At the end of October I was fortunate to attend an Italian tasting largely focused in on the wines of Bruno Giacosa and Giacomo Conterno. No tasting of Barolo should be without a mature example and this one began with a very fine 1967 Giacomo Conterno, Barolo. Double-decanted midday it continued to slowly develop in the glass. I can only write that I love the aroma and flavor of this type of wine. Also with attractive maturity, the 1978 Carlo Boffa & Figli, Barbaresco Riserva Vigna Vitalotti is meatier and earthier but leaves the impression of being tired.
The youthful white-labeled pair of 1996 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco Gallina di Neive and 1997 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco Santo Stefano di Neive did not prepare me for the outstanding red-labels. At 20 years of age the 1996 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco Riserva Asili is beginning to move past its youthful stage. It is a powerful, intense wine which never takes away from the beautiful flavors. Younger in age and profile, the 2001 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco Riserva Rabaja promises a great future. There are primary aromas and flavors right now but everything is in place for slow development.
Completely different in nature the 1997 Giacomo Conterno, Barolo Riserva Monfortino, with moderate concentration and complexity, acted as a segway to the outstanding 2000 Giacomo Conterno, Barolo Riserva Monfortino. This is a highly refined, ethereally flavored wine which fills the mouth. With air it fleshes out to provide seamless pleasure. What a tasting!
1980 Stony Hill, Chardonnay, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13%. Looks like a copper-orange wine. There is a complex nose which is a touch maderized. In the mouth is focused, driven flavors that are quite lively and even sport some body but the wine is clearly not correct. Not Rated.
2010 Domaine Leflaive, Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Combettes
Imported by Wilson Daniels. Alcohol 13.5%. The flint aromas make the nose stand out. In the mouth the precise, lemon fruit mixes with flint and smoke. This is a persistent, tart wine with lime flavors and a long, finely textured finish. Impressive now. **** Now – 2026.
2005 Domaine des Croix, Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru
A Becky Wasserman selection imported by Wine Cellars LTD. Alcohol 13.5%. The subtle nose is a touch earthy and lactic. A significantly rounder body is backed by glycerin. Flavors of lemon and lime take on subtle baking spices. It improves with air, filling the mouth with flavors and the sensation of an oily, luxurious body. ***(*) Now – 2021.
2010 Lucien Le Moine, Corton Blanc Grand Cru
Imported by Barrel One Selections. This is aromatic with sweet fruit and floral spices. The tart start is focused yet offers weight. It is almost puckering with a wood hint, floral flavors throughout, and smoke in the finish. It is almost spicy. **** Now – 2026.
2005 Etienne Sauzet, Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru
Imported by Vineyard Brands. A slight darker color hints at the inevitable. Shame!
1967 Giacomo Conterno, Barolo
Imported by suitcase. The nose is subtly smokey. In the mouth are lively, fresh flavors that are initially linear and focused but expand by the finish. There is bottle aged complexity as this wine is beyond fruit. I like the blend of old leather and weighty, animale flavors that develop with air. ****(*) Now – 2026.
1978 Carlo Boffa & Figli, Barbaresco Riserva Vigna Vitalotti
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. The meaty nose is good and opens up a bit with air. In the mouth this is grippy with tart red fruit, and an animale nature. It builds subtle ripeness but is ultimately leaner and not as flavorful. *** Now.
1996 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco Gallina di Neive
Imported by Winebow. Alcohol 14%. The fruitier nose is attractive with complex bitters-like aroma. This grippy wine starts with dry tannins and young fruit but it has very attractive grip, long taste, and a haunting personality. ***(*) Now-2031.
1997 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco Santo Stefano di Neive
Imported by Winebow. Alcohol 13.5%. The darker nose is more subtle. This is a rounder wine with less acidity and tannins, despite its youthful flavor. It shows more balance at this time. The complex red and black fruit are supported by some firm, underlying structure. ***(*) Now – 2026.
2001 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco Riserva Rabaja
Imported by Wine Cellars. Alcohol 14%. The aromas step out of the glass, primarily exuding violets. This is very young in the mouth, powerful with very fine tannins. A core of blackberry fruit comes out. This clearly has a strong future ahead. ****(*) Now – 2036
1996 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco Riserva Asili
Imported by Premier Cru. Alcohol 14%. The nose is concentrated and strong with fruity aromas of licorice. The rounded start is powerful with intense structure and fine, grippy tannins. The flavor, though, is undeniably beautify with density, and some bacon fat. The liquidity of the wine is bound with the acidity. ****(*) Now – 2031.
1997 Giacomo Conterno, Barolo Riserva Monfortino
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. Alcohol 14%. The flavors are of lighter berries and almost roast earth. The wine remains firm with fine, strong tannins. There is structure to last but the flavor concentration does not seem to be there. **** Now – 2026.
2000 Giacomo Conterno, Barolo Riserva Monfortino
Imported by Vieux Vins. Alcohol 14%. The young grapey nose makes way to a smooth entry of mouth filling, black, ethereal flavors. The power of this wine builds with time becoming fleshier too. Lovely and very classy. ****(*) Now – 2026.
