Also in the Food section, Thomas Jefferson was described incorrectly in the wine column as one of the framers of the Constitution. Published 6/26/87)

This is the 200th anniversary of the Constitution, and it is also the 200th anniversary of the coming of age of America's first connoisseur, one of the framers of that document, Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson was a dreamer who turned his dreams into deeds. There is little doubt that wine was the catalyst of some of those dreams. Jefferson and his buddies Washington, Adams, Madison and Monroe often hung out in bars together, shared a bottle, and made plans for a nation they were building together. Eventually all five would become presidents of that nation.

Jefferson was a remarkable man: a lawyer, architect, philosopher, scientist, inventor, classical scholar, horticulturist, musician, patron of the arts and connoisseur of food and wine. He wrote the Declaration of Independence. And he also wrote a lot of letters. Of the 19,000 letters that survive him, many are replete with flowing praise of wine in general, his particular favorites, and advice to his friends as to what to drink.

Jefferson drank little liquor, saying that "no nation is drunken where wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage. It is in truth the only antidote to the bane of whiskey. Fix but the duty at the rate of other merchandise, and we can drink wine here as cheap as we do grog, and who will not prefer it? Its extended use will carry health and comfort to a much enlarged circle." This is a statement that should be tattooed to the foreheads of legislators considering raising the federal excise tax on wine.

He avoided what he called "ardent spirits," and there is no record of him ever being seen "disguised in drink." At age 76 he said, "I've lived temperately," but, he admitted, "I double the doctor's {recommended} glass and a half of wine, and even treble it with a friend."

Jefferson rarely was far from a bottle of fine wine. He delighted in discussing wine and often started letters with the subject, deferring comment on pressing political matters until the end of the letter. In a lengthy letter from Monticello to U.S. consul Stephen Cathalan at Marseilles on Feb. 1, 1816, Jefferson displays "mortification of the palate at least, that my letter of the third of July never got to your hands ... It related generally to things friendly, to things political, etc., but the material part was a request of some particular wines which were therein specified." The retired president went on to repeat his shopping list, specifying types, growers and tastes, finally mentioning politics, which he says "are not worth repeating because the events on which they were hazarded have changed ... "

In his later days Jefferson reminisced about the events leading up to the American Revolution, and wrote that on "May 26, 1774, the Governor dissolved us {the Virginia House of Burgesses}. We immediately repaired to a room in the Raleigh Tavern ... came to resolutions declaring that an attack on one colony ought to be considered an attack on all ... "

Later he composed much of the Declaration of Independence in the Indian Queen Tavern in Philadelphia, where, in his journal he notes he "broached a pipe {125-gallon barrel} of Madeira, 1770 vintage." It is not recorded how much he consumed during the writing.

In 1801, his first year as president, he had a wine cellar dug under the Presidential House, and he spent more money on wine than on groceries. During his eight years in office he allocated more than $11,000 for wine -- $3,000 in the first year alone -- quite a sum even today. Incidentally, the wine purchases were made from his own funds.

Actually, Jefferson's connoisseurship was not truly awakened until he was appointed the second U.S. minister to France, and, in 1787, 200 years ago, he toured France for four months. During the trip, he wrote often of the food and wines. His recommendations remain fairly accurate to this day: "The wines which have given such celebrity to Burgundy grow only on the cote {slope}, an extent of about five leagues {13 miles} long, and half a league {1 mile wide}. They begin at Chambertin and go on through Vougeot, Romane'e, Vosne, Nuits, Beaune, Pommard, Volnay, Meursault, and end at Montrachet. The last two are white, the others red. Chambertin, Vougeot, and Vosne are strongest and will bear transportation and keeping ... Volnay is the best of the other reds, equal in flavor to Chambertin, but being lighter and will not keep and therefore sells for not more {one-fourth the price of Chambertin}. It ripens sooner ... and consequently is better for those who wish to broach at a year old."

He is reported to be the first to introduce pasta and vanilla to this country, and he regularly imported livestock, olives, olive oil, parmesan cheese, anchovies and other delicacies. He even smuggled rice seed out of Italy, a crime that was punishable by death.

He much admired the port and viticultural district of Bordeaux, with its easy access to transportation. It was no secret he had a weakness for the wines of the district and recorded in his journal, "Of red wines there are four vineyards of first quality ... Chateau Margaux, La Tour de Segur ... Haut Brion ... {and} Cha~teau de la Fite." Today Cha~teaux Margaux, Latour, Haut Brion, and Lafite-Rothschild are still hallowed.

In 1855, 68 years after he left France, the French government officially ranked Jefferson's four favorites as the best: "The wines of the three first," he continued, "are not in perfection until four years old. Those {of} de la Fite, being somewhat lighter, are good at three years. All red wines decline after a certain age, losing color, flavor, and body. Those of Bordeaux begin to decline at about 7 years old." One wonders what Jefferson would think of the bottle of 1787 Lafite, reputed to have come from his cellar, being sold last year to Malcolm Forbes for about $160,000!

