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“mellow Madeira Wine…from Calcutta”


James Madison loved Madeira above all other wines.  During February 1816, near the end of his second term as President, at a time when the end of the War of 1812 between Great Britain and America meant regular trade with the island of Madeira had resumed, James Madison corresponded within one week about two seperate orders of Madeira.

From Murdoch, Yuille, Wardrop, and Co. came two pipes of “finest, old wine” and from J. Howard March & Co. came one pipe of “the very best old Madeira Wine”.[1]  The timing of these orders meant they were both sent on the schooner Mary & Francis under command of Captain Nathaniel Cushing.

Invoice to James Madison for “Mellow Madeira”. LOC. [2]

The invoice from J. Howard March & Co. provides further description of the Madeira as “the best old Mellow Madeira Wine”.[2]  There are very few descriptions of the color, smell, and taste of Madeira wine from this period. This is a unique appearance of “mellow Madeira” in early American Madeira correspondence so it is important to investigate the meaning. [3]

In the late 18th century there are but a handful of examples of mellow wine in literature.  John Croft writes of “sound, old mellow Madeira” in 1783 when describing the American habit of storing wine in the attic.[4]  Duncan McBride notes that Spanish Sitges wine develops a “mellow taste” as it “advances in age”.[5]  A mellowing effect was known to take place on Madeira during the long, warm trip in the hold of an East India ship.[6]  It took decades before this term appears in use in America.

Advertisement for two half pipes of old Mellow Madeira Wine. [6]

James Madison’s particular order from J. Howard March & Co marks the first instance of mellow used to describe Madeira in America.  The schooner Mary & Francis carried other pipes of Madeira which were sold to the general public by at least two different merchants.  N & R Blacklock had two half-pipes of the mellow Madeira which are additionally described as “high flavor and full body”.[7]

Beginning in 1816, the term “mellow Madeira” appears in advertisements at various frequencies for the next three decades until oidium struck the island and devastated the vineyards.  “Mellow Wine” is also used in reference to Madeira.  Beginning in 1818, all of these advertisements bear a common thread, mellow Madeira first went to India or China before arriving in America.

Advertisement for mellow Madeira wine that first went to Calcutta. [7]

The earliest connection  appears in November 1818 in a sale of 20 pipes of “fine mellow Wine” at least 10 years of age.  This parcel was sent from America to Calcutta, upon the end of the War of 1812.  The pipes lay in Calcutta for several years until they were imported in the ship Eliza Ann.[87] Another example include two mellow pipes that were sold in 1834. For 20 years they lay in Calcutta before being imported into Boston. [9]  Four years later a pipe of “very rich flavored Old Mellow Madeira Wine” came by way of Canton. [10]

This raises the question of whether James Madison’s Madeira was mellowed by a trip to India or China.  His 1816 “mellow Madeira” pipe cost £75 not including freight.  This is a significant price increase over the £65 per pipe for “finest old Wine” ordered from Murdoch Yuille Wardrop & Co just one year earlier.[11]  This £10 per pipe increase can simply be attributed to Great Britain adopting the gold standard in 1816 and not for any additional premium on the wine itself.[12]  The freight charges are in the £3 range which is also nominal for a pipe which only traveled from Madeira to America.

While “mellow Madeira” first appears in James Madison’s correspondence of 1816 it is not until 1818 in America that it came to mean Madeira which first went to India or China.


[1] “To James Madison from Murdoch Yuille Wardrop and Company, 18 February 1816,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/99-01-02-4953. [This is anEarly Access documentfrom The Papers of James Madison. It is not an authoritative final version.]  and “To James Madison from J. Howard, & Co March, 22 February 1816,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/99-01-02-4962. [This is anEarly Access documentfrom The Papers of James Madison. It is not an authoritative final version.]

[2] J. H. March & Co to James Madison, February 22, 1816. Invoice-Order to Pay. Series: Series 1, General Correspondence, 1723-1859, Microfilm Reel: 17.
The James Madison Papers at the Library of Congress. URL: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/mjm.17_0998_1003

[3] “[I]t will not be exceeded by an[y] Wine in the Universe”: Descriptions of James Madison’s Madeira. URL: https://hogsheadwine.wordpress.com/2014/11/14/it-will-not-be-exceeded-by-any-wine-in-the-universe-descriptions-of-james-madisons-madeira/

[4] Croft, John. A Treatise on the Wines of Portugal. 1788. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=1x5BAAAAIAAJ&pg=PP5#v=onepage&q&f=false

[5] McBride, Duncan. General Instructions for the Choice of Wines and Spirituous Liquors (1793). Fascimile edition reissued by The Rare Wine Co. 1993.

[6] A Vindication of Gen. Richard Smith. 1783. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=lTRcAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q&f=false

[7] Date: Monday, June 17, 1816 Paper: Alexandria Herald (Alexandria, Virginia) Volume: VI Issue: 725 Page: 1

[8] Date: Monday, November 2, 1818 Paper: Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, Massachusetts) Volume: XXIII Issue: 28 Page: 3

[9] Date: Friday, June 27, 1834 Paper: Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, Massachusetts) Page: 3

[10] Date: Saturday, January 6, 1838 Paper: Newark Daily Advertiser (Newark, New Jersey) Page: 3

[11] “To James Madison from Anthony-Charles Cazenove, 4 July 1815,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/99-01-02-4495. [This is anEarly Access documentfrom The Papers of James Madison. It is not an authoritative final version.]

[12] See mention of 19% premium on the exchange rate. “To James Madison from Anthony-Charles Cazenove, 27 April 1816,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/99-01-02-5100. [This is anEarly Access documentfrom The Papers of James Madison. It is not an authoritative final version.]

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