2012 Donnhoff, Oberhauser Brucke Riesling Eiswein, Nahe
Imported by Kirkcrest Imports. Alcohol 7.5%. This, bright, electric wine is noticeable for its residual sugar and almost effervescent sensation on the tongue. The spices soon mix with sweet grapefruit and sugar. Young and a bit hard to drink at this stage. **** 2026-2046.
2002 Alois Kracher, Scheurebe Trockenbeeren Auslese #6 Zwischen den Seen, Neusiedlersee
Imported by Kirkcrest Imports. Alcohol 8.5%. Like liquid amber, this aromatic wine is lovely with an apricot hint that is more fresh than dried. It adds baking spices and cinnamon. Weighty with good integration of sweetness. **** Now – 2026.
Chateauneuf du Pape was long a favorite wine in America during the post World War II years. As with several regions in France, the production of a lighter, earlier drinking style of wine also developed in Chateauneuf du Pape. The perceived lessening of quality and rapid increase in price meant that the appeal of Chateauneuf du Pape in America declined through the 1970s.
There were, however, a handful of domains and negociants who stayed true to a traditional style of wine. In the very early 1980s, these wines were rediscovered in America beginning with the exceptional 1978 vintage which was championed by Robert Parker Jr., amongst others. Incredibly, in 1978, some 80% of the wines from Chateauneuf du Pape were sold off in bulk.
I am fortunate this year to have tasted a number of traditional bottles from the 1960s and 1970s. It all begin with Darryl Priest’s Rare Chateau de Beaucastel Vertical from 1964 to 2001 held during the summer. As I was bowled over by the 1964 Domaine de Beaucastel, my friend Mannie Berk opened up his cellar with a salvo of ancient 1964 Chateauneuf du Pape. Most recently, Mannie provided an original release 1969 Domaine de Mont-Redon which I found lovely. My first exposure to mature Mont-Redon came last year when Darryl opened an ex-domaine bottle of 1978 Chateau Mont-Redon. You may learn more about this vintage in my post A 1978 dinner with wines from the Rhone and Bordeaux.
After Mannie opened the pair of 1964s he then opened the 1978 Paul Jaboulet Aine, Les Cedres, Chateauneuf du Pape and the ex-domaine 1978 Chateau Mont-Redon, Chateauneuf du Pape. You might first notice that the Les Cedres, being a negociant label, is not embossed on the bottle like the Mont-Redon. This particular Les Cedres is an original release. After breathing in a decanter there is a combination of earthy, sweet flavors, and even some textured tannins. It is not as substantive as the ex-domaine 1964 Les Cedres but it is certainly good, flavorful, and mature. If the Les Cedres is expansive with mature flavors, then the Mont-Redon remains firm with just a hint of maturity. The Mont-Redon is in fresh condition but lacks that mature excitement.
Paul-Jaboulet Aine purchased wine which was blended for Les Cedres. That the 1964 and 1978 vintages can provide so much enjoyment today suggest there was a golden age for Chateauneuf du Pape which deserves to be rediscovered. There is a significantly problem in that there is not much left but I shall continue my hunt.
1978 Paul Jaboulet Aine, Les Cedres, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Vieux Vins. Alcohol 14%. The nose offers sweeter, mature aromas. In the mouth is an earthier, more expansive wine of sweet flavors and watering acidity. The old wood flavor is bound with the textured tannins. The persistent aftertaste leaves ripe flavor on the gums as an ethereal, inky flavor lingers on. This responds well to air, needing at least half an hour to open up. ***(*) Now – 2021.
1978 Chateau Mont-Redon, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Vieux Vins. Alcohol 14%. This is a tighter, closer knit with mature flavors that make way to a fresh, slightly firm finish. The start sports more watering acidity before the firm structure comes out in the second half. *** Now – 2021.
All of the wines were opened at the table to be drunk in any desired order. I have organized my notes in vintage order first by white then red and finally the sole Madeira. Finally, I have limited my comments to a handful of wines for brevity.
We kicked things off with the 1985 Laurent Perrier, Grand Siecle, Champagne. Grand Siecle was conceived in 1955 as top cuvee to be blended from three of the very best vintages. So our bottle is a particular anomaly being from the single, outstanding 1985 vintage. The cork was firmly seated, refusing to budge, and ultimately twisted into two pieces which were then dug out. Perhaps the tightness of the cork ensures an impeccable seal for the quality of the bubbles is outstanding. This is no recent disgorgement. At best it is savory, complex, and racy.
