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Obama’s Last State Dinner – Analyzing Wines

October 18, 2016 Leave a comment Go to comments

Today the President Obama and the First Lady will be hosting the last (presumably, according to all the notes in the press – but he still has another 2+ months in the office) State Dinner in honor of the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi and his wife, Agnese Landini.

Yes, this is not typical for this blog to talk about the state dinners, but you know, I’m always curios about the food, and most importantly, the wines which the most powerful man on Earth chooses to serve at such grand events as State Dinners – not sure if the President of the United States personally decides on the wines, but I’m sure he can weight in on the decision.

As this State Dinner will be honoring an Italian PM, it is very appropriate that the food theme will be Italian. What is even more appropriate that Mario Batali, one of my absolute favorite Chefs, will be in charge of this dinner event, working together with the White House kitchen staff.

So far, the Eater provided the description of the event and it is the only web site which posted the dinner menu, including the wines. I took the liberty of copying the menu from the Eater’s web site, so here it is:

First Course

Sweet Potato Agnolotti with Butter and Sage

Wine: 2015 Patina Vermentino “Santa Ynez”

Salad Course

Warm Butternut Squash Salad with Frisee and Pecorino di New York

Wine: 2012 Villa Ragazzi Sangiovese “Napa”

Main Course

Beef Braciola Pinwheel with Horseradish Gremolata and Broccoli Rabe

Wine: 2014 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel “East Bench”


Green Apple Crostata with Thyme Caramel and Buttermilk Gelato

Petit Fours Display:
Sweet Corn Cream and Blackberry Cup
Concord Grape Bittersweet Chocolate Leaf
Orange Fig Slice
Pumpkin Cranberry Tart

Food sounds very delicious, and I’m sure Mario Batali’s work will be flawless. Let’s talk wines now.

Palmina Vermentino 2015 Patina Vermentino “Santa Ynez” – well, to begin with, there is no wine under such name, or at least I was unable to find it. As with my grape explorations, I had to play a “wine sleuth” many times, so in this case, I can only make an assumption that we are talking about the Vermentino wine from Palmina Winery in Santa Barbara county:

2015 Palmina Vermentino “Santa Ynez” ($28?) – the winery doesn’t list 2015 as available vintage yet, and 2014 vintage of Vermentino is sold out. The 2014 vintage is listed on the web site at $28. Overall, Palmina seems to be specializing in Italian varietals, so this should be an interesting wine. Note that the only bottle image available on the web site was from 2013, so this is what I’m using here.

Villa Ragazi SangioveseNext wine comes from another California winery I never heard of – Villa Ragazzi. The web site modestly advertises Villa Ragazzi Sangiovese as the best Sangiovese produced in Napa Valley – may be it is, I will let those who tried it be the judge.

2012 Villa Ragazzi Sangiovese “Napa” ($36) – 2012 vintage is not available at the winery anymore, and according to wine-searcher, there is only one shop in US which offers it at $39. The winery offers 2013 vintage at $36 per bottle – with the total production of 112 cases, I can imagine that this wine is pretty hard to find anywhere.

Ridge ZinfandelThe last wine on the list comes from the one of the most iconic producers in the USA – Ridge Vineyards. Ridge Vineyards needs no introduction to the wine lovers, producing cult Cabernet Sauvignon wine called Monte Bello and the range of Zinfandel wines from the number of appellations in California, plus many other wines.

2014 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel “East Bench” ($25 – $30) – 2014 is the current vintage of Ridge East Bench Zinfandel, so all the information is readily available on the winery web site. According to wine-searcher, this wine can be found in many shops, in the price range of $25 to $30.

There you are, my friends – 3 California wines, hand selected for the State Dinner. I’m curious if the sparkling wine will be served before the dinner, and what would be the choices of dessert wines/drinks, assuming those will be served as well – but at this point we can only speculate about those.

Have you had any of these wines? What do you think of the wines, both on their own and as a choice for the State Dinner event? What do you think of intended pairings? Cheers!




  1. October 18, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    My eyebrows raised at serving Sangiovese with warm butternut squash salad, it better be a light Sangiovese. I’d opt for one of Sue Tipton’s gorgeous whites from Acquiesce Winery in Lodi, perhaps her Belle Blanc or Viognier.

    • talkavino
      October 18, 2016 at 5:52 pm

      Well, the interesting thing about butternut squash is that it is very susceptive to the seasoning – nutmeg, coriander, all sort of chili, cinnamon – all perfectly enhance sweet and earthy flavors of butternut squash. This flavor profile might not work well with old school Italian Sangiovese, but I can see it working perfectly with the New World rendition.
      I recently had warm butternut squash salad (it is actually a very popular dish nowadays with many chefs, like roasted brussels sprouts was) with Amarone, and the pairing was simply a riot.

      • October 19, 2016 at 2:26 am

        With amarone makes sense as it can be sweet(ish) and spicy.

    • October 19, 2016 at 2:25 am

      I would also have opted for a white here. I can understand why they want to have more red than white, but that should have triggered a menu change. Hopefully the pecorino will save the day.

      Also interesting to note that the first two courses are in the wrong order for an Italian (but in the right order for the wines).

      • talkavino
        October 19, 2016 at 10:17 am

        I would contend that Mario Batali knows what he is doing as far as order of the dishes is concerned. After all, you have to trust the Chef, not necessarily the perception. For the pairing, don’t forget that this is an American Sangiovese, so definitely a different profile than Italian. I would trust that it worked together quite delightfully.

