Archive for October, 2015

Delightful Italian wines priced from $18 to $24

October 30, 2015 Leave a comment

I may spend my nights dreaming about old bottles of wine but I typically spend the evenings before drinking young wines.  Most recently I have focused in on Italian wines.  What can I write but that the group featured in today’s post is thoroughly enjoyable with a few wines exciting.  The most approachable wines are the 2006 Castello D’Alboa, Chianti Classico Riserva and the 2013 Tua Rita, Rosso Dei Notri, Tuscany.  This is a contrasting pair for the former is a traditional, restrained Chianti and the later is a forward, almost-strapping Super Tuscan.  Straddling the line between a current drinker and one for the cellar is the 2007 D’Angelo, Caselle, Aglianico del Vulture.  It exhibits an attractive mix of savory flavors, minerals, and spices.  Two Rosso di Montalcino priced around $20 per bottle deserve a place in your wine rack. The 2012 Caparzo, Rosso di Montalcino and the 2013 Rodolfo Cosini, Terra Rossa, Rosso di Montalcino. Worthy of slumbering in your cellar is the 2013 Montevetrano, Core, Campania.  Though completely shut down on the first night, this wine eventually releases complex aromas and minerally, black fruit in the mouth.  These wines are available at MacArthur Beverages.


2006 Castello D’Albola, Chianti Classico Riserva – $24
Imported by Zonin. Alcohol 13%.  The slightly meaty aromas of red fruit revealed a shy hint of maturity.  In the mouth the blacker fruit firmed up with air.  This traditional wine has a gentle flavor, watering acidity, and a firm existence.  It is less ripe, instead the cherry flavors match the tannins that take hold of the inside of the gums.  This will never be lush, instead always lithe.  *** Now – 2023.


2007 D’Angelo, Caselle, Aglianico del Vulture – $24
Imported by  Grappoli Imports.  Alcohol 13%.  The savory, weighty start brought forth blacker fruits that build up levels of spices and minerals until lipsticky, red fruit came out.  The cool seamless acidity is matched by drying tannins from the start, wrapping up with citric notes on the gums.  Strong potential here.  ***(*) Now -2025.


2012 Caparzo, Rosso di Montalcino – $19
Imported by Vineyard Brands.  This wine is 100% Sangiovese aged for 1 year in Slavonian oak casks.   Alcohol 13.5%.  The deep, fruity aromas on the nose are followed by the young and strong flavors in the mouth.  The fruit is surrounded by ripe tannins, at first showing more forward black fruit and minerals but with air the wine becomes more structured.  It clearly shows dark potential with both integrated acidity and tannins.  Strong potential.  *** Now – 2015.


2013 Montevetrano, Core, Campania – $23
Imported by Winebow.  This wine is 100% Anglianico that was fermented in stainless steel then aged for 10 months in oak barriques.  Alcohol 13.5%.  After much air the nose oscillates between leather and earthy aromas to a little sweaty, complex bitters aromas.  In the mouth the young wine eventually released minerally, black fruit, dry structure, and an engaging mix of liquor and wood in the finish.  Will be quite good but needs time to show its best.  ***(*) 2018-2028.


2013 Rodolfo Cosini, Terra Rossa, Rosso di Montalcino – $21
Imported by Enotec.  This wine is 100% Sangiovese that spent one year in medium oak barrels.  Alcohol 13.5%.  There were hints of leather on the nose followed by riper, more extracted flavors in the mouth.  More potent in the mouth there are hints of cream and polished wood.  Overall this exhibits more minerality than fruit.  *** Now – 2025.


2013 Tua Rita, Rosso Dei Notri, Tuscany – $18
Imported by Winebow.  This wine is a blend of 50% Sangiovese, 30% Merlot, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon that was aged for three months in both stainless steel tanks and barriques.  Alcohol 14%.  There are good, fruity flavors of licorice and a bit of red fruit supported by black fruit.  The ripe flavors are moderated by puckering acidity on the tongue tip that morphs into a hind of modern, creamy, roundness in the finish.  The drier finish brings out baking spices, and a camphor-like aftertaste.  Overall, this wine has a youthful fruit profile with enough concentration to develop for a few years.  *** Now – 2022.


“give him part of a Bottle of Wine, it being his Birth Day”: Twelve accounts involving a bottle of wine

October 28, 2015 2 comments

I love perusing The Proceedings of the Old Bailey for content in anyway related to wine.  This site may sound familiar due to my Murder and Thieves series of posts.  Inspired by Sharon Howard’s investigation of phrases in the criminal proceedings, I present to you extracts from twelve different proceedings spanning the years 1683 – 1737.  This is by no means a thorough list, just one the presents a variety of events involving a Bottle of wine.  I strongly encourage you to read more of these proceedings for in the last case you will find, ” When the Wine came up, they fill’d a Glass, which I believe was a full Pint-glass, and with bitter Oaths and Imprecations, they forced me to drink it off”.

17th century English wine bottles.  The British Museum.

17th century English wine bottles. The British Museum.

1 – “the Prisoner was in Company of another Woman, picked up the Prosecutor in Fleet-street and proffered either to give or take a Bottle of Wine, which agreed on, they went to the Green-Dragon-Tavern , and there Hug’d him so long till they had pickt his Pocket of the Watch and Mony aforesaid”[1]

2 – “Indicted for stealing a Silver Tankard from John Nichols , a Vintner , to whom he went for a Bottle of Wine, and whilst it was drawing, was so nimble to steal the Tankard out of a Closet”[2]

3 – “Geo. Caskey, together with Francis Pevanson, alias Peverson , a French-man, and Daniel Ballantine an Italian having been drinking at a Musick House in Rosemary-lane, as they were coming away they would have had another Bottle of Wine; which the Master of the House refused: at which they were highly offended, broke the Windows of the House, and abused the Woman”[3]

4 – “That Lacy the Prisoner importuning the Plantiff Aldridge to drink a Bottle of Wine, who, after some Importunities going with him, and drinking some part of four Bottles of Wine; which when he had done, refusing to drink any more, going off, the Prisoner assaulted him the said Aldridge with his Fist, beating him to the Ground, very much abusing his Face”[4]

