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Posts Tagged ‘History of Wine’

Title page from Daniel Rhagor’s Pflantz-Gart (1639)

Title page from Daniel Rhagor’s Pflantz-Gart (1639). Image from UB Bern. [1]

Daniel Rhagor (1577-1648) was an administrator of a wine-vault, governor, and horticulturist.  His publication of Pflantz-Gart (1639) marks the first systematic guide to the cultivation of fruits, vegetables, and grapevines in Switzerland.  In this post I reproduce the title page as it is the only illustration in the book.  Down in the bottom-right corner, you will see an illustration of a grapevine climbing up a stake bearing fruit in the foreground.  It appears in the same form as other 16th and 17th century German wine books.  In the background appears a vineyard on a steep hill.

The text, stemming from both contemporary knowledge and classic sources, is largely in German with a good dose of Latin.  At the end of each chapter are corollaria where we see Rhagor’s sources include the French.  Thus we learn that Vinum novellum, Newer Wein, and Vin nouveau are all the same.


[1] Rhagor, Daniel: Pflantz-Gart, darinn grundtlicher Bericht zufinden, welcher gestalten 1. Obs-Gärten, 2. Kraut-Gärten, 3. Wein-Gärten, mit Lust unnd Nutz anzustellen, zu […] : sampt zu End eines jeden Capitels beygefügter Verteutschung … lateinischer und frantzösischer Wörteren. Bern : bey Stephan Schmid : in Verlegung dess Auctoris, 1639. Universitätsbibliothek Bern, MUE Klein z 424, http://doi.org/10.3931/e-rara-21930 / Public Domain Mark

[2] Stuber, Martin. “From Pflantz-Gart (1639) to Stamm-Register (1865) – on the history of knowledge of fruit cultivation in the canton of Bern”

[3]

CVNE Older Vintage Tour with Carlos Delage, Deputy Export Director

It is a testament to winemaking with excellent parcels of fruit and aging in carefully maintained facilities, that I have consistently enjoyed several bottles of the 1964 CVNE, Vina Real Reserva Especial. I have drunk other vintages as well including the 1976 CVNE, Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva which was served by Carlos Delage, CVNE Deputy Export Director, at a luncheon in Washington, DC, during early April. What few seem to realize is that CVNE still produces complex, age-worthy traditional wines not only from legendary vintages but those which are overshadowed.

The glass of 2014 CVNE, Monopole Clasico which greeted us upon arrival is rooted in history. This wine was originally made in the 1960s and 1970s but then faded away to no longer be produced.  When Victor Urrita, CVNE CEO, tasted a mature bottle of the 1979, he was so impressed he took the only logical next step; he contacted the winemaker himself, Ezequiel Garcia.

So famed were the CVNE wines produced by Ezequiel Garcia during the 1960s and 1970s that he earned the nickname El Brujo or “The Wizard”. It is his vintages of Vina Real Reserva Especial and Imperial Gran Reserva that savvy wine drinkers covet today. However, his Monopole Clasico has remained obscure until it was resurrected with the 2014 vintage.

Not to be confused with the regular Monopole, the Monopole Clasico is unique in Rioja history as it features a good portion of Sherry. Unlike any other wine, this is a blend of Viura with 15% Manzanilla sourced from the Hidalgo family. The wine is then aged in a combination of American oak and Sherry bota. Incredibly, CVNE is still in possession of the 1970s letter granting permission to bottle this wine as Rioja. We all enjoyed a glass as we gathered for the luncheon. I found it light and fresh with an attractive, oily body throughout and Sherry background note.

Once seated, we started off with an tremendous glass of 2004 Contino, Rioja Reserva.  From an excellent vintage, this is a wine generous in flavor and capable of long age.  In my post Delicious and historic, the 1974 Contino, Rioja Reserva I describe the very first vintage as “age-defying”.  With the 2004 demonstrating potential for that same descriptor, an array of CVNE Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva illustrats the evolution of wine through the excellent 2010 and 2005 vintages along with the very good 1998 and good 1976 vintages.  The former are still in a development phase but while the 1998 is still structured, it is now gaining complexity from maturity.

