Last week a subject arose that I’ve enjoyed reporting in past columns: Presidential State Dinners.
The longstanding tradition of entertaining world leaders at the White House typically provides a valuable insight into the current state of affairs between nations and their representatives.
Toward the end of his presidency, President Obama hosted a traditional state dinner for China’s President Xi Jinping. It was the finale to a cordial visit by the Chinese leader, replete with the pomp and circumstance that surrounds such dinners: a well-curated menu, carefully selected domestic wines and all the glitter that emanates from ballroom gowns and toothy smiles.
But that is the past. President Trump approaches state visits and the dinner finales a bit differently.
Although early in his presidency, he has set a unique tone when entertaining world leaders.
Last week’s return visit by President Xi to the United States is illustrative of our president’s tendencies and preferences. The traditional White House dinners were usurped by less formal dinners at the president’s Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago.
Traditionally, White House state dinners fall under the purview of the First Lady. But for this First Family it’s not the White House – it’s Mar-a-Lago. Ensconced in New York, Mrs. Trump journeys to Florida on weekends and for special occasions to be with her husband. She has yet to select a White house chef.
Traditional state dinners are carefully planned by the White House chef; the wines are selected by the White House Usher for Wine. But it’s not the White House – it’s Mar-a-Lago. President Xi traveled to Mar-a-Largo, not the White House, to meet President Trump. Dinner was served resort-style, in a private dining room, with a resort menu and resort wines. If you’ve ever attended a business or wedding dinner at a resort, you’ll recognize the menu: Caesar salad, followed by a choice of fish or beef and for dessert, a choice of chocolate cake or sorbet. Your wines? A white or a red, both from domestic wineries.
This menu clearly does not have the trappings of an elegant, sophisticated menu a la decades of White House tradition. It’s Mar-a-Largo.
I would be remiss not to mention the two wines: 2014 Chalk Hill Chardonnay from Sonoma and a 2014 Girard Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. Both offer a reasonable palate of aromas and flavors that satisfy a broad cross-section of wine consumers. Resort wines. But then again, the president is an avowed teetotaler.
However, the dinner seems quite upscale when compared to the president’s description of his preferred meals of fried chicken, diet Coke and Big Macs.
And don’t forget his quip about President Xi during the primary last year: “I would not be throwing him a dinner. I would get him a McDonald’s hamburger and say we’ve got to get down to work.”
“I would give him a double, probably a double-size Big Mac.”
The Mar-a-Largo menu seems quite upscale in comparison.
President Trump’s predilection for mundane meals is in sharp contrast to the flamboyance of several of his predecessors.
Thomas Jefferson amassed a White House wine cellar of 20,000 bottles of mostly high-end French wines, all purchased from his presidential allowance. He – and several of his successors – entertained world leaders rather extravagantly from this cellar.
Richard Nixon was a wine snob. During state dinners at the White House, he secretly enjoyed his favorite wine, Chateau Margaux, one of the most expensive Bordeaux wines, while he served his guests a much lesser wine. How? He would have the servers wrap bottles of wine in cloth napkins, singling out the Chateau Margaux for him.
Will President Trump’s dinner taste find its way into American lore? Will he set a precedent for future [residents? Will he change his mind and revert to tradition? Stay tuned. I’m sure there’s more to come.
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 20 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.