5 – “whilst the Maid of the house (whom he had sent to fetch him a Bottle of Wine, under pretence he had friends to visit him) was absent, he pick’d the lock of a Chest of Drawers that stood in his Chamber, and rifling those that were open, made his escape”[5]

6 – “That being one that practised the Trade of Night walking , she invited him to a Tavern in St. Martins le Grand , in order to partake of a Bottle of Wine, But they had scarcely begun to grow familiar, before she had dived into his Pocket, and getting his Purse of Gold, she gave him the slip”[6]

7 – “he met the Prisoner, who ask’d him for a Bottle of Wine, and he went with her, and being in the Tavern, there came another Woman to them, and then he went home with them to their Lodging; where shewing them his Ring, the Prisoner snatch’d it from him, and gave it to the other, who would not return it”[7]

8 – “asking him where he was going, he answered on Shore for his Health, and that when he return’d he would give him part of a Bottle of Wine, it being his Birth Day”[8]

9 – “that presently they went out, and after some Time came in again, that it seem’d as if they had been a quarreling, but then both of them seem’d satisfied, that they then call’d for a Bottle of Wine; that Captain Otway call’d the Deceas’d Scrub and Coward, to which the Deceas’d answer’d, he was no Coward, but a Soldier”[9]

10 – “that they all went into the Room, and she carried in a Bottle of Wine, and she heard no more, till she heard the Deceas’d was kill’d”[10]

11 – “here I and Mrs. M – drank 3 three Shilling Bowls of Punch and a Bottle of Wine: After which, he made me a present of half a Guinea, and eight Shillings in Silver, and offered me half a Guinea more to lie with him”[11]

12 – “I (thinking myself very safe) sat down, and drank Part of his Bottle of Wine, and when that Bottle was out, I called for another, in Answer to Mr. Car’s Bottle. When this Bottle was drank out, we had another”[12]

[1] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2, 27 October 2015), August 1683, trial of Frances Marsh (t16830829-2).
[2] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2, 27 October 2015), April 1684, trial of Lawrence Axtel Elizabeth Axtel (t16840409-25).
[3] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2, 27 October 2015), September 1684, trial of George Caskey Francis Pevanson, alias Peverson Daniel Ballantine (t16840903-18).
[4] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2, 27 October 2015), October 1685, trial of William Lacy (t16851014-4).
[5] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2, 27 October 2015), January 1686, trial of Edward Reyon (t16860114-13).
[6] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2, 27 October 2015), December 1688, trial of Jane King (t16881205-22).
[7] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2, 27 October 2015), June 1714, trial of Eleanor Collins (t17140630-53).
[8] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2, 27 October 2015), December 1720, trial of Edward Ely (t17201207-37).
[9] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2, 27 October 2015), December 1728, trial of Thomas Otway (t17281204-13).
[10] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2, 27 October 2015), August 1730, trial of David Murphey (t17300828-30).
[11] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2, 27 October 2015), December 1734, trial of Martha Holcomb , alias Nichols Charles Holcomb (t17341204-28).
[12] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2, 27 October 2015), October 1737, trial of Thomas Car Elizabeth Adams (t17371012-3).

A closer look at two different bottlings of 1811 Malvasia Candida

October 27, 2015 3 comments

The 1811 vintage in Madeira was harvested during the second occupation of the island by the British during the Napoleonic wars.  The War of 1812, between the Great Britain and America, meant that regular supplies of Madeira to America were soon disrupted.  While the 1811 vintage may not have arrived in a timely manner, it eventually did, making the wine lists of Delmonico’s and Aster House as an example.  For the last several years bottles of Madeira labeled “1811 Malvasia Candida” have reached both American and English shores, some of which have appeared at auction.

All of these wines bear the same label and until recently, were only found in Burgundy-shaped bottles sealed with a rust-red wax seal.  It appears that perhaps a year ago, a new variant appeared in a Bordeaux-shaped bottle sealed with dark gray wax.  This year I have had the opportunity to taste both bottlings of this 1811 Malvasia Candida, first in New York City and second in Washington, DC.

NYC bottle on left. DC bottle on right.

NYC bottle on left. DC bottle on right.

The earliest record I can find of this wine appears in Alex Liddell’s “Madeira” published in 1998.  Here he describes it as “From a private island source.  Old, machine-made green glass bottle. Labelled. “P W” stencilled on bottle.  Hard wax seal with JNV authentication seal superimposed.  The most shrivelled (relatively long) cork I have ever seen, not adhering to the sides of the neck, but kept in place by the wax seal. Heavy crusting.”  His tasting note finds the nose as “not wholly agreeable” with flavors “dried out and hollow”.  He found it “difficult to believe it is really Malvazia.  Patently old, but not evidently fortified – though it probably was.”

NYC bottle on left. DC bottle on right.

NYC bottle on left. DC bottle on right.

It was on April 11, 2015, at The Majesty of Malvasia Tasting in New York City that I first tried this wine.  This particular bottle came from a private island source.  This bottle itself was in “an old Burgundy or Champagne style bottle with a rust-colored wax capsule”.  It is possible that the capsule bore an impression “from a JNV Seal”.  The bottle was stoppered with a “[r]elatively long cork”.  Alex Liddell does not describe the bottle shape nor the color of the wax.  His bottle was labelled and stenciled whereas ours was only labelled “1811 Malvasia Candida” followed by “Vinho de Malvazia / Bebe pouco / E viverais com alegria”.  Richard Mayson, in his post The Majesty of Malvasia, translates the label as, “Malvazia Wine / Drink a little / And you will live with happiness”.  This seems to be a mix of Portuguese proverbs.

NYC bottle on left. DC bottle on right.

NYC bottle on left. DC bottle on right.

While we cannot state for certain that Alex Liddell’s bottle is the same as the New York City bottle, the tasting notes appear similar.  Richard Mayson even comments “I questioned if this had been fortified”.  Here is my tasting note:

1811 Malvasia Candida, Madeira
[New York City. Burgundy shaped bottle with red wax.]  This was the lightest of the flight being light amber. There was a subtle nose of musk and cookies. In the mouth were lighter, simpler flavors, a short finish, and notes of dried nuts in the aftertaste. This became sour with air. A curiosity. **

DC bottle.

