Home > History of Wine > John Adams Drank Constantia Wine in Spain

John Adams Drank Constantia Wine in Spain


A New Map of Spain and Portugal. John Cary. 1801. David Rumsey Map Collection.

A New Map of Spain and Portugal. John Cary. 1801. David Rumsey Map Collection.

In December 1779, John Adams set off through Spain.  By his accounts, his dinner with Monsieur De Tournell on Sunday, December 19, 1779, featured “the greatest Profusion and Variety of Wines I ever saw brought to any table.”[1]  He continues, ” In Addition to the Wines of France, Bourdeaux, Champaigne, Burgundy, We had Constantin and all the best Wines of Spain red and white. The names and qualities of all of them were given Us, but I remember only the Sherry, Alicanté and Navarre.”  From a second portion of his diary the wines were described as, “We had every Luxury, but the Wines were Bourdeaux, Champagne, Burgundy, Sherry, Alicante, Navarre, and Vin de Cap. The most delicious in the World.”[2]  In the previous, more detailed diary entry, he notes ,”The Spanish and Irish Gentlemen” complemented the Consul “on the Excellence of his Wines which they pronounced the oldest and best they had ever seen.”  The Chief Justice and Attorney General were pleased by the, “rich and rare Selection of Spanish Wines”.

Detail showing John Adams on left. Declaration of Independance. John Trumbull. 1817. Image from Wikipedia.

Detail showing John Adams on left. Declaration of Independance. John Trumbull. 1817. Image from Wikipedia.

In the two entries by John Adams he appears to equate “Constantin” with “Vin de Cap” and potentially qualifying it with “The most delicious in the World.”  It is possible that John Adams drank Constantia wine.  In reviewing John Adams’ actual diary entry I believe he wrote “Constantia” and not “Constantin”.  I am not an expert in his handwriting but there appears to be a little curlicue on the last letter indicative of the letter “a”.[3]  Despite transcription differences there are other period publications relating the wines of Constantia with Vin de Cap which reinforce that he drank Constantia wine.  In Carl Peter Thunberg’s Resa uti Europa, Africa, Asia, förrättad åren 1770-1779 he writes of the two farms Great and Little Constantia, “is celebrated for its highly delicious wine, known by the name of Constantia wine or Vin de Cap“.[4]  Two other publications relating these two descriptions include “Constantia, situee derriere la montagne de la Table, est le vin de Cap par excellence”.[5]  As well as a letter from J.H.F. Oldecop to Prince Alexandre Kourakin dated February 18, 1773, he writes of “du veritable vin de Cap, nomme Constantia”.[6]


[1] “[1779 December 19. Sunday.] ,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/01-04-02-0002-0018, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: The Adams Papers, Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, vol. 4, Autobiography, Parts Two and Three, 1777–1780, ed. L. H. Butterfield. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961, pp. 209–211.
[2]“1779 December 19. Sunday.,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/01-02-02-0009-0008-0012, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: The Adams Papers, Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, vol. 2, 1771–1781, ed. L. H. Butterfield. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961, pp. 413–414.
[3] John Adams autobiography, part 3, “Peace,” 1779-1780, sheet 9 of 18, 19 – 24 December 1779.  URL: http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/archive/popup?id=A3_9&page=A3_9_1
[4] For the origin see Thunberg, Carl Peter. Resa uti Europa, Africa, Asia, förrättad åren 1770-1779. 1788. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=uYwBAAAAYAAJ&pg=PP9#v=onepage&q&f=false and for the English translation please see Travels at the Cape of Good Hope, 1772-1775: Based on the English Edition. 1986. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=ocliNOUc20oC&lpg=PP1&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false.
[5] Nouvel esprit des journaux français et étrangers. 1793. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=Jb0UAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[6] Архив Кн. Ө.А. Куракина, Volumes 7-8. 1898. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=jeUDAAAAYAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false

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