The 1955 Chateau Carbonneiux, Graves solicited many remarks as the bottle exuded promise. The fill was high, the color youthful, and the cork well-seated against the neck. From the last vintage before the Perrin family purchased the estate, this mostly Sauvignon Blanc based wine was fermented and raised in oak. The nose did remind me a bit of gasoline before it righted itself. With clean, floral flavors of lemon and even some weight it is in fascinating shape. It is a bit simple and short making it more of an academic reference point than quenching old wine.Moving back in time, the oldest red wine came in a squashed 66 cl bottle. The 1947 Marchesi di Barolo, Reserva della Castellana, Barolo is from one of the greatest Barolo vintages of the 20th century. The Reserva della Castellana represents a supposed secret stash of top wine secured behind a lock of which there was one key. Quantities of wine were released each year with the serial numbers recorded in a book. Bottle #2506 improved in the decanter. This salty, zippy wine is in the stage beyond fruit of bottle aged flavors. It is enjoyable, though not remarkable.
I suspect our bottle of 1955 Torres, Gran Coronas, Gran Reserva does not represent the heights this wine can achieve. A bit of nail-polish and oxidation is present both on the nose and in the mouth. Beyond that, though, the wine is quite rich and savory. Time in the decanter broadens the wine. I would certainly drink this wine again.
The pair of wines from the 1969 vintage were great fun. The 1969 Domaine de Mont-Redon, Chateauneuf du Pape adds to my recent experience with 1960s Chateauneuf du Pape. Unlike the examples I have tried from the 1978 vintage, this is an original release. Mont-Redon from the 1950s and 1960s are praised by Rhone lovers. John Livingstone-Learmonth found them to have strength and concentration with Robert Parker writing they were amongst the finest wines of France. During this period the wines were 80% Grenache, 10% Cinsault, and 10% Syrah.The second wine from this vintage came from California. J. Pedroncelli was founded in 1927 was John Pedroncelli planted 135 acres of vines on hillsides near Dry Creek. According to Robert Lawrence Balzer, the site reminded him of his native Lombardy. The vineyard would receive the fog that moved up the Russian River which then receded to provide sunshine. The coolness and warmth was found to make “grapes richly concentrated with flavor” when Robert L. Balzer first visited in 1975. According to Charles L. Sullivan, this was the first vineyard to be planted with Pinot Noir in Northern Sonoma after the Repeal of Prohibition.
Robert L. Balzer’s visit was prompted both by his enjoyment of the wines and the fact that they tended to place well in competitions. Nathan Chroman was chairman of a few competitions who noted the difficulty of growing Pinot Noir in California. In 1972, when Nathan Chroman tasted through 23 California Pinot Noirs, he found the 1969 Pedroncelli Pinot Noir a wine to lay down. Robert L. Balzer found the 1972 vintage in need of age as well. I doubt either of them expected the 1969 J. Pedroncelli, Pinot Noir, Private Stock, Sonoma County to be drinking with full vigor nearly 50 years later.
The Pedroncelli is a fun wine to taste with the Mont Redon. They both smell of similar age and a traditional style of winemaking. The Mont-Redon is more round, with sweet fruit whereas the Pedroncelli is vigorous and grippy with the addition of leather and animale flavors. John Winthrop Haeger offers one possibility for the longevity of the Pedroncelli, in the 1960s the Pinot Noir bottles included a hefty dose of Zinfandel.
The longevity is also, of course, due to the winemaking. This wine was made by the sons of the founder John Pedroncelli who followed the traditions and styles set by their father. It was only in 1968 that Pedroncelli purchased their first French oak barrels and began switching their old Redwood tanks to stainless steel. This was the start of the American wine boom that would see a year after year increase in vineyard acreage and number of Californian wineries. Thus the Pedroncelli marks the end of a phase and so does the Mont-Redon for the winemaking changed in the 1970s towards producing an early drinking style. After tasting these two wines I naively wonder why change?
I have become a firm believer that when a tasting of old vintages is finished with a dessert wine, it should be of similar or older age. What a treat then to have a glass of 1934 Cossart Gordon & Cia., Bual, Madeira. From an excellent vintage, this is a Madeira that excels on the nose. Old Madeira fills your nose and the air around you, transporting you to a traditional period without the need to actively smell your glass.
1985 Laurent Perrier, Grand Siecle, Champagne
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. The very fine, lively bubbles are crisp, precise, and vigorous. With a bright entry, this saline and savory wine mixed baking spiced flavors with a racy body. With air the bubbles remain undiminished but the complexity comes out and the wine develops even more racy body, wrapping it all up with a mature finish. Drinking fantastically right now. **** Now – 2021.
1955 Chateau Carbonneiux, Graves
Shipped by Alexis Lichine. Imported by Clairborne Imports. An excellent looking bottle. The light amber color defies age and matches the lemon and floral tree flavors. The wine has weight, drapes the tongue, and almost becomes racy. I think the Semillon is coming through. It is, though, a bit simple with a short finish. ** Now.
1996 Nicolas Joly, Savennieres Coulee de Serrant
Imported by The Rare Wine co. Alcohol 14%. This is a round wine with perfumed flavors of apple and mature lemon. It is round, fairly clear, and mature with a racy vigor in the finish. It seems to be all about the fabulous texture. **** Now – 2022.