DC bottle.

Both Alex Liddell’s and the New York City bottles had relatively long corks.  The Washington, DC, bottle had a very short,  1-3/8″ in length, tapered cork which is still soft and springy to this very day.  The cork is branded with “TRADEMARK” at top, a castle tower like image in the middle, and “MADEIRA” at the bottom.  The cork is only stained at the narrow end from the wax.  The cork still smells like sweet old wood and vintage Port.

DC bottle.

DC bottle.

The Washington, DC, bottle is listed as lot #943 for the May 21, 2015, Acker Merrall & Condit Auction from which it was purchased.  It appears in a grouping  of six bottles divided into four lots which is pictured on page 215 of the auction catalog.  The wax capsule appears exactly the same as lot #941 1842 H. M. Borges Terrantez and potentially the same as lot #942 1715 H. M. Borges Terrantez.  You may view the catalog here.

At Zachy’s Spring Auction on May 9, 2014, appears lot #821, a bottle of “Madeira Malvasia Camica 1811” that had “very top shoulder” fill.  I have not seen a picture of this bottle but I suspect “Camica” is actually “Candida” and that the fill implies a Bordeaux-shaped bottle.  On Pinterest, you may find images of the Burgundy shape bottled here and the Bordeaux-shaped bottle here.

A number of old Madeira bottles were recently auctioned off at Christie’s King Street auction on October 22, 2015.  Amongst these bottles is included a collection from “a private cellar on Madeira”.  From this collection comes lot #243, a bottle of 1811 Malvasia Candida that is described as “‘Recorked at O.P. Brothers Private Collection May 2015″. New wax capsule.”  The tasting note continues “Medium sweet pure fruit driven and youthful.  Could this be a glass aged vintage as it has such a pure red fruit character? Seductive, hardly what you expect from a 200 year old wine.”

DC bottle.

DC bottle.

Whether the Christie’s bottle looks like our Washington, DC, bottle is not yet known but the description sounds similar.  I would be curious to learn if the Washington, DC, bottle ultimately came from the O.P. Brothers Collection.  The Washington, DC bottle was decanted the night before and arrived at our dinner table in a decanter.  One sniff of my glass revealed, youthful, ripe fruit that immediately told me this was a different wine than what I tried in New York City.  Indeed, in the mouth the wine was ripe, sweet, youthful, and contained a pure thyme note.  In short, it was enjoyable.  Here is my tasting note.

1811 Malvasia Candida, Madeira
[Washington, DC. Three-part molded Bordeaux bottle, dark green glass, sealed with dark gray wax.  Heavy sediment on bottle.  Very short tapered cork.] Acquired from a private collection Acker Merrall & Condit auction May 21st, 2015, New York.  This was very sweet on the nose and with air, a prominent thyme note came out.  In the mouth this wine was sweet, concentrated, vibrant, with a hint of Big Red flavors and a bit of greenhouse.  There was sweet sugar and lots of thyme flavors.  Way too young to be an 1811 and of the wrong flavor profile.  Nevertheless, whatever was in the bottle, provided a tasty experience. Not Rated.

The night before our Washington, DC, dinner I tasted bottles of 1867 and 1833 Barbeito Bual that had been imported by Mannie Berk (Rare Wine Co.) from Ricardo Freitas (Vinhos Barbeito).  Thus they bore perfect provenance.  Incredibly, the 1811 tasted decades younger than the recently bottled 1867 and 1833!  I can appreciate the need for a new cork, new wax, and perhaps some topping off.  But the Washington, DC, bottle did not taste youthful solely from topping off.  That the Bordeaux-shaped bottles taste different then the Burgundy-shape bottles is acceptable.  But the extreme youth of the wine coupled with the fact that both type of bottlings have the exact same label makes me suspicious.

On a positive note, if you have purchased one of these recently waxed Bordeaux-shaped bottles you probably will not be disappointed.  Our bottle was a big hit, which is saying something because the New York City bottle was the worst of all the Madeiras we tasted that day.

A picture of a 19th century device that preserved wine through carbonation

October 23, 2015 Leave a comment

The Carbonicateur Pini debuted in 1898 as a device designed to preserve wine in barrel through carbonation.  It was felt that young wine, which still had carbonation, was attractive due to its pungency.  As the carbonation faded, the wine came across as flat and stale as it was exposed to more oxygen.  It was felt the pumping the wine full of carbonation could fend off oxygen contact.  Research and meetings about the use of carbonation appear to have gained favor during the second half of the 19th century.  The Carbonicateur Pini is a 30 kilogram device that allows the user to carbonate barrels of various sizes at the rate of 100 hectoliters per day. It uses a tube and metal pipes with tiny holes to inject the gas into the wine.  The pressure of the barrel may be regulated.  The inventor hoped it would gain popularity in southern France and Algeria.  It was even felt that it could improve wine.

Carbonicateur Pini. 1898. [1]

Carbonicateur Pini. 1898. [1]

[1] Le Progrès agricole et viticole, Volume 29. 1898 URL:

“Le vin de la comet”: Wine of the comet

October 22, 2015 Leave a comment

Printed 7 or 8 years after the Great Comet of 1811, this image showing a happy cobbler holding up a jug of wine. Above the doorframe appears the image of a comet with the letters “LA COM” underneath it.  Perhaps the cobbler is smiling because he is drinking wine from the 1811 harvest.  A vintage which Michael Broadbent once rated five stars for the wines of Sauternes.

Le vin de la comet. Nicolas Toussaint Charlet. 1818-1819. [1]

Le vin de la comet. Nicolas Toussaint Charlet. 1818-1819. [1]

[1] Le vin de la comet. Print by Nicolas Toussaint Charlet. Printd by Delpech. 1818-1819. #1875,0612.116. The British Museum.

