In December 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman completed his “March to the Sea” which involved widespread devastation not just of military targets but also industrial and civilian property. Having reached Savannah, Georgia, his troops turned towards the Carolinas with the intention of reaching Virginia. Thus at the start of 1865, residents of Charleston, South Carolina took action as General Sherman’s army advanced.
Residents of Charleston were careful to hide and disperse their treasured Madeira collections to avoid consumption by General Sherman’s troops. Bottles were hidden between rafters, demijohns were buried in the ground and for the South Carolina Jockey Club, the Madeira was hidden in the South Carolina State Hospital for the mentally ill. The Jockey Club’s Madeira remained untouched but for some families their entire collection was lost. One family sent eight wagon loads of Madeira nearly 200 miles from Charleston to Cheraw, near the North Carolina border. The Madeira was captured by General Frank P. Blair before it could be hidden.
General Blair served a few bottles of the captured Madeira to General Sherman who found them “very good”. General Blair shared the story of its capture and eventually sent a dozen bottles “of the finest Madeira” General Sherman had ever tasted. The rest of the Madeira was divided equally amongst the army.
Surviving stocks of 19th century American bottled Madeira are exceedingly rare. It is ironic then, given the widespread disruption and consumption of Madeira by General Sherman’s army that one of his own bottles was served at The Sensational Sercial Tasting held last year.
Labeled “1852 Sercial Selected By General Sherman On his visit at Madeira, 1871” this bottle was part of a parcel of three bottles acquired by Roy Hersh, For the Love of Port. The paper-wrapped bottles were purchased from a family on Long Island who had owned them for three decades. Two of the bottles were labeled as Sercial and one Navy Reserve. There is no known documentation for these bottles and outside General Sherman’s comments on General Blair’s captured Madeira, he himself wrote nothing else about specific bottles of Madeira.
It was at a dinner in August 1871, with Admiral James Alden and General William W. Belknap, that General Sherman made plans to visit Madeira. Admiral Alden had been promoted to rear admiral in command of the Mediterranean Squadron. As General Sherman had never been to Europe he agreed to accompany Admiral Alden on his journey to Spain. They were to first stop at Madeira.
Admiral Alden was to take the screw frigate Wabash as his flagship. She was being overhauled at the time. With repairs complete she left the Boston Navy Yard on November 17, 1871. Just a few weeks later she approached Funchal under steam on December 5, 1871.
General Sherman wrote very little of wine during his life and little of the “Celebrated Madeira Wine” during his visit as he described it. His only descriptions of wine relate to the “[b]light destroy the grapes” some 20 years earlier. He described how “New Vineyards are beginning to reproduce the Same wine”.
He accompanied Admiral Alden on their very first visit ashore which was to a “Mr Walsh’s house”, the Admiral having known him in “former years”. It is Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co., who first suggested that General Sherman perhaps visited Mr. Welsh of the Madeira shippers Welsh Brothers and that perhaps our bottle came from the Welsh’s.
Prior to the Oidium, or blight that General Sherman wrote of, the Welsh Brothers were focused on “cheap light Madeira”. This succeeded in this business becoming the largest Madeira shipper by 1849. By 1881, their focused changed to sending the “more costly growths” mostly in bottle to the United States.
That our bottle came from the Welsh’s is corroborated by an article published in Harper’s Magazine during 1919 by Major Charles Wellington Furlong. Major Furlong was an American explorer and writer who traveled around the world. This particular article of his describes a hunting trip he took with Charles B. Cossart, Harry Hinton, and Mr. Welsh Jr on a deserted island off of Madeira.
On the last night of the hunt, the party celebrated with a meal of curried rabbit and goat-meat stew accompanied by a bottle of Madeira brought by Mr. Welsh Jr. It was none other than “a bottle of Sercial wine of a vintage of seventy years.” This dates the wine to 1849 which essentially matches the 1852 vintage of our bottle. Mr. Welsh Jr. explained that wine was called “Sercial Sherman” because at Christmas time “General Sherman sent for four bottles, and since then his daughter has followed her father’s custom.”
It seems unequivocal that our 1852 General Sherman Sercial came from the Welsh Brothers. It is also possible that the Madeira Wine Association (MWA), in part formed by Hinton and Welsh, marketed wine under the name “Sercial Sherman”. Since this bottle is not labeled “Sercial Sherman” it is possible it was shipped during General Sherman’s lifetime which means it arrived in the United States between 1871 and 1891.