The ability for a wine to age is of no importance unless it not only tastes good but also develops the unique flavors from bottle age.  The 1976 tasted at lunch was the best of the two examples I have tasted over the past year, no doubt because it came straight from CVNE.  While it reflects the modest vintage in its gentleness, it has taken on that slightly sweet, concentrated fruit flavor that I love in good wines over 40 years of age. If this is the peak of the 1976 vintage then I can only imagine the heights that the 2010 and 2005 vintages will achieve.

Many thanks to Carlos Delage (CVNE), Gloria Zapatero (CVNE), and Rob McFarlane (Elite Wines) for inviting to the luncheon.

2004 Contino, Rioja Reserva
Alcohol 14.5%. The youngest looking of the first three wines. Still has a grapey color and is highly aromatic on the nose. This is forward, promptly filling the mouth as floral and spiced flavors come out in the middle. It is showing beautifully with a fresh, almost menthol note, hints of sweet oak, and a finish of minerals and good funk. It wraps up with a kick of freshness. ****(*) Now – 2038.

1998 CVNE, Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva
The nose is complex with red and black fruits with spices. In the mouth the red fruit is taking on maturity. The watering acidity carries the sweet and powdery red fruit. There is some chewy texture from structure and even a little tartness. Though entering maturity it will develop for some time. ***(*) Now – 2028.

1976 CVNE, Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva
Alcohol 13%. A clear, light to medium garnet. The nose still offers modest depth and meat aromas. In the mouth is a start of focused red fruit then beautiful powdery, cherry fruit flavors. The wine is lithe and light through the middle, carried by watering acidity into a gentle finish. It develops notes of old wood, slightly sweet concentrated fruit, and meat. **** Now but will last.

2010 CVNE, Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva
Very dark in color and still concentrated in the mouth. With youthful vigor, the flavors are held close but are not tight. There is ripe fruit and racy texture providing the stuffing for years of age. The oak still needs time to integrate. It has a long future over which it will improve. **** 2020-2038.

2005 CVNE, Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva
The grapey dark color stains the glass. There is a cherry note at first then as the wine slowly opens up black licorice and fresh herbs. It has strength for development. ***(*) 2020-2030.

2012 CVNE, Graciano
This was vinified in oak then aged for 18 months in new French oak. This is very young with tight flavors. A menthol note mixes with the blue and black fruit which is almost bitter. Certainly unique.  *** 2023-2030.

Our host Carlos Delage, CVNE Deputy Export Director

An off-bottle of 1977 Keenan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

I picked up a few bottles of 1970s Californian wine in England of all places.  Reid Wines to be exact, supplier of old Claret back during my Bristol University days.  Their wine lists easy spans a century’s worth of vintages, primarily in Champagne, Bordeaux, and Burgundy but other regions are sprinkled throughout, including a bottle of Keenan from Napa Valley, California.

The first vintage of Robert Keenan Winery was 1977 from a vineyard planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in 1974.  Robert Keenan planted his vines on the 19th century Peter Conradi vineyard located on the Mayacamas mountain range in the Spring Mountain District of Napa Valley.  Joe Cafaro, the first winemaker, was a graduate of Fresno State University.  Also in his class of 1969 are Jerry Luper of Freemark Abbey Winery, Dick Arrowood of Chateau St. Jean, Mark Shouse of Gallo, and Phil Baxter of Rutherford Hill.

The wines of Robert Keenan were soon known on both coasts and in Europe.  The Chardonnay was released first and could be the reason my bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon found its way to England.  Frank J. Prial wrote in The New York Times during the summer of 1979, that some “of the best new chardonnays” came from such new wineries at Keenan.  That fall Robert Lawrence Balzer included Keenan in a list of one dozen unfamiliar wineries that “may have interesting significance tomorrow” in The Los Angeles Times.

The 1977 Keenan, Chardonnay was poured on George Washington’s Birthday at a wine tasting organized by the California Wine Institute and Les Amis du Vin, held at the United States Embassy in Paris during 1979.  Frank J. Prial recreated the tasting back in San Francisco where he found the Keenan one of the outstanding wines in an outstanding group of Chardonnay.  As for a connection to England, Frank J. Prial interviewed the English wine writer Cyril Ray in New York City.  Of the two Chardonnay’s they drank, one was the 1977 Keenan.