The Great Comet of 1811 was full of wine

October 22, 2015 Leave a comment

In maintaining focus on the vintage of 1811, the year of the Great Comet,  I have decided to post this great satire illustration.  It depicts the head of the comet as containing a “comet cake” with decanters of wine and glasses on top, followed by a tail of wine decanters, wine glasses, a bottle screw, fruit, and perhaps a punch bowl.  Even the colors are fantastic!

A comet showering decanters, wine glasses, and punch. [1]

A comet showering decanters, wine glasses, and punch. [1]

[1] Fairburn’s Characters. c 1811.  Published by John Fairburn.  #1991,0126.6. The British Museum.

From the Comet Vintage through the Victory Vintage: A casual fine wine dinner with Mannie Berk and Ricardo Freitas

October 21, 2015 Leave a comment

Last week started off strong as I attended A Blast from the Past: Madeira Extravaganza in DC which celebrated 20 years of collaboration between Mannie Berk (Rare Wine Co.) and Ricardo Freitas (Vinhos Barbeito).  The week ended in Philadelphia where I gave a talk about Henry Hill and Madeira.  It turns out that the week was steeped not only in old Madeira but also in old red wine.  There was a Madeira from the famous 1811 Comet Vintage and a red Burgundy from the 1945 Victory Vintage.

These important vintages were drunk with dinner at Ripple.  Present were Mannie, Ricardo, Darryl, Nancy, Tim, Lou, Kevin, and myself.  Many thanks to Marjorie Meek-Bradley for sending out plates of lovely food and Danny Fisher for taking care of us.

To be presented with any glass of wine from the Comet Vintage is a treat.  Even some fifty years after the harvest, John Timbs wrote in 1862, “Who has not heard of the comet wine of 1811?”  Just over a decade later Charles Hindley defined “comet wine” as one “of superior quality”.  He noted that this was perhaps “because the comets themselves exercise some chemical influence on them.”  Henry Vizetelly wrote about this vintage a few times, describing it as “famous” and “grand”.  I was, admittedly, infected with historic excitement.  Bemused why no one at the table was discussing comets, you can only imagine my great laugh when Mannie suggested all of the people who cared about Comet Wines had long since passed away.  Indeed, I bear no resemblance to the following satire illustrating the type of men who might have cared about it.

The sort of people who cared about the Comet Vintage. Anacreontick's in full Song. Gilroy, James. 1801. #1868,0808.6974. The British Museum.

The sort of people who cared about the Comet Vintage. Anacreontick’s in full Song. Gilroy, James. 1801. #1868,0808.6974. The British Museum.

Comets aside, the 1945 vintage was on everyone’s minds with the difficulties in the vineyards and of producing the wine.  But first we drank Champagne as everyone arrived.  There was discussion of flawed state of the Champagnes.  I did not mind too much, though I found the 1989 Krug Champagne Vintage Brut Collection too aggressive.  The 1990 Philipponnat, Champagne Brut Clos des Goisses had a rather short finish, the mousse was soft and it reminded me of an old wine.  I enjoyed it.   There was no disagreement about the sole white wine.  Simply put, the 2000 Vincent Dauvissat (René & Vincent), Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses was electric!


1989 Krug, Champagne Vintage Brut Collection
The yeasty, deep nose made way to good bubbles that burst from aggression in the mouth.  The wine was minerally with a little creamy spiced flavor.  The flavors themselves were mature.  *** Now – 2025.


1990 Philipponnat, Champagne Brut Clos des Goisses
Imported by Vieux Vins.  Disgorged February 2001.  Alcohol 13%.  I found a beautiful core of fruit then apple orchard hints.  The fruit is ripe and texture with smaller, gentler bubbles bringing it forward.  The flavors leaned towards that of a mature still wine mixed with baking spices.  No doubt good to drink but the shorter finish is obvious.  ***(*) Now – 2020.


2000 Vincent Dauvissat (René & Vincent), Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses
Imported by Vieux Vins.  Alcohol 13%.  The yeasty, electric nose of yellow fruit prepared the palate for the young and lovely flavors in the mouth.  The wine showed more fruit both with air and with food.  There was a very focused, gentle weight, and an attractive hint of cream and note.  Note quite saline.  Certainly lovely.  **** Now – 2025.

A stunning old Burgundy

Though Clos de Lambrays is a centuries old estate my particular interest is that of the past century when the estate, under the Rodier family, went into decline after the First World War.  Fortunately, Albert Rodier had a wealthy mistress, Renee Cosson who acquired the estate in 1938.  The Appellation Controlee in Burgundy had just been established a few years earlier in 1936.  The vineyards of Clos de Tart, Clos de la Roche, Clos Saint-Denis, and even Bonnes Mares were  classified as the finest.  Despite Clos de Lambrays being surrounded by these Grand Cru vineyards, the Cosson’s never pursued this designation potentially due to taxes, according to Clive Coates.  It is commonly reported that as the old pre-phylloxera vines died off they were never replaced and the soils were not composted.  Chaptalization was never allowed and the wine spent a very long time on the skins.

Clive Coates writes that the 1945, 1947, 1948, and 1949 are “some of the finest Burgundies I have ever drunk.”  Robert Parker echoed the sentiment stating “the 1945 Clos des Lambrays I drank would certainly quality as one of the greatest and most potent burgundies I ever tasted.”  He does continue that other bottles were never quite as good.  Michael Broadbent tasted three bottles in the 1980s.  From his “ecstatic notes” he wrote “reminiscent of Petrus ’47; incredibly sweet, sweeter than the port (1887 Sandeman)”.  Charles Walter Berry, writing in the 1930s, was ecstatic about the 1898 vintage remarking, “This was a WINE! Very, very fine.”


The 1945 vintage in Burgundy saw a severe frost on May 1st which significantly reduced the potential crop size.  A cyclone hit in late June further reducing potential size to one-sixteenth of what was anticipated.  Thus the hot weather combined with a tiny number of grapes resulted in very concentrated wines.  Indeed, our bottle of 1945 Domaine des Lambrays, Clos des Lambrays lived up to the historic hype clearly reflecting the “traditional manner” of production as described by Alexis Lichine.  The wine smelled unique and in the mouth were old-school flavors that still contained fruit with a seamless, minerally, weighty  nature.  The wine drank great for about one hour after it started to fade by drying up.  There is no doubt in my mind that well stored examples will drink well for many years to come.