 Sherman, William Tecumseh. “Memoirs of General William T. Sherman”, 1876.
 General William Tecumseh Sherman to Thomas E. Sherman. December 5, 1871. CSHR 9/59. Sherman Letters. University of Notre Dame. URL: http://archives.nd.edu/findaids/ead/index/fulltext/cshr9_59.htm
 See Mannie Berk’s background information on the wine in the Sensational Sercial tasting booklet. April 30, 2016.
 Vizetelly, Henry. Facts About Port and Madeira. 1880.
 Furlong, Major Charles Wellington. “Hunting With the Lords of the Dezertas” Harper’s Magazine, Volume 138. 1919.
On April 30, 2016, I attended The Sensation Sercial Tasting in New York City. This was the fifth in a series of definitive annual Madeira tastings organized by Mannie Berk (The Rare Wine Co.) and Roy Hersh (For The Love of Port). It was only one year prior that I was fully immersed in the world of fine, old Madeira when I attended The Majesty of Malvasia tasting.
A single glass of old Madeira can perfume a room for hours. Some 400 glasses containing 20 different wines for 20 people is downright intoxicating. However, tasting Sercial can be a bit difficult for the naturally high acidity level combined with lower residual sugar can produce a trying wine. Some of the wines would have been better with food for the sheer quantity of piercing acidity. Other wines were quite sweet, leaving one taster to jokingly comment that perhaps the “S” does not stand for Sercial.
My four favorite wines spanned the century and also support the notion that either a purported single vintage or a blend can produce outstanding wines.
1875 Blandy’s Grabham’s Sercial
1864 Henriques & Henriques Sercial
1808 Braheem Kassab (BAK) “SS”Sercial
NV Henriques & Henriques Reserva “H.H.” Sercial
All of these wines are historic but two of them have particular American connections. The 1810 Monteiro Old Sercial Reserve is mid 20th century bottling of a house whose wines were imported into America since at least the late 18th century. There is also the elegantly bottled and labeled 1852 Sercial Selected by General Sherman on his visit at Madeira, 1871. It is not the most exciting wine to drink but certainly one very important to taste. There are but few surviving American bottled Madeira in existence. As a result there are no living experts experienced with this type of Madeira. I will follow up with a short post detailing a bit more history behind the Sherman Sercial.
It is also important to point out that at least one of our wines was fake. The 1869 Blandy’s Sercial is not known to have been at auction. Though the red lead capsule bore the Blandy’s name, it covered both a T-stopper and a contemporary paper seal. There is also some question about the 1825 “S” Sercial. It is purportedly a Braheem Kassab (BAK) Madeira but it lacks the embossed capsule. I shall focus in on these bottles in later posts.
You will find my tasting notes below in the order tasted. Though we sat down to all of the wines, we tasted through them in flights. As usual, we silently tasted through the flight then openly discussed the wines. For me, far more important than the tasting descriptors, are the unique insights provides by a handful of the attendees. While the provenance of a wine in general speaks to the legitimacy of the bottle and storage conditions, with Madeira it also speaks to how the wine was raised. Great old Madeira is not the product of one person, it is the result of multiple generations. From the original blending of wine from multiple families to the different people or families who cared for the wine from cask to demijohn to bottle and perhaps back to demijohn before final bottling. Unlike 19th-century example of ex-chateau Bordeaux, Madeira may also purposely spend portions of its life in different buildings, gently influencing its character.
While my tasting notes will clearly reflect my preferences, it is the bottle histories that are more important. Mannie Berk compiles these histories in the tasting book we each receive. You may find excerpts from these histories in Richard Mayson’s notes in his post Sensational Sercial. Roy Hersh publishes his tasting notes from in The World of Fine Wine Magazine. More of the histories will appear in his article. I will update this post once he has done so for this tasting.