My bottle of 1977 Robert Keenan Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley had a fill in the shoulder which is why I opened it for myself.  A gamble for sure but worth it for the history.  There was that tell-tale roasted quality on the nose indicating the wine is not right.  It never cleaned up but in tasting the wine I can see how proper bottles should be satisfying.

1977 Robert Keenan Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Alcohol 14.2%.  Fill is in the shoulder.  Dark and deep in the glass.  A roasted aroma on the nose indicates this bottle is not ideal.  The flavors are better in the mouth though the roast note persists. Otherwise this is a full-bodied, savory wine with sweet fruit and a wood box flavor.  The amount of body is surprising but the wine is completely balanced.  Clean bottles should drink well for many years to come.  Not Rated.


Prial, F. J. (1979, May 09). Wine talk. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/120885774?accountid=14784

Prial, F. J. (1979, Jun 06). Wine talk. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/120838683?accountid=14784

By, F. J. (1979, Jun 10). Wine quality from california. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/120840402?accountid=14784

Balzer, R. L. (1979, Sep 30). Wine connoisseur. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/158960200?accountid=14784

Grape clusters on the 18th c. frieze of The Circus, Bath

In Bath, England, between The Royal Crescent and Queen Square, lies The Circus.  The Circus is a completely circular formation of homes punctuated by only three streets at regular angles.  Designed by John Wood the Elder and built by John Wood the Younger, the three arcs were built in phases between 1754-1768.

There is no variation to the fronts of the houses, they are all three stories tall representing three orders Roman Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.  The frieze of the Doric entablature is decorated with 525 emblems including grapes.  In this instance, a vine with two grape clusters supported by a tree trunk, is shown centered above one pair of columns.

Carved grape cluster of the temple at The Roman Baths, England

The lost pediment and Gorgon’s head from the Temple of Sulis Minerva at The Roman Baths in England, carved in the first century AD, were discovered in 1790.  Additional pieces were revealed in the centuries since.  Today these pieces are installed in a subterranean room at the museum of The Roman Baths.  The pediment was originally supported by four large columns, raising it some 15 meters above the height of any visitors. Found amongst the surviving cornices are a carved cluster of grapes.  A detail of these grapes appears below.

Gilded brass medallion depicting grapes from the ocean liner Normandie, circa 1935

Szabo, Adalbert. “Medallion depicting grapes from the Normandie.” About 1935. Ocean Liners: Speed and Style. V&A Museum, London.

I took this image of a striking gilded-brass medallion at the Ocean Liners: Speed and Style exhibition held at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.  It is one of twelve medallions, designed by Adalbert Szabo, that adorned each pair of doors leading to the first-class private dining rooms aboard the ocean liner Normandie.  The main first-class dining room was immense, some 305 feet long, 46 feet wide, and 28 feet tall.  However, flanking the main dining room, were four smaller, private dining rooms on each side.

Madeira in Early America, Part 4

This is the final of four posts based on my talk presented to The Stanford Wine Society in April of this year.

India Madeira in America

During the Revolutionary War, the British blockaded the major ports of Boston and Charleston. In response the Continental Congress economically boycotted Great Britain which included a ban on the import of Madeira wine. Madeira shipments to America plummeted so 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 nearly half of the entire trade. During the ocean voyages the holds of these ships, with the pipes of Madeira inside of them, could reach temperatures as high as 120F. It was soon found that this India Madeira was favorably improved.

The American India trade began in 1783, when the ship United States of Philadelphia set sail for China but first stopped at Madeira. Pintard boarded the ship within half an hour of it weighing anchor. He invited the Captain, Supercargo, and Surgeon to stay at the house of Searle where he resided. He was also a relative and employed at the house. The director of the house convinced the captain that a better price would be obtained for any Madeira sold in India rather than China. Some two weeks later the United States left Madeira for India with a cargo of 125 pipes of Madeira from John Searle & Co.

The journey of the United States to Pondicherry and back to Philadelphia took an extraordinary long time with many lives lost to scurvy. The majority owner was in financial difficulties as a result, causing the ship and cargo to be auctioned off just to pay the wages. There was then the question of the debt to John Searle & Co. With only one-fifth of the Madeira bill paid the matter was turned over to attorneys, the results of which are unknown. This was not the last issue for the Searles.

Pintard wrote Benjamin Franklin in 1784 that the house of John Searle & Co. had “Vast connections in the India trade”. In 1786, 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 soon extensively involved in the India Madeira trade.