        • October 19, 2016 at 4:36 pm

          Oh I’m sure Mario Batali knows what he’s doing. I was merely trying to point out that the dishes are served in an order that Italians are not used to. Italians are very traditional when it comes to food. It has to be like their (grand)mother made it, otherwise it is ‘wrong’.

          I’ve never had an American Sangiovese and have never seen them here. Something to look for next time I’m in the US.

  2. October 21, 2016 at 5:14 am

    OH what fun!! Thanks for sharing.. Serving Italian food to Italians – I say this because being intimately acquainted with Italian food snobbery I like the idea of Renzi eating agnolotti in the white house. Of course I am sure the dinner will be excellent and it’s nice to honour the guests with the cuisine of their homeland, however, I have heard so many Italians say to me “have I told you the story of the Englishwoman who tried to make me lasagne..” – it turned out ok. Or my resident Italian who will say – wow this is really exceptional Poli, who would have thought a non-Italian could cook this dish in a way that reminds me of my grandmother…Mr Polianthus has in the past also said that back when we met and I claimed to be a good cook, he had thought, hm, well, I guess by the standards of her home country perhaps….He didn’t tell me his reservations at the time, smart man..

    • October 21, 2016 at 5:19 am

      Oh I just read the whole thing – I got carried away, Mario Battali is of course at least Italian by heritage and famous for his Italian food, so good luck to him 🙂 but that said the ingredients are not from the same terroir..tell me if I am being too Eurocentric .)

  3. October 21, 2016 at 5:23 am

    I am going to weigh in on Stefan’s comment too – I see he is saying the same thing I am, if you don’t make it like Granny, you have got it wrong.. So if you are serving an Italian menu as an honour to your guests it would be logical to serve in the order that is usual for them. I guess as this is the most powerful man in the world of course and we are commenting from across the pond, we are perhaps, or maybe definitely, on seriously sensitive terrain here, Stefan and I. However, I know Stefan loves all things Italian and speaks it too, very well, from what I can see when he impressively answers posts on Italian blogs, and I have a slightly more personal connection, but quite as strong. So I hope we aren’t upsetting you..

  4. October 21, 2016 at 5:25 am

    It’s quite a simple meal too isn’t it, the type of thing we might serve at home to our guests, perfection will be in the preparation, but interesting that there isn’t a fish course too.

  5. October 21, 2016 at 5:26 am

    PS do tell me off If I am hogging the comments section! I just get so carried away when you comment on my blog at 5am (you do get up early, I thought your kids are older)

    • talkavino
      October 21, 2016 at 8:02 am

      Poli, I love comments, this is what this space is for. Please keep in mind that this post was about wines and not food. To top that off, this menu didn’t come from the official White House pages – based on number of sources, the dinner service actually started from selection of Canapes, which technically are antipasti. And the salad course should be called a “seasonal course”.
      But overall, good food is a good food. If Italian PM needs food which would remind him of his grandma, I’m sure he can get it in his country. To me, the food should be done right, taste good, beautifully presented – this is what makes dinner an experience, and I’m sure they did it right at the white house.
      If you want to read more about that dinner from the official sources, here is one link for you: https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2016/10/18/official-state-arrival-and-state-dinner-qa-white-house-curator

      Also, I’m not sure you and Stefan are exactly correct about proper Italian dinner service – it seems that salad should follow Secondi – see here for the reference: https://toscanaslc.com/blog/guide-to-the-traditional-italian-meal-structure/

      • October 21, 2016 at 10:01 am

        Aha I get it now: The courses will feature traditional Italian dishes that have been ingrained in American cuisine. So it’s American Italian, I would just have expected that if you invite someone home you’d serve them your food not their food – but as you can tell I know nothing of State banquet tradition. I will check on the salad course – as far as I remember (and what we do at home) is we will serve pinzimonio di verdura as an antipasto ( I love this) pasta as a starter, then fish, then a meat dish with the salad and then cheese (not sure the Italians do this, we use French) and then dessert. Only our guests have complained they cannot walk at the end so we tone it down now. Having the salad by itself in second position seemed odd,but you might be right that it’s wrong in first position too, it’s what the Swiss and Germans do. Really we need an Italian to weigh in don’t we :)! I will check the link you sent too Poli

      • October 21, 2016 at 10:05 am

        Interesting I have never seen a salad follow the secondi when eating out in Italy – Stefan? Any ideas?

      • October 21, 2016 at 10:13 am

        Ok I just checked in Italian:

        translated it says.

        Antipasto (which you mentioned)
        First course pasta rice etc. which fits
        Second course fish, meat, cheese etc. accompanied by veggies (this is where we serve the salad in our house, our meals for guests are now almost always structured this way)
        Fruits or desserts

        So I’d conclude that salad is not really eaten as a separate course at all but as a contorno (but then you couldn’t get the wines right= AND of course, I should have read about the wines, interesting choices all, sadly not knowing what they are like, only knowing the European counterparts cannot really imagine the flavours. Ok need to do some work now !!

        Un antipasto, in genere composto da crostini, salumi, formaggi, verdure.
        Un primo piatto in genere un piatto di pasta o riso o una minestra.
        Un secondo piatto di carne o pesce o formaggi o prosciutto accompagnato da un contorno di verdure.
        Del dolce o della frutta per chiudere.
        Oggi questo pranzo completo è utilizzato prevalentemente nei giorni festivi mentre per gli altri giorni si ricorre in genere a una sola portata o a un piatto unico.

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