1875 D’Oliveira Sercial
Amongst the darkest of this flight but still brilliant. The pungent nose was finely articulate with underlying sweetness balanced by fresh, high-toned aromas. In the mouth is piercing acidity at the start which returns on the throat in the aftertaste. There is a fine, developing flavors with a certain earthy accent and dried herbs in the aftertaste. It is very acidic in the end. It is a little bit rough right now suggesting the need for further development. ****
1875 Blandy’s Grabham’s Sercial
The aromas are lower lying with web tobacco, inviting one to take another sniff of the complex and long-lasting aromas. There is a sweeter start with fine cedar and wood intertwined. There is watering acidity which carries the butterscotch flavors through the sweeter, tobacco accented aftertaste. This is a fine, old Madeira with very good balance leaning towards some sweetness. ****(*)
1870 Ricardo Vasoncelos Sercial “RV”
The nose is funky, sweat which is not pungent, and dark and sweet aromas. It responded with air becoming more properly pungent. There is a rounded, glycerin marked start with integrated acidity. The wine tastes older but sports a racy end just as the acidity shows through. With air the wine does improve leaving a sense of fruit at the start and a wood note. ***(*)/****
1869 Blandy’s Sercial
This has the lightest color of the floor but is almost slightly cloudy. It smells like old wine mixed with lactic funkiness. In the mouth are the leanest and driest flavors encountered. The flavor lacks through the aftertaste when heat comes out. Not Rated.
1865 Torre Bella Sercial
This is just lightly the darkest of the new flight. The nose offers up some must then a combination of dried and fresh floral aromas, perhaps lavender, and eventually sweet potpourri. The wine is salty and savory with rapier like acidity. The acidity almost hurts the mouth, overpowering the lavender flavor. Both spirity and hard to drink. Poor.
1864 Torre Bella Camara de Lobos Sercial
There is a piercing nose of sweet fruit with a touch of wood. This wine is richer with a core of concentrated flavor. The piercing acidity moves through the dry, citric finish only to return on the back of the throat. The wine offers more acidity than fruit but shows substantially better balance than the 1865. In fact, it comes across as lively. ****
1864 Henriques & Henriques Sercial
The pungent nose is complex with sweeter aromas that are gently sweaty and not distracted by a lactic hint. The wine is tangy with a fruity start. There fruity weight continues with dry floral notes and a mid level of acidity compared to the others. This emphasis the fruit before the very dry finish. It has a hint of wood. It reminds me of the Grabham and is clearly the best of the flight. ****(*)
1862 D’Oliviera Sercial
This wine is pungent and fully aromatic, bringing forth articulate sweet fruit. This is a full-bore wine with a fruitier start and a fair amount of acidity before the wine rounds out. The sweetness seems separate from the wine leaving a sense of oddity. Despite the wood note the wine is simpler by the middle. ****
1860 H. M. Borges Sercial
The high-toned nose is hard to describe with a menthol-like and floral set of aromas. Haunting in a way. There is a sweet start to this round wine then a tobacco and floral accented middle. Caramel flavors come out in the finish as well as a little tannic and grippy personality. The acidity hits the back of the throat leaving an aftertaste which is sweeter than expected. ****
1860 Avery’s Sercial
The nose low-lying with dense aroma eventually becoming more pungent with air. There is a vigour start with savory flavors that become drier towards the finish before acidity marks the path down the throat. The start is great with some fat that makes for a great promise. But the wine shows less balance in the end. Better in flavor than in aromas. ***
1855 Adegas do Tormeao “S”
The nose is a little lactic with some tea and sweet aromas eventually smelling like an old wine. The nose is consistent with the soft and simpler start and even the short finish. There is a little sweet black fruit with some texture on the sides of the mouth. Better in flavor. **
1852 Sercial Selected by General Sherman on his visit at Madeira, 1871
The nose is higher-toned with leather and peat notes suggesting spirit. The peat follows through in the mouth where the wine is thicker than expected. It is gently fading and short in finish but managed a savory note and some balance. Curious. **
NV Henriques & Henriques Reserva “H.H.” Sercial
This wine is clearly in good condition with attractive, pungent aromas. In the mouth this flavorful wine builds in power with wonderful integration. There is a citric grip in the middle with a very fine, racy mineral note. The acidity is only noticeable in the finish. This is ultimately exuberant with sweet concentrated and a slightly short finish. ****(*)/*****