2004 Domaine Leflaive, Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru
Imported by Wilson Daniels. This somewhat complex wine mixes lemon flavors with unintegrated oak. It is taut in the middle, leaning towards the acidic side of things before taking on some cream in the end. It is, perhaps, in need of time. ***(*) 2020-2025.
1947 Marchesi di Barolo, Reserva della Castellana, Barolo
Imported by T. Elenteny Imports. The dark core hints at life. In the mouth this salty wine reveals how it improved with time in decanter. It is all about bottle aged flavors with tangy acidity giving a zippy personality. The mouth remains but the flavors ultimately thin out. *** Now.
1955 Torres, Gran Coronas, Gran Reserva, Penedas
Imported by Forman Bros. Inc. Alcohol 12.65%. The color is deep. The nose offers up barnyard and some not-quite-right aromas of nail polish but is still enjoyable. Slightly oxidized in the mouth this is clearly from a rich wine. It is savory with acidity and even improved a touch in the decanter. But the oxidized hint is there and the finish is short. It is easy to imagine other examples being very good. *** Now.
1969 Domaine de Mont-Redon, Chateauneuf du Pape
From a Belgian cellar. Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 13%. A proper set of aromas which are animale. There is round, mouth filling sweet fruit with a subtle hint of Kirsch, and wood notes. The fruit resolves to be sweet strawberries. This is clearly a beautiful wine in fine shape which tightens with air. **** Now.
1969 J. Pedroncelli, Pinot Noir, Private Stock, Sonoma County
Alcohol 12%. This smells proper and of a wine-making style that no longer exists. With air this old wine smells of leather. In the mouth this is a vibrant wine with taut, grippy flavors of complex red fruit, leather, animale, and more sweetness. It has fine texture and life. Our bottle is in fine shape and capable of drinking at this level for years to come. **** Now – 2022.
1988 Fattoria dei Barbi, Brunello di Montalcino
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. With one of the youngest profiles this wine offers attractive, fruit driven flavors which focus in on violets. I would say it became younger with air. ***(*) Now – 2026.
1990 Chateau de Fonsalette, Syrah, Reservee, Cotes du Rhone
Shipped by Allyn & Scott Wines Ltd. Imported by Wine Cellars LTD. Alcohol 14%. Ah, there is some of that Rayas character on the nose! This is a mature wine with youthful vigor. It is a little round but still possesses tannic grip. With air this exhibits spectacular body with articulate and textured flavor. The acidity is spot on as this wine enters its second, mature phase of life. After a few hours of air this is lovely. **** Now – 2022.
1934 Cossart Gordon & Cia., Bual, Madeira
Shipped by Allyn & Scott Wines. Imported by Wine Cellars LTD. Alcohol 20%. A lovely nose of moderately pungent aromas of caramel, orange, damp campfire, and hints of sweet leather. Flavors of leather mix with a focused, weighty body but the acidity builds until the finish where it becomes prominent and almost searing in the aftertaste. The aftertaste is of citric flavors and a persistent sweetness. ***(*) Now – whenever.
Lou brought a trio of bottles over to go with Thanksgiving leftovers. Coupled with a magnum of Bandol we tasted through some diverse wines. The 1997 Argyle, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley is from a moderate vintage and provides enough interest for a small glass. The wine tastes as if the fruit were not quite ripe when picked. Despite that criticism, the wine itself is chugging along and in no way decrepit. From a much better vintage the 2001 Castello di Brolio, Chianti Classico looks significantly younger than its age. It is full of color and dark red fruit delivered with some bright acidity. While it is not particularly complex, it is in fine shape and made for solid drinking. The magnum of 2007 Domaine de Terrebrune, Bandol proved to be my favorite wine of the night. It is a touch soft at first then opens up to plenty of clean, maturing flavors with an attractive mineral streak. It even seemed racy for a bit. There is no mistaking the 2013 Damiani Wine Cellars, Cabernet Franc, Finger Lakes for any other grape. The aromas and flavors work in that lifted greenhouse or vegetal quality to good effect. Actually, the wine is surprisingly packed with flavor.
1997 Argyle, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley
Alcohol 13.5%. More stemmy flavors the fruit at this point but the lifted fruit is still there in the form of bright, dry red fruit. It tastes a bit short of ripe fruit. With enough interest for a small glass it is more remarkable for holding up this long. * Now.
2001 Castello di Brolio, Chianti Classico
Imported by Paterno Wines International. Alcohol 13.5%. Surprisingly dark but on closer inspection there is a garnet hint on the edge. In the mouth are dark red fruit flavors, polished wood, and unfortunately a touch of heat in the end. The flavors are dry with a generally bright outlook. There is even some structure. Overall this is a very solid wine that is simply not too complex. ** Now – 2018.
2007 Domaine de Terrebrune, Bandol en magnum
Imported by Kermit Lynch. This wine is a blend of 85% Mourvedre, 10% Grenache, and 5% Cinsault. Alcohol 14%. It is subtle for just a bit before the flavors accelerate through the mouth with a racy, mineral quality. *** Now – 2018.