The label for the wine is quite attractive and was designed a friend of the Cosson family, the Alsacian Hansi.  If you examine the label, it previously stated “Cosson Seul Proprietaire de Clos des Lambrays”.  Subsequent to the printing of the label the words “Seul” and “Proprietaire de Clos des Lambrays” was over struck.  The word “Heretiers” was added above “Cosson”.  In the 1960s, Robert Cosson took over the operations from his mother Renee Cosson.  Alexis Lichine writes that he sold wine to shippers.  This makes sense because this bottle was shipped by Jean-Claude Boisset who formed his Negociant company in 1961.  Perhaps reflecting his new management status Robert Cosson felt “Heretiers Cosson” was only appropriate given that he was heir to the estate.  I have made a few enquiries and will update this post with anything I hear back.


1945 Domaine des Lambrays, Clos des Lambrays
Shipped by Jean-Claude Boisset Wines USA..  Imported by Jean-Claude Boisset.  Alcohol 12.5%.  There is a unique, attractive nose with dark soil notes and a hint of band-aid.  In the mouth a significant amount of fruit still exists with a minerally, weighty nature.  The tannins are nearly resolved with the acidity bound in a seamless package.  There is great balance and plenty of concentration and power for future life.  With air the wine took on a sweaty, pungent nature with old-school flavors, and an attractive hint of saline and soil.  Clearly unique.  After one hour the flavors became drier but then my glass was emptied.  ****(*) Now – 2025+.

Mature Bordeaux

Three red Bordeaux comprised our red wine flight.  Kevin decanted the 1953 Chateau Latour, Pauillac whereas I simply opened the other two bottles.  The cork of the 1955 Chateau Margaux, Margaux was in good shape, only slightly soft, and came out in one piece with the help of my Durand.  The top of the cork was branded with two overlayed T’s.  I meant to check the body of the cork but forgot and left it on the table.  Though the cork of the 1961 Chateau Calon-Segur, St. Estèphe came out in one piece, it was coated on the top and indeed all the way along the sides with a dusty, moldy smelling layer.  Hence the low-shoulder fill.  The cork did not smell right and one whiff of the wine confirmed it was past drinking.  As Mannie noted, it was the darkest wine of the trio, which to him, indicated oxidation.

That left us two chateau-bottled wines both produced by traditional  methods.  Whereas the Chateau Latour represents a style of management and winemaking that had been in place for decades, the Chateau Margaux represents efforts to return the estate, vineyard, land, and chateau back to form.

Chateau Latour was owned by shareholders with the estate administered by a Societe Civile since the 19th century. Incredibly the Phylloxera arrived late.  The first vines only replanted onto American rootstock around 1901 with the entire vineyard completed in the 1920s.   The 1950s eventually saw a doubling of yields over the previous decade.  The fruit was destalked by hand then was fermented in oak vats.  Les Forts de Latour would not exist for another decade until the 68 shareholders sold off a majority of their stakes.  In wasn’t until this ownership changed in 1962 that the modern tools of mechanical destalking, stainless steel vats, and temperature control were introduced.  Even the vineyards were extensively expanded.

The Ginestet family had completed purchasing shares of Chateau Margaux so that Pierre Ginestet became sole proprietor in 1940s.  Under the Ginestets the sprawling vineyards were reduced to just the best terroirs and there was a return to selecting the best vats of wine for the grand vin.  Like Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau Margaux had mandated chateau-bottling in the 1920s but this was abandoned from 1930 through 1949 when shipping in wood was allowed.  The Ginestets were able to restore chateau bottling as well as the chateau itself.

There is no doubt in my mind, nor was there in my palate, that the flight of Bordeaux could match the 1945 Clos des Lambrays for aroma, depth, and length.  It was, harshly put, an obvious step down in quality.  I write that not to belittle the Bordeaux but to show the clarity with which the 1945 Clos des Lambrays stood out.  The 1953 Château Latour Grand Vin, Pauillac received decanting but to me it maintained a sort of grip on its flavor.  I kept expecting it to reveal more but it never did.  Still, it was enjoying and particularly fun because it offered a strong contrast to the Margaux.  If the Latour offered a more powerful, stand-up profile the 1955 Château Margaux, Margaux was all about fruit with a delicate, gentle nature.  On this night it was a wine to drink and be seduced by.


1953 Château Latour Grand Vin, Pauillac
Shipped by A. Delor & Co.  Imported by International Vintage.  Alcohol 13%. Consigned from a private collection to Edward Roberts International.  The iron-like flavors maintained a focus that matched the core of red-black fruit hints and good acidity.  The flavors maintained their binding in the structure and I found them particularly interesting n the middle with notes of old, dry leather, iron, and old wood.  Will clearly last but will  not offer anything in addition.  ***(*) Now – 2020.


1955 Château Margaux, Margaux
Shipped by Smith & Hoey Ltd.  Unknown importer.  Mid-shoulder fill. There were lively, green hints in the mouth.  Some structure came out on the teeth but the seductive, sweet, old fruit match it well and built intensity towards the finish. It is a pretty wine that took on a touch of weight.  The delicate red fruit  **** Now.


1961 Château Calon-Ségur, St. Estèphe
Unknown shipper and importer.  Bottom shoulder fill.  Clearly tired on the nose but I gave it a go anyways.  The aromas of mushrooms made way to firm flavors with roast notes and an old mushroom note.  Dying.

Very old and figuratively young Madeira

I first tasted an 1811 Malvasia Candida wine earlier this year in New York City which you may read about in the post “[W]hen of the best kind, a most delicious wine.” An historic 19th century Malvasia Madeira tasting.  In all honesty, the bottle from NYC proved the worst experience of the evening.  This did not deter my excitement to try the wine again for there was a difference.  The previous experience came from a Burgundy shaped bottle sealed with red wax.  For this dinner the bottle bore the same label but the glass was Bordeaux shaped and the wax was a dark, military gray.