1810 H. M. Borges Sercial
The lightest of the four in this flight. The nose is freshly pungent, aromatic and strange. The nose is echoed in the mouth with tangy, rather salivating acidity, and a bright, alcoholic finish that continues into the hot aftertaste. This is the most powerful wine of the flight but is unfortunately becoming unknit in the end. Wood hint. ***(*)
1827 Perestrello Sercial
A unique nose of sweet pizza crust. Again, the nose echoes in the mouth but in rounded, soft form. The softness and low acidity continues for a bit but the wine eventually tightens and becomes a little racy. ***
1825 “S” Sercial
There is a subtle nose of menthol, tea, and funk. This is a ripe, rich fine wine with a complex blend of wet and dry florals before the stemmy, short finish. The flavors clearly taste older with unique brighter fruit leaving a bizarre impression that is still tasteful. ***
1810 Monteiro Old Sercial Reserve
There is some sweetness followed by a lactic hint, butterscotch, and foxy aromas. The wine is a little chewy with noticeable acidity, a short finish, and a tobacco note in the aftertaste. **(*)
1808 Braheem Kassab (BAK) “SS”Sercial
The nose is fresh but not rich with some smoke. The saline start bears sharp acidity. The wine is powerful with both mineral and citric flavors. It is a little short in the finish but a beauty to drink. ****(*)
1805 Teixeira Sercial “Roque”
Perhaps the darkest wine of all this nice. The somewhat pungent nose mixes heavy aromas of butter and sweet cookies. The wine is saline and almost salty with powerful pungency. The acidity burns through this potent and piercing wine. There is some prune flavors too. ***
1800 (believed Araujo) Sercial
The gentle yet good nose smells like old wine and leather. The wine starts with a little pungent vibrancy with lively, old flavors. The watering acidity carries through as the wine settles down to a foxy finish. The finish is a little short but the wine is balanced and enjoyable. ****
On April 30, 2016, I attended The Sercial Tasting in New York City. This was the fifth in a series of definitive annual Madeira tastings organized by Mannie Berk (The Rare Wine Co.) and Roy Hersh (For The Love of Port). This post is the article I wrote for the tasting booklet.
During the late 1700s and early 1800s, Madeira was typically ordered not by grape variety but by level of quality: from India and New York Market at the low end, to Old London Particular at the high end.
But it was always possible to buy a small barrel of single-varietal Madeira, especially Malmsey, Bual and Sercial. And for at least one early U.S. President, James Madison, Sercial was particularly prized.
Madison had developed a life-long love for Madeira, typically ordering the finest and oldest London Particular quality. As Secretary of State under President Thomas Jefferson, he expanded upon his usual orders by purchasing a hogshead of Thomas Jefferson’s favorite Brazil quality Madeira. When Madison became President after Thomas Jefferson in 1809, he purchased the remaining bottles of Jefferson’s Madeira that lay in the White House cellar.
But that wasn’t all he did to stock the White House cellar. Just one week into his Presidency, he placed an unusually large order of Madeira including old and new London Particular, Tinta or Madeira Burgundy, Malmsey, and Sercial. The Sercial was the only type of Madeira in his order described as “very Scarce” and as such was shipped in a quarter-cask. This is the first known order for Sercial amongst our Founding Fathers and one of the earliest in America.
Madison placed another order for Sercial a year later in 1810. Still being scarce, it could only be sourced from the private stock of Count Joao de Carvalhal who was considered the richest man on Madeira with “the best plantations.” Madison received his order the following year in 1811 and found the wine “very satisfactory.”
It is possible that Madison had to wait until he was President to afford Sercial. The British Factory established the prices for all Madeira shipped from the island by British firms. Madison paid £60 per pipe for old London Particular and the equivalent of £72 per pipe for Sercial. A year later in 1811, the Factory maintained the price on London Particular but the price of Sercial rose to £94 per pipe. Sercial was the most expensive type of Madeira which could be purchased.
Sercial was believed to stem from German vines at Hockheim and at times was called Madeira Hock. It only grew well at particular locations and altitudes on Madeira. Sercial was considered “superior to any dry wine, much esteemed on account of its scarcity and high flavor.” It was, however, unpalatable when young, requiring six to eight years before becoming drinkable. James Madison’s Sercial was seven years of age thus considered ready to drink. If scarcity raised the price then the requirement for age drove it up even further.