2013 Damiani Wine Cellars, Cabernet Franc, Finger Lakes
This wine is 100% Cabernet Franc. Alcohol 13.5%. Fairly attractive nose of red and blue fruit marked by lifted greenhouse aromas. The flavors bear the same vegetal hint but it works well with the fruit. There is quite a bit of stuffing and freshness to make this enjoyable. ** Now – 2017.
A rather large group of us gathered at my mom’s house for Thanksgiving. After bottles of French sparkling wine and rose we sat down for our turkey and ham dinner.
For this part, I thought a pair of Chateauneuf du Pape magnums would be festive. The 1998 Domaine de Beaurenard, Chateauneuf du Pape was by far the favorite and as such it was finished off by steadily application. It is appropriately mature for age and format leaning towards dry rather than ripe flavor. It is a very solid wine for drinking now. There was a good measure of the 2010 Chapelle St. Theodoric, La Guigasse, Chateauneuf du Pape leftover for me to taste on the second night. On that night it was significantly improved. The wine is young tasting in that it is all about pure fruit flavors but the lack of noticeable structure tricks you into thinking you should start drinking it after removing the cork. Instead this needs significant air to exhibit its savory, weighty, and textured flavor. I really liked it at this point.
1998 Domaine de Beaurenard, Chateauneuf du Pape en magnum
Imported by New Castle Imports. 70% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre, 10% Syrah, 4% Cinsault, and other varieties. Alcohol 14%. Rather dark on the nose with attractive, maturing aromas that are spiced and mix in some licorice. In the mouth this is a dry, focused wine with black and blue fruit with an appropriate amount of wood box notes and baking spices.The wine moves due to salivating acidity and it even has structure. The tight density suggests it will last but I suspect it will only dry out with age. *** Now – 2021.
2010 Chapelle St. Theodoric, La Guigasse, Chateauneuf du Pape en magnum
Imported by Weygandt-Metzler. This is 100% Grenache sourced from 50 year old vines of the La Guigasse vineyard. Alcohol 14.5%. The kirsch aromas are pure on the nose and lovely. With air this wine is almost thick with Kirsch flavored fruit. There is good fruit weight and texture on the tongue with just the right amount of acidity to lift. It takes on finely textured and ripe flavors of plum which soon leave the impression of extract. It is ultimately a savory, weighty wine where you do not notice the structure. Markedly better on the second night. ***(*) 2018-2024.
My mom left the choice of red wines up to me but for dessert she requested Port. As we had a diverse group I thought it would be fun to open a fruitier Vintage Port and a Tawny Port. I must admit that I am beginning to accept that a Port from the mid 1980s may be ready to drink so to crack open the 1995 Smith Woodhouse, Madalena, Vintage Port seemed like an exercise in infanticide. It wasn’t! It is fruity wine that is densely packed with flavor and spices. The suppleness is attractive for the acidity and structure do not stand out. The NV Grahams, 20 Year Old Tawny Port, with its older label, was bottled in 1998. I mistakenly did not decant this wine so the very fine sediment became stirred up. It is still an apricot and orange fruit driven tawny port. The t-stopper cork is bit fragile and so is the wine at this age for it shows some heat in the end. A solid but not moving experience.
1995 Smith Woodhouse, Madalena, Vintage Port
Imported by Premium Port Wines. Alcohol 20%. A medium red garnet. Sweet, dense, flavors soon build both complexity and intensity in the mouth. A bit racy, certainly supple with holiday spices overlaying the fruit. A long, drier aftertaste with salivating acidity and dark fruit. ***(*) Now – 2026.
NV Grahams, 20 Year Old Tawny Port
Imported. Bottled 1998. A slightly cloudy, apricot tawny color probably the result of not decanting off the sediment. Not too sweet of an entry balanced by the right amount of viscosity. A surprising amount of apricot and orange fruit. Clearly a tawny with an interesting twist away from nuts. A touch of heat breaks through in the end. *** Now.
It is not too late to purchase wine for this long, holiday weekend. If you are looking for quantities of excellent wine at an affordable price then look no further than the 2015 Chateau Coupe Roses, Bastide, Minervois and 2012 Sella & Mosca,Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva. They are completely different, yet immensely satisfying wines. The Coupe Roses has a fruity, tense personality whereas the Sella & Mosca, is more flavorful, weighty, and touch more mature. I have already purchased the Coupe Roses by the case and plan to do so for the Sella & Mosca. I recommend you do so as well. These wines are available at MacArthur Beverages.
2015 Chateau Coupe Roses, Bastide, Minervois – $13
Imported by Vintage ’59. This wine is a blend of 48% Carignan, 46% Grenache, and 6% Syrah. Alcohol 13.5%. This is an earthy and fruity wine with an attractive deep tone. It has the right amount of weight and ink. The very fine structure slowly builds, supporting the ripe fruit which is tense from acidity. There is really good flavor after one hour. The earthy note pervades until the mineral, lip-smacking finish. *** Now – 2018.