I had reasonably assumed, that when the 1811 was bottled the Burgundy bottles ran out so whatever else was on hand, Bordeaux bottles in this case, were then used.  Or vice versa.  That the wax was different implied two separate bottlings.   However, from the very first sniff I knew this was a different wine and in no way related.  In addition, it was way too young. Just the night before I drank the 1866 and 1837 Barbeito Bual with perfect provenance through Mannie from Ricardo.  This particular bottle of 1811 tasted even younger!  I will write a follow up post focusing in on this particular bottle in detail.  There were other Madeira’s that night as well.  It was getting late so my notes are short.  The 1901 D’Oliveiras, Malvasia, Madeira was less sweet and showed an attractive nutty profile.  The 1973 D’Oliveiras, Verdelho, Madeira was rich, racy, and pungent. All aspects that I really like.  This is a young wine to consume in the future.


1811 Malvasia Candida, Madeira
Acquired from a private collection Acker Merrall & Condit auction May 21st, 2015, New York.  This was very sweet on the nose and with air, a prominent thyme note came out.  In the mouth this wine was sweet, concentrated, vibrant, with a hint of Big Red flavors and a bit of greenhouse.  There was sweet sugar and lots of thyme flavors.  Way too young to be an 1811 and of the wrong flavor profile.  Nevertheless, whatever was in the bottle, provided a tasty experience. Not Rated.


1901 D’Oliveiras, Malvasia, Madeira
Imported by Vieux Vins.  Alcohol 19%-21%.  There was a musky nose with nut flavors in the mouth, acidity on the sides of the tongue, and good liveness.  It had an oxidized note in the long finish.  **** Now – 2090.


1973 D’Oliveiras, Verdelho, Madeira
Imported by Vieux Vins.  Alcohol 19%-21%.  This was rich and racy with fine power and structure.  The pungent flavors mixed with orange peel before the powerful and dry finish.  The wine returns again with strength.  Young! **** Now – 2115.


The Role of the Madeira Shipper in Relation to American Connoisseurs: The Case of Henry Hill

October 19, 2015 2 comments

This past weekend I participated in the unveiling of the latest Historic Series Madeira produced by Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co and Ricardo Freitas, Vinhos Barbeito. This new Madeira honors the Library Company of Philadelphia which is the oldest successful library in America having been founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1731.  The ties between the Library Company and Madeira are rich over the course of history.  Not only did the 18th century board members purchase oysters by the hundreds and London Particular by the gallon but today the stacks hold the correspondence of the Hill Family.

Library Company of Philadelphia, Locust Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Furness, Frank. Between 1880-1890. The Library of Congress.

Library Company of Philadelphia, Locust Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Furness, Frank. Between 1880-1890. The Library of Congress.

The Hill family were extensive participants in the Madeira trade for the second half of the 18th century.  Though they sold Madeira to the affluent and powerful in America, their firm has received little attention.  Perhaps the first insight into their trade came across in the book Letters of Dr. Richard Hill and His Children, Or the History of a Family as Told by Themselves (1854) published by John Jay Smith.  John Jay Smith was both a distant relative of the Hill family as well as a Librarian at the Library Company.  Henry Hill’s life and intersection with Madeira was explored by David W. Maxey in his paper “Madeira, Quakerism, and Rebellion: Reviving Henry Hill”, Quaker Press (2004).  Most recently, the Hill firm is described in various details in David Hancock’s Oceans of Wine (2009).

The unveiling of the Library Company Madeira took place over the course of this past weekend.  On Friday, October 16th, 2015, there was a fundraising dinner at the Hill-Physick House, where rare wines and Madeira dating back to the 19th century were served.  The following day a celebration of Madeira took place at the Library Company under the organization of Dr. Richard S. Newman, Edwin Wolf 2nd Director.  The events included the opening of the Madeira exhibit, a behind the scenes tour, and talks about Madeira and its history by James Green, Mannie Berk, Ricardo Freitas, David W. Maxey, and myself.  What follows below is largely the text I prepared for my talk.

The letters

The firm that was established by Dr. Richard Hill, which involved his son Henry Hill, was known for some time as Hill, Lamar, Hill as well as Hill, Lamar, & Bisset.  The firm, which I will refer to as the house, had a lodge in Madeira, an office in London, and one in Philadelphia.  This was an important house for Henry Hill wrote that, “Previous to Independence, our American wine trade turned out almost a monopoly to Madeira, where in my time two-thirds of it flowed through my father’s house”.

Correspondence from the firm survives to this day due to the long existence of the house and their international dealings.  Decades worth of letters from London and Madeira exist here at the Library Company.  I have been fortunate to recently spend time reviewing these letters thanks to an introduction by Mannie Berk and the efforts of James Green, Librarian at the Library Company.

Based on a sampling of these letters from the 1760s through the 1790s,  this post will discuss how, during Henry Hill’s time, the house focused on the connoisseurs of Madeira in America.  To do so I will cover five different aspects of the House: how they cultivated a client base, how they procured their Madeira for their clients, how clients paid for it, how the Madeira was shipped, and finally I mention a few descriptions of the Madeira itself.

On cultivating a client base

The house shipped Madeira to American both in anticipation of future demand, in which it was consigned to an agent , and also to fill specific orders.  In the first case, capital was tied up until the Madeira was sold.  This was not ideal because money was always required to purchase new stocks of wine in Madeira.  This concern was expressed to Henry Hill noting that the house would rather ship 500 or 600 pipes “than double that quantitie and be obligied to be concern’d ourselves”.   If filling individual orders was preferable than cultivating the right customer base was essential.  With the death of Dr. Richard Hill in 1762, the house reasserted the importance of the customer base by assuring that there would “be no alteration in the method of our Business, which shall be preserved on the same principle that established it, vizt. a steady view to the interest of our Constituents”.