Advertisements for Sercial in American first appear in 1799 when one butt was offered for private sale. It is not until 1805 that Sercial was periodically advertised for sale. These advertisements continue through the beginning of the War of 1812 between American and Great Britain. It is possible the war prevented James Madison from placing a third order. Sercial essentially disappears from advertisements until 1816 when trade largely resumed. It now fetched a price of £100 per pipe.
James Madison’s Presidency lasted only one more year after the resumption of Madeira imports in 1816. We do not know why Madison did not continue his orders for Sercial. One possibility is that there was no affordable old Sercial to be had. In a normal year it could be difficult for a shipper to obtain even just two or three casks. In 1816, drinkable Sercial would have been from the 1809 or 1810 vintages. These were amongst a run of four bad years.
Count João de Carvalhal was considered to have wines as fine as any other on the island. In 1801, he purchased and developed the Palheiro estate in the hills near Funchal (and now owned by members of the Blandy family). It is here that Count Carvalhal kept his store of wine. When the Portuguese royal family moved back to Portugal from Brazil, a power struggle broke out. The new governor of Madeira confiscated the Palheiro estate, sending some 700 pipes of Count Carvalhal’s old wine to Lisbon.
The Madeira of Carvalhal was soon to return to America. “Carvalhal, vintage 1815, confiscated and sold under Don Miguel, in 1828” appears on wine lists and auction announcements beginning in the 1840s. The most famous of all Carvalhal wines is the 1808 Lomelino Carvalhal Sercial. This was the “highlight” of Sir Stephen Gaselee’s Madeira collection, bottles of which still survive to this day.
Incredibly, this vintage would have lain in Count Carvalhal’s cellar when James Madison’s Sercial orders were filled. It was not yet ready to drink so James Madison was sent the 1802 vintage.
In 1791, through the assistance of Thomas Jefferson, President George Washington placed a second order for claret from the firm of Fenwick, Mason & Co. in Bordeaux. The firm of had just been established three years earlier in Georgetown. Fenwick, Mason & Co. was a short-lived partnership between John Mason, the son of George Mason, along with John and James Fenwick. That summer of 1788, John Mason traveled to Bordeaux bearing an introduction to Thomas Jefferson.
The order for the President’s wine included 14 cases for himself and 14 cases for Thomas Jefferson. Though George Washington’s order also included Frontignac and Sauternes, it is the claret that is of interest for this post.
The firm of Fenwick, Mason, and & Co. wrote to Thomas Jefferson on February 10, 1791, that the Count de la Pallu, proprietor of the estate of Segur, which included Chateau Latour, had no wine that he could ship to President George Washington which would “do justice to his estate”. The firm offered to find a replacement which turned out to be “wines of Lafite, the Estate of Mr. Pichard (formerly Segur)”. The cases of wine were received that summer in “good order” and placed in the cellar.There were some 5 cases of 48 bottles each of Chateau Lafite (then spelled Lafitte) from the vintage 1786. This was considered “old wine”, not being of the current vintage, and was, perhaps, the best old vintage available. In 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote that the 1784 vintage was the best since 1779 when discussing Chateau Haut-Brion. This was most likely a generic vintage comment for the following year Thomas Jefferson ordered the 1784 vintage of Chateau Lafite but was told that none was left and was sent the 1786, though not yet ready to drink, instead.
Sadly, we do not yet know what George Washington thought of the 1786 Chateau Lafite. After the arrival of the cases, Tobias Lear wrote to George Washington in June 1791, that “how their contents are I know not. I intend, however, to have them examined to know whether they may be depended on or not.”  The following month Tobias Lear followed up writing that “Of these wines none have yet been proved”. How the 1786 vintage stacks up remains a mystery!
 “To Thomas Jefferson from Fenwick, Mason & Co., 10 February 1791,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-19-02-0041. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 19, 24 January–31 March 1791, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974, pp. 266–267.]
 Whatford, Mark. “John Mason and the French Revolution”. July 18, 2013 Gunston Hall Blog. URL: http://gunstonhallblog.blogspot.com/2013/07/john-mason-and-french-revolution.html
 “To Thomas Jefferson from Fenwick, Mason & Co., 10 February 1791,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-19-02-0041. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 19, 24 January–31 March 1791, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974, pp. 266–267.]
 “To Thomas Jefferson from Fenwick, Mason & Company, [29 March 1791],” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-19-02-0179. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 19, 24 January–31 March 1791, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974, p. 630.]