In sauternes his favorite was Cha~teau d'Yquem, which remains among the most highly regarded in the world.

He also offered advice to travelers. "When one calls in the {French} tavern for the vin du pays {local wine}, they give what is natural and unadulterated and cheap; when vin e'trange`re {foreign wine} is called for, it only gives a pretext for charging an extravagant price ... very often of their own {winery}."

Tavern keepers were not the only objects of his scorn. In 1789 he wrote to John Jay, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, about a shipment he was sending to President Washington: "I have bought all these from the vignerons {winemakers} who made them ... The vigneron never adulterates his wine ... but when once a wine has been into a merchant's hands, it never comes out unmixed. This being the basis of their trade, no degree of honesty, of personal friendship, or of kindred prevents it." The more cynical student of contemporary Burgundy might observe that not much has changed.

French and madeira wines were not his only weaknesses. In 1888 he toured the wine districts of Germany. At one point he reported that "On the way we lodged at Rudesheim and breakfasted the next morning on samples of Johannisberg {Germany} wine. What a delicious liquor, Sir, it is!"

He was often brutally honest in appraising wines, and not surprisingly, developed an accurate vocabulary for describing them. In 1823 he wrote Maj. John Adlum that he had "received successfully the two bottles of wine you were so kind to send me." He praised the first, but criticized the second, "a red wine I tried when I had good judges at the table. We agreed it was a wine one might always drink with satisfaction, but of no peculiar excellence."

Scholars believe that Jefferson's frequent difficulties in getting wine shipped and moved through borders without excessive tariffs influenced his philosophy of trade. He often noted that in France internal duties on wine accounted for as much as the transportation. He later remarked that nations were "wealthy and populous nearly in proportion to the freedom of their commerce."

A most humorous series of letters regarding wine tariffs was exchanged in 1785 between John Adams in London and Jefferson in Paris. Adams had requested that Jefferson send him some wine but later realized that the duties were exorbitant and dashed off several notes to his comrade: "For Mercy Sake, stop all my wine but the Bordeaux and Madeira, and Frontenac. And stop my order to Touen for 500 additional bottles. I shall be ruined {by the duties} ..."

But it was too late to stop the shipment, although Adams was apparently able to wriggle out the tariffs because of his official status. Hmmmm ...

The two were good friends and no doubt relived this incident over a glass of wine many times until they died on the same day, July 4, 1826.

Despite his sophistication and worldliness, Jefferson often longed to return to the life of a farmer and erratically kept up a horticultural diary, which he called his "Garden Book." In one entry he confided "the motion of my blood no longer keeps time with the tumult of the world. It leads me to seek happiness in ... every bud that opens, in every breath that blows around me, in an entire freedom of rest, motion, or thought ...."

Jefferson began grape plantings at Monticello soon after graduating college. In 1771 he and a group of Virginians imported 10,000 vines from Champagne, Burgundy, Tuscany, Sicily, Languedoc, Spain and Portugal, and brought over a group of Italian winemakers.

Unfortunately his efforts at growing fine European wine grapes were a dismal failure; the vines succumbed to fungi and a root louse called phylloxera. By the 1870s, 50 years after his death, a cure for phylloxera was found by grafting the European vine tops to resistant American root stocks, but not before many of the world's vineyards were decimated by the parasite. Today, with the benefit of grafting and fungicides, there are several new vineyards in the area near Monticello that show great promise. In 1808 Jefferson foresaw this possibility and said "We could, in the United States, make as great a variety of wines as are made in Europe, not exactly of the same kinds, but doubtless as good."

Right again, Tom.

Wine Find Meredyth 1985 Cabernet Sauvignon, Virginia. Jefferson dreamed of French-style vineyards in Virginia, and he planted many of the world's best vinifera at Monticello. But the root louse, phylloxera, and mildew and other rots brought on by the humid autumns, doomed his dream. In the last decade, however, with the help of grafting and modern vineyard management techniques, a thriving wine industry has taken root in Virginia. Among the most prominent, and best quality vineyards is Meredyth, and the Meredyth 1985 Cabernet Sauvignon is not fooling around. It is a world-class red, comparable to fine California and French reds, with excellent aging potential. It is big, rich, intense, with a prune-like nose, and a slight musty hint from barrel aging.

Serving: Serve this hearty red this summer with grilled meats or full flavored foods, or better still, lay it away for five summers.

Price: Suggested retail of about $8.50 per bottle. Actual price may vary significantly. Unfortunately only 350 cases were made. Fortunately, none has been sold yet because it is just being released onto the market this month. Your local merchant probably doesn't have any yet, so if you want to taste the state of the art in Virginia wine making, you will have to order some. If your merchant would like to get some for you, it is distributed wholesale by Forman Brothers in the DC area, 202-398-3300. Wholesale suppliers cannot sell direct to consumers, but your wine merchant can buy from wholesalers.