Wine has traditionally played an important role in state dinners both symbolically and also practically.
AFTER helping to arrange and host thousands of wine dinners in China and the region over the past two decades, I can really appreciate the challenge of selecting and serving wines for important occasions. Perhaps no occasion is more challenging than a state dinner for world leaders. Quality, performance, theme and pertinence are all important issues to be addressed. Every detail of the menu, décor and music must be carefully planned.
Successful state dinners can have very positive influences on international relations and be powerful symbols of friendship both home and abroad, however the sheer complexity of these events and need for cultural sensitivity mean that things can also go terribly wrong.
Wine has traditionally played an important role in state dinners both symbolically and also practically. The histories, traditions and stories of wines are used to embellish the occasion and pay special tribute to the guests of honor. The practical effect of wines also helps lessen tensions and lubricate conversations.
Since ancient times empires and dynasties have used the art of food and wine to win favor with foreign guests. Roman state dinners lasted for days with bountiful wine and entertainment often degenerating into debauchery. The Russian Czar Peter the Great was also known for entertaining foreign officials for days serving the finest of caviar with select bottles of Champagne with his own private label. In fact at one point he was the single largest buyer of Champagne in the world. Early US Presidents didn't have much time for state dinners and President Grant was the first one to hold a formal state dinner which featured a 29-course meal. US President Richard Nixon was one of the most skillful in using state dinners for diplomatic purposes and was reputed to be involved with every detail. He held a total of 76 state dinners during his presidency, more than any other US President.
Whether it's locally made Kosher wine for Israel officials, or choosing wines with meanings that complement and pay tribute to the official guests, the selection of wines is an important detail. In winemaking countries domestic wines are often showcased. Recently US Presidents have served domestic wines made from winemakers who emigrated from the guest nations, for example wines from a renowned American winemaker whose family came from Italy, Germany and even China.
Now even countries not traditionally recognized as winemaking countries have been serving domestic wines at state dinners. The Thai wine PB Khao Yai Shiraz Reserve 2000 was served to leaders at the APEC summit held in Bangkok in 2003. In fact, this was an eye-opening choice as the Thai wine industry is only a little over a decade old but the high altitude vineyards in the northeast and central regions of the country are making some surprisingly good wines suitable for the palates of world leaders.
Over the past few decades British Prime Ministers have increasingly served English wines at official occasions causing some to say they are showcasing the benefits of global warming on UK wines.
The US relationship with China is among the most important in modern diplomatic history. When important Chinese officials visit, there's nothing casual about the selection of wines to be served. Over the years the wines of many of the best US producers including Grigch Hills, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, Joseph Phelps, Cakebread and Shafer have been served.
Article by Shanghai Daily