 See “To George Washington from Tobias Lear, 12 June 1791,” Founders Online,National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-08-02-0181. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 8, 22 March 1791 – 22 September 1791, ed. Mark A. Mastromarino. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, pp. 261–264.] and “From George Washington to Tobias Lear, 19 June 1791,” Founders Online,National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-08-02-0193. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 8, 22 March 1791 – 22 September 1791, ed. Mark A. Mastromarino. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, pp. 275–278.].
 “From Thomas Jefferson to Francis Eppes, 26 May 1787,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-11-02-0362. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 11, 1 January–6 August 1787, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955, pp. 378–379.]
 “To Thomas Jefferson from John Bondfield, 19 April 1788,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-13-02-0019. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 13, March–7 October 1788, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1956, p. 96.]
 Date: Tuesday, August 12, 1794 Paper: Philadelphia Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) Volume: XI Issue: 1813 Page: 2
 “To George Washington from Tobias Lear, 23 June 1791,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-08-02-0201. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 8, 22 March 1791 – 22 September 1791, ed. Mark A. Mastromarino. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, pp. 294–299.]
 Tobias Lear to Mason Fenwick & Co, July 7, 1791. George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 2 Letterbooks. URL:
“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.
This past weekend we hosted our 12th annual party at the International Gold Cup in Virginia. Horse racing has long been popular in our region. While we always serve wine I am curious about what was drunk by our Founding Fathers. The Maryland Jockey Club was founded in 1743. That very same year the club held its first race, a tradition which is still maintained today, making it the oldest chartered sporting organization in America. We know that George Washington went to the horse races for he noted his travels in his diaries and event kept track of his lost bets in his financial ledgers.
The Maryland Jockey Club events were known as the “Annapolis Races”. George Washington attended several of these races in the years prior to the Revolutionary War. We do not know what he drank during all of these races but there is a possibility. On October 4, 1772, he set out to Annapolis for the four days of racing. The races began on October 6, 1772, and the very next day George Washington bought “2 Boxes of Claret” from Samuel Galloway for £20 14d. There is only one expense that exceeds this wine expenditure during this trip and that is £40 for a horse doctor.
Samuel Galloway was the largest shipowner in Annapolis, Maryland. At one point he owned or had interest in 27 ships. George Washington had been purchasing claret from Samuel Galloway since at least 1770. The two boxes he purchased during the races contained six dozen bottles each of “excellent Claret” of which George Washington had placed an open request for during May 1772. George Washington still had large store of Claret lying at Mount Vernon at the time. Having no immediate need, it appears that George Washington did not pay for the additional wine until his trip to Annapolis during the races that October.
So the question is whether George Washington drank some of the Claret at the races or not. His diaries and financial ledgers do not indicate. It is possible that George Washington had the wine stored with the Digges family at Warburton Manor, across the Potomac River from Mount Vernon, but it is not yet clear. We do know that George Washington ordered 48 bottles of Claret for the “Boat Race & Barbicue at Johnson’s Ferry” two years later in 1774. If his Claret was still with Samuel Galloway in Annapolis, it certainly would be tempting for him to drink it. The wine was described to George Washington based on first hand experience. “I have tasted it, & it really is good”.
 “[October 1772],” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/01-03-02-0002-0023. [Original source: The Diaries of George Washington, vol. 3, 1 January 1771–5 November 1781, ed. Donald Jackson. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1978, pp. 135–138.]
 “Cash Accounts, October 1772,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-09-02-0079. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 9, 8 January 1772 – 18 March 1774, ed. W. W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994, pp. 110–113.]
 “Shipping in the Ports of Annapolis 1748-1777”. United States Naval Institute. 1965.
 “From George Washington to Samuel Galloway, 4 May 1772,” Founders Online,National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-09-02-0028. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 9, 8 January 1772 – 18 March 1774, ed. W. W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994, p. 40.] and
“To George Washington from Jonathan Boucher, 22 May 1772,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-09-02-0037. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 9, 8 January 1772 – 18 March 1774, ed. W. W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994, pp. 50–51.] and
“From George Washington to Jonathan Boucher, 23 May 1772,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-09-02-0038. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 9, 8 January 1772 – 18 March 1774, ed. W. W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994, pp. 51–52.]