Henry Hill. Image from Smith, John Hay. Letters of Doctor Richard Hill and his children. 1854. URL:

Henry Hill. Image from Smith, John Hay. Letters of Doctor Richard Hill and his children. 1854. URL:

Indeed, Henry Hill was instructed in 1764 to cultivate a relationship with an Army Colonel moving to Philadelphia in order to gain the business of “the other Regiments in America”.  This pressure on Henry Hill existed both when America was a British colony and an independent country.  In the 1790s he was instructed to use his “influence with Congress” to procure the Consulship of Madeira for Mr. Lamar.  It was believed this would no doubt “be productive of many advantages to the House.”

From correspondence we know that clients of Henry Hill included Governor John Penn, signers of the Declaration of Independence Charles Carroll and John Hancock, financier Robert Morris, and of course George Washington.  When George Washington wrote in 1759 to the London firm of Robert Cary & Company ordering “from the best House in Madeira a Pipe of the best old wine” his order was fulfilled by Hill, Lamar, and Hill.  George Washington eventually met with Henry Hill and the two men became friends.

At the same period as Washington’s first order, the recently widowed Martha Custis was also a client of the Hills.  The Custis family used both Robert Cary and John Hanbury to handle their business in London.  Before she married George Washington, John Hanbury ordered her Madeira from the Hills.  She was young, very wealthy, and desirable as a new 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.”

We do not yet know what Madeira lay in the Custis cellar when George and Martha first met.  But it is entirely possible that George had his first taste of Hill’s Madeira while courting Martha.

There was a strong desire to maintain these relationships over the years.    We do not yet know what George Washington requested in his earliest known order but the response from Madeira indicates that they chose “the Color…Carefully to please you.”

George Washington to Lamar, Hill, Bissett and Company, August 3, 1786. Library of Congress.

George Washington to Lamar, Hill, Bissett and Company, August 3, 1786. Library of Congress.

When George Washington received a pipe of Madeira at Mount Vernon in 1786, he was appalled by the bill.  Washington wrote a letter that very same day noting “I have not yet tasted it, but presume it is fine: it ought to be so, for the cost of it”.  At £43 for the pipe it was 20% more expense the then £36 pipe of “old, & of an excellent quality” he had purchased from competitors Messrs Searle & Co.  Lamar, Hill, & Bisset responded in a detailed manner “desirous of giving you every satisfaction”.  The 1782 vintage that Washington received was of better quality with a price driven up by its age and fact that the 1786 was “not very generally good”.

Sourcing the Madeira

In reading the Henry Hill letters it is clear that the more Madeira the house shipped each year, the greater were its profits.  What is also clear is that there were complications from supply, demand, and capital.  Each year the wines were purchased from around the Island and stored in the house’s warehouse or lodge.  The amount of wine purchased and its quality of course depended upon vintage and where it came from.

The house shipped different grades of Madeira: London Particular, London Market, India Market, New York Market, and Cargo.  The grade corresponded with the price.  A good vintage could yield more London Particular than New York Market.  In addition to the grade or quality, the age of the wine affected its value.  Wine that was not from the current or “new” vintage was considered “old”.  Old wine typically came about by storing it in the lodge though it could sometimes be bought.

The house wanted to ensure they had the correct types of Madeira to supply their annual and best customers in America.  The amount of wine on hand varied year to year.  One year the house shipped 830 pipes and still had 150 pipes in the lodge by summer.  In another year the lodge had only 30 pipes left in the Spring.  Another vintage was both large and very fine with the lodge still having 700 pipes in the summer.  The problem with this vintage is that there was more fine wine and not enough lesser wine for their customers.

At times the house could not fulfill orders.  So if the vintage was plentiful and they had the capital, they would lay in a large stock of wine to both sell and age.

The wealthiest customers bought old London Particular by the pipe or even the premium Malmsey.  The later was so rare and expensive that it was shipped by the quarter-cask.  Martha Custis ordered “good old wine”, George Washington ordered “particular or best wine”, and Charles Carroll ordered “three years old Madeira”, and Robert Morris “choice old wine”.  Governor Penn was once shipped “Malmsey”.  Indeed, a captain of a Dutch Man of War was instructed to take his Madeira only from Hill.  As it was destined for the nobility and gentry of Holland, the captain laid in Malmsey.

Malmsey was a rare wine that was frequently in short supply.  It comes from a difficult grape to grow and prefers particular locations.  One of those locations is Faja dos Padres which is located in Quinta Grande.  Originally cultivated by the Jesuits this estate was eventually owned by the Correia family.  We know that the House bought wine from Correia.  Perhaps some of their Malmsey came from this family.

The Malmsey itself appears to have been of different styles.  One shipment contained 2-3 year old “excellent rich” Malmsey that was sweet.  That shipment also contained 4 year old “very choice and very dry Malmsey” from the 1786 vintage and a curious “green Malmsey”.

The house was not always passive about lower quality Madeira such as with the bountiful 1789 vintage.  Though initially expected to surpass the quality of the previous several vintages, they were ultimately deceived.  Through the “assistance” of a “little French brandy they begin to wear a very different and indeed favourable aspect.”

Paying for the Madeira

The House participated in an international trade that extended beyond Madeira wine.  Madeira is an island so there was an annual need to import other supplies and food stuff.  Indeed, the Henry Hill papers are full of market prices for the island of Madeira.  Nearly every letter from the Island details the demand and price for corn, flour, and wheat.

This was obsessed about for the house did not just make money from Madeira they made it from other goods needed on the Island.  If the house felt there was a demand for these goods on the Island, Henry Hill sent them from America.

The main business was supplying clients with Madeira.  Individuals typically paid for their Madeira through bills drawn on a particular bank or merchant.

George Washington, no doubt excited by the completion of his gristmill near Mount Vernon in 1771, once paid for his Madeira with 80 barrels of flour.  Henry Hill explained that “it’s not usual to ship fine wine but for bills of Excha[nge]”.  However, Henry Hill offered to work with George Washington by writing a letter of explanation to the house in Madeira.  He did tell Washington that he could have any wine except for their best which was London Particular.

Shipping the Madeira

Madeira being an Island was not a natural supplier of wood.  There are several letters to Henry Hill requesting that he ship boards so they can replace rotten floor boards at the lodge.  Now Madeira was typically shipped in a wooden cask known as a pipe.  Some rare wines were shipped in smaller quarter-casks.  A wine cask was not made from just any type of wood, it was made from oak.  So if there were difficulties procuring floor boards you can imagine that oak for the casks must have come from elsewhere.

