Thomas Jefferson's 274th birthday is tomorrow - April 13. Our country's third president was also the first unofficial sommelier for our country - specifically for the first two presidents and the three who followed him.

His taste for wine was stimulated while serving as ambassador to France, when he started hobnobbing with Benjamin Franklin, who introduced him to French elite circles.

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While in France, he traveled the vineyards of France, Germany and Italy, learning enough of each language to endear himself to the enologists he called upon. If one glances at Jefferson's wine comments, it could easily be assumed that he loved all the wines he tasted.

By reading James Gabler's book "How To Be A Wine Expert; A Beginner's Guide," you would find Jefferson had very articulate taste comments that still hold up in many ways by today's wine experts.

Jefferson loved all that wines had the potential to be. He praised the Burgundies, both red and white, and if one were to make a judgment based on his purchases marking it his favorite wine, it would probably have to go to the white Hermitage wine - declaring it "marked with a touch of sweetness" calling it the "first wine in the world without exception." He obviously loved it - he purchased 550 bottles of white Heritage from the House of Jordan during his presidency.

Having never tasted the white Heritage wine, I am not in a position to make comments about Jefferson's praise. A close second in his favorite wines would be the red Bordeaux wines. He had praise for so many of them to begin mentioning here, but as a sweeping generalization based on my experience of a couple of years ago while on a Viking River tour of Bordeaux, I would totally agree with him. They were all fantastic, making it a near impossibility to pick a favorite.

Surprisingly, Jefferson's taste for Champagne was a preference for the non-sparkling version.

His love for wine didn't stop with France, but continued into Germany with his praise for the wines out of Mosel and the Rheingau regions. He even wanted to take some vines from this region back to America. (There is no evidence that this took place.)

In Italy, Jefferson fell in love with the wine made from the Nebbiolo grape, which produces some of Italy's most renowned wines in Barolo and Barbaresco. He found the Nebbiolo wines about as silky as Madeira, as astringent as Bordeaux and as brisk as Champagne - declaring it to be a "pleasing wine." The Barolo and Barbaresco wines of today are dry, not sweet, and have no effervescence because the style of wines has changed.

Spanish and Portuguese wines made his favorite list as well, not wanting to suffer the privation of missing out on his daily Spanish dry sherry. His unvarnished enthusiasm of Madeira was obvious when he agreed to split a pipe (110 gallons) with Marquis de Lafayette while in Paris.

As a reminder, April 17 is International Malbec World Day, definitely a favorite red of mine. I am certain - because of its French heritage - Jefferson would have lavished it with praise.

Ron Smith, a retired horticulturist, writes weekly about his love of wine and its history. Readers can reach him at