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Thomas Jefferson loved fine wine and Champagne, especially Sillery. In 1784 the US Congress sent him to Paris as ambassador, replacing Benjamin Franklin, and he remained there until 1789. While there he took the opportunity to learn about the wine and food of Europe, especially France, where he traveled to all the famous wine regions, tasting as he went. In 1788 he made a four day trip to Champagne where he identified what he considered were the best wine producing villages or crus: Aÿ, Hautvilliers, Epernay, Cramant, Mesnil, and Verzenay. He developed a special fondness for the Champagnes of the Marquis de Sillery who had extensive holdings in Mailly, Verzy and Verzenay as well as Sillery. Upon returning to the US, he continued to purchase Champagnes, especially Sillery, for his personal use, for George Washington, and for entertaining at the White House while he was President.
The Champagne of Jefferson’s time would have been different from that of today. The principal red grape would most likely have been the same as today, Pinot Noir, but the white grape could have been Pinot Blanc or a clone of Chardonnay or a mix of other varieties. At the time, no distinction was made between Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay. Jefferson’s preference (like that of French gourmets at the time) was for the non-mousseux style of Champagne, although he certainly would have tasted mousseux as well. Indeed, given the popularity of sparkling Champagne in England as early as the 17th century (well before it was even produced in France), Jefferson undoubtedly would have known the drink well before his appointment as ambassador to France.
While it’s not possible to replicate the Champagne—sparkling or still—that Thomas Jefferson drank, the Champagnes of the François Secondé estate come close. In addition to making sparkling Champagnes from Sillery fruit, they also make the still wines that Jefferson preferred–Coteaux Champenois Sillery Blanc and Coteaux Champenois Sillery Rouge. The warming climate and Secondé’s tendency to pick late means today’s wines are richer and fruitier than what Jefferson would have known, but the influence of oak and low alcohol would seem familiar. Jefferson might also have consumed vin gris, a still white wine made from red grapes, most likely Pinot Noir; this wine is no longer produced in Champagne.
Jean-Rémy Moët: Napoleon and Joséphine had visited his cellars in 1807. His list of visitors in 1814 included Francis II (Emperor of Austria), Alexander I (Tsar of Russia), Frederick William III (King of Prussia), Prince Metternich, the Duke of Wellington, just to name a few. In 1830, Moët’s non-sparkling white ‘Sillery’ sold in Russia for 7.5 francs a bottle.