2012 Sella & Mosca,Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva – $13
Imported by Palm Bay International. This is 100% Cannonau that was fermented in stainless steel then aged for two years in large Slavonian oak barrels. Alcohol 14%. This is a flavorful, weighty wine with lively acidity that cuts through. There are dry hints of black fruit and a general sense of a warm climate. This is a wine for drinking now with interesting, dark, dry, spiced flavors throughout. There is even a little structure in the end. *** Now.
“The last bottle had been broached”: George Washington’s Efforts to Secure Choice Old Madeira During the Revolutionary War and Afterwards
Yesterday, on November 17, 2016, the George Washington Special Reserve Madeira was debuted at George Washington’s home Mount Vernon. This collaborative project between Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Company, and Mount Vernon, celebrates George Washington’s life long love for the best Madeira. The Madeira itself was blended by Ricardo Freitas, Vinhos Barbeito, based on research I conducted. The Madeira recreates the rich, old flavor that George Washington sought.
To give context to the Madeira three talks were delivered. Mannie Berk spoke about the general history of Madeira, Mount Vernon Historian Mary Thompson detailed accounts of George Washington’s table which of course involved bottles and glasses of Madeira, and I spoke about the difficulties George Washington experienced in obtaining choice old Madeira.
Since Mannie Berk’s purchase of a large stock of ancient Madeira in 1987 and the subsequent formation of The Rare Wine Co. in 1989, he has sought to not only re-introduce Madeira to a wide audience but also to uniquely educate on how Madeira was intertwined amongst daily lives. Mannie Berk has done this to particular effect through The Historic Series of Madeira. With projects that highlight a single city or person, he continues to foster new research into what was for centuries America’s favorite drink. I am proud to participate in these projects and hope you enjoy my talk below.
During George Washington’s second term as President, he wrote from Philadelphia to his farm manager at Mount Vernon to stop giving out his Madeira to visitors. Martha Washington echoed the concern that there would be no Madeira left for them to drink upon their return home. She wrote to her niece “not give out another Bottle out of the vault”.
Madeira was always expensive but over the previous five years it became even more so. In 1789, the United States government, under the recently ratified Constitution, assumed all state debt. To pay the debt national duties were created including those on wine. Madeira bore the highest rate which continued to increase from 18 cents per gallon, to 35 cents, and finally 56 cents per gallon for the top-quality London Particular that George Washington favored. When compounded with the scarcity of aged stocks it influenced George Washington to save his old Madeira “unless it be on very extraordinary occasions.” He was no stranger to the difficulties of procuring fine old Madeira given that he frequently ran out of it during the Revolutionary War.
George Washington wrote very little about his impressions of the Madeira he drank. We do know of his life-long appreciation of Madeira largely through correspondence, receipts, and ledger entries. It is clear that there were difficulties in obtaining fine Madeira during and after the war years. Despite the effort required, he was determined to drink the best Madeira until his death. I will talk about these efforts from his introduction to fine Madeira, the challenges he faced during the Revolutionary War and afterwards which led to his unique orders of “India wine”.
Introduction to Fine Madeira
Thomas Jefferson placed his first known order for a pipe of Madeira at the age of 32. The overlooked Madeira connoisseur James Madison was 49 when he first placed his. George Washington was the young age of 27.
This is not to say these are the first instances of these men purchasing or even drinking Madeira, rather it is their first known orders by the pipe. Madeira was typically the most expensive wine available during this period. To buy it by the 110 gallon pipe required a significant expenditure.
George Washington did not mix his words when he placed his first order in 1759. He wanted “from the best House in Madeira a Pipe of the best old wine”. George Washington’s order was sent to a London firm who used the Madeira house Lamar, Hill, & Lamar to fulfill the order. In America, this house was represented by Henry Hill who was located in Philadelphia. Henry Hill was one of the most prominent Madeira merchants who catered to the wealthiest and most powerful families. This included Martha Custis.
The Custis family used the same London firm and before Martha Custis married George Washington, her Madeira came from the Hills. She was young, very wealthy, and desirable as a client. Before the House was aware of her marriage, they wrote how they would like to send her a pipe yearly and that she could “depend on being supplied with the best.”
Martha Custis placed her last order for a pipe of Madeira in 1758 when she was courted by George Washington. It seems likely then that this is when George Washington developed a taste for “the best” Madeira for he began to order from the Hills.
There is indeed some evidence to suggest that Martha Custis introduced George Washington to fine Madeira. Or rather, there is a lack of evidence that George Washington was purchasing it as a single man. In reviewing his expenses from the 1750s we can see he purchased such items as silver buckles, gloves, and milk. He certainly played billiards, lost money at cards, won some money at cards, and even gave money to his mother. While there are entries for supping and dinning I can only find a handful of entries for the purchase of alcohol. This includes “punch and cards” and a hogshead of beer. There are no pipes or even bottles of old Madeira.
That is, perhaps, not surprising for George Washington began his military service in 1753 and only resigned his commission in 1758. It is likely that he drank Madeira while he was involved in the French & Indian War as commander of the Virginia companies under the British.
