in Washington, D.C., where it sells for $125 per bottle.
Also open to speculation is whether Rep. Boehner will enjoy the wine. On one hand, critic Robert M. Parker Jr. raved about it several years ago, annointing it with 95 points and exclaiming: "I can't remember a more polished, elegant vintage of Altero. Poggio Antico hit it out of the park." The Wine Spectator also gave it 95 points. On the other hand, a disconcerting number of wine enthusiasts who have tasted the wine more recently have posted rather unflattering tasting notes, finding the wine "corked, cooked, oxidized, earthy, musty, bitter."
Indeed, Rep. Boehner actually may never get to taste the wine. Jonathan Karl of ABC News reported over the weekend that members of the U.S. House of Representatives are subject to limits on the cash value of gifts they can receive, and that limit is $50 for a single gift. The House Ethics Manual runs 456 pages, however, and you can bet there's bound to be an exception or two in there that will allow the Speaker of the House to explore that Altero. Who knows, if the wine was from the President's wine cellar he may have been able to pick it up for $50 or less per bottle when it was released. The bigger question is whether the President has any more of the Altero in his collection; after all, Rep. Paul Ryan, the other House heavyweight in budget talks, has his birthday coming up in January.