Indeed, the house imported oak staves for their coopers to build the pipes.  The pipe and its staves were generally regulated in size.  If the house shipped some 1,200 pipes per year then it needed staves by the tens of thousands.

There was an international market for staves with the oak from different countries regarded at different quality levels.  Shipping heavy pipes of wine was rugged business with pipes made from inferior oak liable to leak.  The best oak staves were purchased from Hamburg but these were also the most expensive.  The second best oak came from America.

There appears to be some correlation between the quality of the wine and the type of stave used.  Charles Carroll requested “the best Hamburgh staves, well secured with iron hoops and branded with letters” for his “three years old Madeira”.  Even George Washington requested the best Hamburg staves for an order of “choice prime wine” ordered from another house.  In two instances, the house shipped their London Particular in American oak.

The 110 Imperial Gallon pipe was the standard workhorse for shipping despite the vast range of other sizes.  When a pipe reached America (and indeed other countries) it was measured or gauged to determine how much Madeira was in it.  Sometimes American clients complained that their pipe of wine did not measure exactly 110 gallons.  The house admitted that their coopers were not always exact and even their pre-made London pipes were not either.  Thus in an order for multiple pipes, for every gallon that a pipe was short they would make sure another pipe contained two more gallons.  Thus the entire order had to be considered.

The Madeira itself

We know little about how these Madeira wines looked, smelled, and tasted.  There are some comments relating the grapes to the wine.  In one instance there was a “strong and continued fermentation”.  During the summer of one bad vintage due to the “the parch’d appearance of the grapes” it was assumed that, ”the quality of the wine must be inferior”.  That fall it was concluded the inferior wine was due to “the number of defective grapes”.

The most expensive and treasured Madeira’s had been sent on a long ocean voyage, typically to the Indies.  In some cases Madeira went to the Brazils and back.  In fact, Thomas Jefferson’s favorite Madeira, having ordered 8 pipes of it, was Brazil Madeira.  Unfortunately, we know very little about Brazil Madeira but the Henry Hill correspondence does shed some much needed light.  In 1791, Henry Hill was sent quarter casks of the House’s Brazil wine.  It had a “drop of brandy” in it and was described “with a taste of wine extremely delicate” and that it might “prove particularly agreeable to the ladies whose votes you seem solicitous to gain”.

In two instances we know what people desired.  John Hancock once ordered “very best Madeira” stating that he liked “a rich wine I need say no more to you”.  We also know that George Washington liked “rich oily” Madeira.  In fact George Washington’s love for Madeira is demonstrated in a most unusual manner.  He is, of course, famous for wearing dentures which he sent to Philadelphia for repair.

Advertisement. Date: Wednesday, January 30, 1799 Paper: Claypoole's American Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) Issue: 6905 Page: 2

Advertisement. Date: Wednesday, January 30, 1799 Paper: Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) Issue: 6905 Page: 2

Just one year before his death in 1798, which is the same year that Henry Hill died, his dentist wrote back to George Washington about the set which “was very black”.  He blamed this on George Washington “either by soaking them in port wine, or by your drinking it”.  He explained that acid in wine takes off polish and colors ivory.  While the dentist assumed George Washington was drinking vast quantities of Port, a look through his correspondence reveals he ordered far more Madeira.

The aromatically complex 1979 Chateau Palmer, Margaux

October 19, 2015 Leave a comment

The mature wines of Chateau Palmer have given me great delight over this past year.  A bottle of 1979 Chateau Palmer, Margaux tried at our last house is just one example.  Unfortunately, I cannot find the empty, packed away bottle so I have included a picture of another bottle purchased at the same time.  The 1979 vintage represents traditional Palmer in that it is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot of which the Merlot was in large proportion.  More recently, the Petit Verdot has been replaced. The grapes themselves were de-stalked by hand through a lattice-work table then fermented in oak vats.  All of these methods are no longer employed.

This particular bottle had top-shoulder fill and came from an entire parcel I found in the dump-bin.  The nose proved fantastic!  Though there was still some ripe fruit in the mouth with acidity and structural components to support future life, it was a bit firm.  I purchased these bottles several years ago when I knew nothing about old vintages of Palmer.   My only regret is that I walked away with only two bottles.  I should have bought the entire lot!  This wine was purchased at MacArthur Beverages.


1979 Chateau Palmer, Margaux –
Imported by Parliament Import Co.  This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot.  Alcohol 11%-14%. To-shoulder fill.  Drunk over two-hours the nose was beautiful with complex aromas of wood box, berries, and ripe fruit.  The red fruit showed more firmness in the mouth with acidity and noticeable drying tannins.  It is clear this wine will live for many years but right now it is good with its offer of a little, deep fruited ripeness at first. It wraps up with cedar notes and firmness.  Four stars for the nose but overall: *** Now – 2020.

Debut of the Library Company Madeira this Saturday in Philadelphia

October 15, 2015 Leave a comment

This Saturday, October 17, 2015, I will be participating in the debut of the “Library Company Madeira” in Philadelphia.  This Madeira is the latest in the Historic Series and stems from a collaboration between Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co., Ricardo Freitas, Vinhos Barbeito, and the Library Company.  The Library Company was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1731 and is considered the first successful lending library in America.

Hill-Physick House which was originally owned by Madeira merchant Henry Hill. Image from HABS at the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Hill-Physick House which was originally owned by Madeira merchant Henry Hill. Image from HABS at the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Henry Hill was a successful Madeira merchant who lived in Philadelphia and also knew Benjamin Franklin.  As a partner in the firm Hill, Lamar, & Bisset, he sold Madeira to wealthy Americans including financier Robert Morris, signers of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll and John Hancock, and George Washington.  Many of the business letters sent to Henry Hill reside at the Library Company.  I recently studied a selection of these letters and will be presenting a brief talk on “The Role of the Madeira Shipper in Relation to American Connoisseurs: The Case of Henry Hill”.  For further information please see Unveiling of the “Library Company Madeira.