The Wine Wins and Faux Pass of the World’s Leaders
Wine is a constant presence in the tables around which the decisions that shape our world are made and just as the choice of colour in a tie or a dress, the nuances of a handshake or even something so seemingly trivial as quirky socks becomes an object of political analysis, when wine is held by hands that sign for millions it turns into a statement, whether deliberate or not.
This was learned the hard way by British Prime Minister Theresa May last November after outraged Russian TV host and propagandist extraordinaire Dmitry Kiselyov criticised her unsophisticated way of holding a glass by the bowl instead of “by the stem, as is common practice in respectable society.”
She was accusing the Kremlin of involvement in Western elections and the red (wine) herring distracted the world for a while. Perhaps people should be more concerned with her ability to properly hold the Brexit negotiations, which by the way will have a huge impact in the UK’s wine industry.
For example, a bottle of Super Tuscan Tignanello, the favourite of the royal family’s latest sweetheart, Meghan Markle, might jump from an already dear £100 to £122 by 2025, as wine prices are expected to increase about 22% as a consequence of Brexit. But Prince Harry’s fiance doesn’t have to worry as she can always help herself to a bottle of wine from the vineyard that Laithwaite’s Wine manages at Windsor Great Park estate. Commoners might not be so lucky, as it’s completely sold out.
A €30 Hangover
Closer to home, drinks and politics are often a touchy cocktail. While Taoiseach Leo Varadkar latest table news came from an underwhelming treat for Pancake Tuesday, he is no stranger at giving up wine for lent, as he tweeted back in 2014. One can’t but wonder if this very full glass of rouge comes from a €9 bottle, the price of what’s considered a standard bottle in the country, which by the way, features the highest wine excise in Europe, according to the National Off License Association.
Another politician who is definitively not that familiar with the cost of your run-of-the-mill wine Wednesday bill had his headline-making moment last October. The former head of Sinn Féin Gerry Adams raised eyebrows for the unlikeliest of reasons: While demanding the reversal of a cut to the State pension that would translate in the loss of approximately €30 per week for some people, he thought it a fine analogy to point out that “€30 is a bottle of wine.”
The laughter of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil members filled the room while the moderator’s call to order was ignored. He was asked several times where does he buy his wines and eventually it was Leo Varadkar who said “it is not surprising that he thinks a bottle of wine costs €30 in that context, I know the deputy likes to travel first class.” Apply cold water. While it might not come from the queen’s vineyard, it surely doesn’t come from your friendly neighbourhood German discounter either.
And speaking of Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has served in the position since 2005 has been both praised and criticised for her endurance and it’s a trait she shows in many different areas. “Let’s put it this way: she isn’t the first to leave”, said NATO’s Secretary General and former Prime Minister of Norway Jens Stoltenberg once during an interview. He was, of course, speaking about her stamina and her formidable capacity to drink white wine.
Sipping Crimea Dry
While some politicians will still try to maintain at least an appearance of frugality, others will unapologetically toast with bottles that make a €30 one seem like an absolute bargain. Russia’s Vladimir Putin has a soft spot for fine wines, in fact, he stores his enviable collection in the beautiful Cricova Cellars in Moldova, where he celebrated his 50th birthday.
When Putin and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi were on a tour of Crimea back in 2015, they visited the famous Massandra Winery and as one of the highlights of their jet-set bromance, it has been reported that they were eyeing a €80,000 bottle of wine, nothing less than a 1775 Jerez de la Frontera from which only five (well, now maybe four) are left in the world.
While it’s unclear what happened to the bottle, footage of the Italian veteran asking if they can try it followed by a yes from Yanina Pavlenko, the winery’s director, exists and it enraged locals at a time in which the Russian annexation of Crimea was still relatively recent.
For more precious liquid (and gas) being sipped away from Crimea, one has to dig deeper than a cellar, as trillions of dollars worth in fuels lie underneath the region’s maritime boundaries, but that’s another story.
Applause and Booing
In France and Spain, two countries in which winemaking is a force to be reckoned with, a politician’s visit to a cellar can be even more meaningful.
When the presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron was recorded by French Magazine Terre de Vins blind testing and successfully identifying two in three French wines, generous praised followed. Once in office, his passion for wine seems to have followed him as shortly after, he appointed Audrey Bourolleau, an experienced wine lobbyist as one of his agricultural advisers.
“It marks a further sign of Macron’s conciliatory approach to a nation of winemakers who have long bemoaned a lack of government support”, commented Decanter’s Bordeaux correspondent, Jane Anson.
Less successful was his Spanish counterpart, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who in the midst of the Catalonian independence crisis visited Freixenet, the region’s biggest bodega and by far the largest producer of Cava, with the intention to show his support to Catalonian businesses.
While he shook hands with José Luis Bonet, the company’s president, it has been reported that a crowd received him with booing and pro-independence slogans. Freixenet has considered the possibility of moving its headquarters out of Catalonia, but won’t go ahead with the decision, at least for the time being.
Across the Pond
Canada’s Prime Minister and the Internet’s darling Justin Trudeau has admitted he doesn’t drink coffee and prefers beer over wine. He did visit the Niagara College Teaching Winery last summer and highlighted the importance of Canada’s wine industry.
Passion for wine or for those delicious millennial votes? On an unrelated note, during that trip he also got his picture taken helping unpack the car of a first year nursing student, such a nice and photogenic human being. Oh, and before going home, he stopped by a peach festival “where he posed for selfies and served up cups of peaches and cream.”
Last but not least, let’s not forget the White House. Since the independence of the United States, the presidential drinks of choice have been followed with interest. Thomas Jefferson had, unsurprisingly, a thirst for Bordeaux and Burgundy; John F. Kennedy was fond of Champagne.
One could easily imagine that the current US president, Donald Trump, would like to pair his well done steak with an expensive, big, rich and bold wine as red and probably more American than his baseball cap, however, the man’s a teetotaller. He has been open about his abstinence from alcohol, a decision he made after the dead of his brother due to alcoholism at 42.
However, wine is all around him. Trump Winery, in Virginia, was bought by the namesake personality in 2011 and is nowadays run by his son Eric. The winery was put on the spotlight last year after it was reported that it had applied for a number of temporary work visas to bring foreign workers to help in the vineyards. The practice, very common in American vineyards, especially during harvest season, is not really one that makes sense within the let’s-build-a-wall narrative.
While he seems to have made an exception to his no-booze rule at a United Nations event where he was seen toasting with a glass of what looks like red wine, if there is anyone in the White House that can use a drink, it’s the first lady. Should Melania want to uncork one, she could actually order a bottle of “First Lady“ a wine created by a Slovenian producer and inspired by her. “Melania’s Wine” is priced at €27.90, so, if you trust politicians, it’s actually pretty affordable!
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.