Merchants followed the army to establish trading posts at the new forts. These merchants or “suttlers” were required to sign a contract in order to conduct trade. To prevent price-gouging a schedule was established. This set price limits for such drinks as West India Rum, Shrub Punch, and of course Madeira.
There was, however, an additional requirement that all suttlers provide dinner, supers and liquors to the officers of the corps to which they belong to. George Washington most likely drank a basic quality Madeira.
After George Washington resigned his commission and married Martha Custis, he began to regularly order Madeira for Mount Vernon. He ordered his pipes taking care to request the best vintages and pay the bills using a bank or merchant. George Washington, no doubt excited by the completion of his gristmill near Mount Vernon, once ordered “four Pipes of best Madeira Wine” during the summer 1773. Unlike his prior orders he wanted to pay for this one with 80 barrels of flour. Henry Hill explained that “it’s not usual to ship fine wine but for bills of Excha[nge]”. The solution was that Washington could have any grade of Madeira except for their best, which was the London Particular he had requested. These were to be the last pipes of Madeira George Washington ordered before the Revolutionary War.
The Challenges in Securing Old Madeira
In June 1774, the British closed the major ports of Boston and Charlestown with a blockade. George Washington’s four pipes of Madeira appear to have made it safely to Virginia that very same month. The First Continental Congress soon met to address the blockade and other issues. It was decided to economically boycott Great Britain through a non-importation declaration. The import of Madeira wine was banned as well.
Any Madeira that did make it to the colonies in American ships was liable to be seized and sold off. One ship that arrived in December 1774, just two weeks after the importation declaration was enacted, was carrying 23 pipes of Madeira. All of the Madeira was sold off with the owners compensated for their expense but all of the profit went towards the relief of the poor in Boston who were suffering from the blockade.
Down in Charleston, the merchant Levinus Clarkson safely landed his pipes of Madeira on January 2, 1775. He found one pipe “very Indifferent” and threatening to turn to Vinegar. Several others were “so thick”. Perhaps discouraged by his pipes he wrote his partner in New York that “the Determinations of Congress have Effectually Blasted my Prospects for the Insuing Year.” Most colonists largely obeyed the order to not import Madeira. The volume of Madeira shipped from the island to the colonies plummeted.
We know for a fact that George Washington drank Madeira during the Revolutionary War. At Mount Vernon he purchased Madeira by the pipe. But during the war, when he was at headquarters, he typically purchased it by the bottle. Within a week of establishing his headquarters in Cambridge, MA, arrangements were made for his first Madeira order in July 1775. His Madeira quickly became one of his largest expenses.
At first there were enough stocks of Madeira in America that George Washington could purchase it as it was consumed. His first orders came from the nearby port city of Salem, Massachusetts. The orders were for quarter casks of “choice” Madeira. Instead of receiving the casks of Madeira, his was fined then bottled three weeks later to provide wine that was clear and ready to drink. These bottles were then placed in hampers and transported to headquarters in carts. He was sent at least 10 dozen bottles at a time, roughly providing two bottles per day.
In advance of the New York Campaign, Washington’s Madeira eventually came from New York. The first small parcel of three dozen was bought the very same month that the Continental Congress opened all American ports to international trade in April 1776. Madeira did not come flooding in but it was still available.
Levinus Clarkson managed to hold onto his business down in Charleston. One month after he sold 163 bottles of “old Madeira wine” to George Washington, he was appointed as Continental Agent in the state of South Carolina. Congress told him he was “in short do all things in this department that you think will serve the Continent and promote the service of the Navy”. Perhaps this included supplying Madeira.
George Washington had used his troops to cut of land access for the British so they could only be supplied with Madeira by ship. The Continental Navy had just been formed and the capture of British ships for profit was approved. For a time this was the only way to obtain or “import” new pipes of Madeira so prize ships were much discussed. Disposal of the prize cargo initially required the approval of George Washington.
One ship wrecked in a gale on its way to Boston. It was carrying 120 pipes of Madeira and all but two pipes were saved. It was assumed they were intended for the British. George Washington immediately decided the Madeira should be sent to headquarters in Cambridge to be sold off for public use. Perhaps he did not take any for he was consistently stocked at the time. It was soon determined the Madeira belonged to a gentleman of Philadelphia.
A few weeks later a sloop laden with supplies met with bad weather en route to Boston becoming stranded on a beach. In the cargo was three quarter-casks of Madeira belonging to General William Howe, Commander in Chief of the British Army in America, who oversaw the siege of Boston. It is not clear who drank them.
In the June 1776, the Portuguese monarchy aligned with the British and forbade any American colonial ships from calling on Portuguese ports. With the colonists’ direct Madeira supply cut off, it became imperative to capture any ships carrying Madeira. There were other prize ships but it wasn’t until years later, when George Washington was repeatedly out of Madeira that he was sent the best pipe out of a captured cargo of 300 pipes which were intended for “our Enemies officers in New York”.