 “[Diary entry: 7 May 1774],”Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/01-03-02-0004-0009-0007. [Original source: The Diaries of George Washington, vol. 3, 1 January 1771–5 November 1781, ed. Donald Jackson. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1978, pp. 248–249.]
“for Mercy Sake stop, all my Wine”: John Adam’s first wine order as Minister to Great Britain in 1785
On February 24, 1785, John Adams was commissioned as Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of St. James in Great Britain. As any wine lover would do he made previous arrangements to ship a large amount of wine from France to his new home in London. He arrived in London on May 26, 1785, only to find to his horror that as minister he was not exempted from paying duties on all of the wine he had ordered. Thus on his second day he dashed off a letter to Thomas Jefferson, Ministers Plenipotentiary to France, begging him to cancel his wine order.
John Adams already had wine “of the best qualities in my Cellar at the Hague”. For this quantity he was exempted on paying duty. From France he was expecting 500 bottles of “Small Wines” from Bordeaux, Madeira, and Frontenac. For these he would have to pay a duty of 6 to 8 Shillings per bottle. John Adams was only willing to pay the duty on the Madeira and Frontenac.By the time Thomas Jefferson, who resided in Paris, received the letter, he already had the cases of John Adams’ wine affixed with seals in Paris and put on a boat bound for Rouen. The boat was just departing so he was unable to land the wine. Thus Thomas Jefferson sent a letter to Anthony Garvey, American Counsel in Rouen, asking him to prevent the 500 bottles of Bordeaux from being sent on to London. Anthony Garvey responded to Thomas Jefferson on June 5th that he would look out for John Adam’s wine.
John Adams had not yet received a letter about his wine so he again wrote to Thomas Jefferson on June 7, 1785. He was a bit more emphatic this time. “[F]or Mercy Sake stop, all my Wine” he wrote. Each minister was only allowed to import 500 – 600 bottles duty free. This alone would not cover his “very rich Wine” at the Hague and his desirable Madeira, Frontenac, and Bordeaux at Autueil. John Adams feared that “I shall be ruined” by the 500 bottles of Bordeaux wine in Rouen.
He was not joking for he faced paying a duty of £150 – £200. That year in America, where the best Madeira was to be had, you could purchase a pipe of three year old London Particular for £33. At 440 quart bottles per 110 gallon Madeira pipe, John Adams could purchase some 2200 bottles of the best quality Madeira!
Fortunately, Anthony Garvey was successful in holding back John Adams’ wine. By July, John Adams no longer feared having to pay duties on the extra wine. He informed Thomas Jefferson that he had asked Anthony Garvey to forward his wine, some 7 or 8 cases of it for “I believe I shall easily obtain an order to receive it without paying duties”.
 “From John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 27 May 1785,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-17-02-0068. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 17, April–November 1785, ed. Gregg L. Lint, C. James Taylor, Sara Georgini, Hobson Woodward, Sara B. Sikes, Amanda A. Mathews, and Sara Martin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014, pp. 122–123.]
“To John Adams from Thomas Jefferson, 2 June 1785,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-17-02-0079. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 17, April–November 1785, ed. Gregg L. Lint, C. James Taylor, Sara Georgini, Hobson Woodward, Sara B. Sikes, Amanda A. Mathews, and Sara Martin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014, pp. 145–147.]
 “To Thomas Jefferson from Anthony Garvey, 5 June 1785,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-08-02-0139. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 8, 25 February–31 October 1785, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953, p. 177.]
 “From John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 7 June 1785,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-17-02-0090. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 17, April–November 1785, ed. Gregg L. Lint, C. James Taylor, Sara Georgini, Hobson Woodward, Sara B. Sikes, Amanda A. Mathews, and Sara Martin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014, pp. 160–161.]
 “From John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 16 July 1785,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-17-02-0137. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 17, April–November 1785, ed. Gregg L. Lint, C. James Taylor, Sara Georgini, Hobson Woodward, Sara B. Sikes, Amanda A. Mathews, and Sara Martin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014, pp. 252–253.]
 “Carte du cours de la rivière de Seine depuis… la rivière d’Andelle jusqu’à Rouen”. Buache, Philippe. 1753. ark:/12148/btv1b8468895f . Bibliothèque nationale de France URL: http://catalogue.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb40742714m