George Washington’s last supply of Madeira before the brutal winter at Valley Forge came in summer of 1777. By the following spring Washington had been unsupplied for some time and the stocks of wine in the area were depleted. The Commissary of Stores was directed to send wine up to Washington’s headquarters. The next month he was sent just 12 bottles of Madeira. Eventually that fall another pipe was procured. Unfortunately, it was mistaken as destined for the commissary so most of it was drunk before it came to Washington. He was able to drink a small portion and was appreciative none the less.
George Washington ran out of wine again by the spring of 1779. By that fall he was “destitute” of supplies including wine. This was not lost upon James Madison when he became Commissioner of the Board of Admiralty. During May 1780, he wrote a letter to the Committee of Congress, which was sent to investigate the army at George Washington’s headquarters, about the lack of wine.
“As for our illustrious general, if it were in our choice, for him the rich Madeira should flow in copious streams;—and as for the gallant officers, and faithful brave soldiers under his command, if we had the powers of conversion, we would turn water into wine, the camp should overflow with that exhilarating and invigorating liquor.”
George Washington was soon sent Madeira which he found “very fine”. This was a turning point in that he was now in general supply of Madeira for the rest of his life. After peace negotiations began with the British, George Washington returned to his habit of personally managing his Madeira orders. John Searle wrote from Madeira that he was “inform’d that choice Old Madeira Wines are exceedingly Scarce & Dear in the United States”. Thus he took the liberty of sending him “the choicest Old Madeira Wine of a most excellent Quality and fine Amber Colour”. George Washington immediately ordered another two pipes.
There were several celebrations during George Washington’s final year as Commander in 1783. For the celebration of the news of peace, a dinner and ball was held. There was some 32 gallons of Madeira wine served with some 43 glasses broken during the ball. At a dinner shortly before George Washington resigned his commission, 120 diners drank some 135 bottles. There were 60 wine glasses broken. On the eve of his resignation, a celebratory super was held. There were 98 bottles of wine and no Madeira was served. Curiously, no glasses were broken either.
There were different grades of Madeira and George Washington largely ordered the best and most expensive. He was rather blunt often requesting “your very choicest (old) Madeira wine”. What he was sent was the highest grade known as London Particular. To ensure the quality of his wine the pipes were sent directly to him from Madeira.
On two occasions President George Washington received Madeira which was first sent to India. The first order was set in motion during his second term, when John Pintard, US Consul in Madeira, wrote George Washington that he had shipped him one pipe of “very choice old wine” by way of India. The Madeira destined to India was priced at £40 Sterling which made it more expensive than the “choice old wine” at £38 sent at the same time direct from the Island. George Washington accepted another order for two more pipes of “India wine” before this first pipe ever arrived.
That George Washington was sent “India wine” has to do with the changing nature of the Madeira trade as a result of the Revolutionary War. During this period, when Madeira shipments to America plummeted, the Madeira houses sought to make up this deficit in part by expanding trade to India and China. The share of Madeira sent to this eastern market rose to 40%.
The first American ship to visit India was the United States of Philadelphia. When she stopped at Madeira, it was John Pintard who issued the visa for the ship to depart. Amongst the cargo were pipes of Madeira from the house of John Searle & Co. Both the Pintard’s and the Searle’s imported wine in Philadelphia and maintained a connection in Madeira. When the British East India Company looked for a Madeira supplier for their colonies in India, the house of John Searle & Co won the very first bid. The Searle’s were extensively involved in the India Madeira trade by the time George Washington’s pipes were sent.
The freight charges for the first India pipe was £15 compared to the £3 3s direct from Madeira. That made the one pipe of India wine £55 compared to £39 13s. The freight for the second two pipes came to just over £33 each. Thus the last two pipes cost a staggering £71 each not including duties and drayage. To be clear George Washington was paying for top quality Madeira and not the mid-level “India market” developed for the east.
We can hazard a guess as to why George Washington was willing to pay such extraordinary prices. During his second term, George Washington wrote that not only was Madeira “one of the most expensive liquors” but that old Madeira “is not to be had upon any terms”. He wanted his small stock of old Madeira “reserved..for my own use when I get home” as it was “not easy to be replaced”. He was looking for Madeira to drink during retirement.
George Washington had kept the two India pipes at the shipping firm’s counting house under the advisement that they would improve better there than in a cellar. He settled his bill with the firm the month he left office. His personal goods were sent by ship to Mount Vernon. In the bill of lading it is noted in the margin that two pipes of Madeira wine were included. George Washington brought his rare India wine back home to Mount Vernon.
We know he drank this wine during his last years of life and that there were still difficulties in securing old Madeira. In June 1799 he wrote his “stock was getting low”. By that fall it was noted “his stock is now so nearly exhausted that he must get a supply from one quarter or another in very short time”. After much correspondence and confusion, a new shipment eventually left Madeira for Philadelphia from which it was shipped down to the Potomac. We know he received this wine for amongst his very last correspondence we learn the wine arrived just two days before George Washington passed away.