The trade with India and China could yield immense profits but the early Madeira trade was not without its risks both for the owners of the ships with their cargoes and the Madeira shippers. Across several documents we learn the fate of the John Jay and General Washington, two ships, under different owners, which both set sail for the Far East in December 1788. The General Washington was to carry a cargo valued between of £10,000 to £12,000 worth of which 1/8 would be Madeira taken on board en route. Both ships loaded up with Madeira from John Searle & Co of which more than 120 casks of various sizes were on the General Washington alone.

Upon arriving in India, the supercargo of the General Washington found that they had “the misfortune to find a great imposition in the quality of our wines which has proved a ruinous affair to the whole Voyage”. There was a series of small and unexceptional vintages from 1785-1788 which appear to have caused the Searle’s to overextend themselves. The General Washington was forced to sell the first portion at “a very low cost” for goods instead of money then the rest were sold off in China. It did not help that the market was glutted with wine. The cargo of the John Jay was mostly Madeira which they were forced to sell off in Madras, Batavia, and Bombay. Both ships wrote letters of protest to support their legal cases against Searle whose failure was announced in American newspapers in 1793 and 1794.

Pintard had left Madeira in 1786 only to return in 1790 as Consul. Experienced in the India Madeira trade under the Searle’s, he created his own business and it is he who shipped four pipes of Knox’s Madeira via India. There were accompanied by two pipes for Washington. This was in fact the second order of India wine being sent to Washington. Both of which arrived within months of each other. This new type of Madeira was no doubt rare. Neither Thomas Jefferson nor James Madison ever received India wine. Pintard acknowledged this unusual order suggesting “Should you not think proper to take the pipe that is gone to India” then it could be sold to someone else.

The timing of these orders is not by accident for in 1793, France declared war against Great Britain. The British tolerated this American trade because they did not want the Americans to reactivate their alliance with France. The Jay Treaty avoided war between Great Britain and America by recognizing American neutrality in the wars with France. It also allowed formalized American trade to both the West and East Indies. The treaty was passed in 1795, the same year that the new ship Ganges picked up the pipes of Madeira destined for Washington and Knox.

The cost of the London Particular Madeira was the same but it is the freight which made these wines expensive. The freight charges for the first India pipe was £15 compared to the £3 3s direct from Madeira. That made one pipe of India wine £55 compared to £39 13s for London Particular direct. The freight for the second two pipes came to just over £33 each. These pipes of India Madeira cost a staggering £71 each, not regarding duties and drayage.

The freight for Knox’s pipes was £20 each compared to £33 each for Washington. The former were simply “cased” whereas the later were in “dble cases”. In order to prevent the theft of such expensive wine, the pipes or casks themselves were often placed inside a larger wooden case. Washington once had a pipe of Madeira entirely replaced with water so he subsequently cased his wines. For this shipment he was exceedingly cautious as he placed his Madeira inside two increasingly larger cases. Madeira typically shipped in 110 gallon pipes. Knox’s single case raised the volume to approximately 196 gallons each. Washington’s double cases would have occupied over 320 gallons each.

George Washington was willing to pay such extraordinary prices not only because Madeira “one of the most expensive liquors” but that old Madeira “is not to be had upon any terms”. Keenly aware of the scarcity of his India wine he instructed that the duties be paid “for the whole quantity” of the double cases rather “than have them uncased for the purpose of measuring the” present contents. He did not want to risk the wines stolen or adulterated.

The India Madeira for Knox and Washington arrived during the summer of 1796. Knox was notified of the arrival of his wine and that it would be stored until directed otherwise. Seven months later he received another letter explaining that the bill remained unpaid. He was given just five days to pay the outstanding $922, a huge bill given that he made $3000 per year as Secretary of War. We do not know what happened with the wine. Knox had moved back to Maine, where several of children passed away and he had engaged in failing business enterprises.

George Washington wanted his old India Madeira “reserved..for my own use when I get home” as it was “not easy to be replaced”. It was in March of 1797 that George Washington retired from his Presidency and returned to Mount Vernon. According to his Household Account books, that very same month he paid the duties on the two pipes of Madeira as well as the drayage. George Washington’s personal goods were shipped from Philadelphia to Mount Vernon so there is a bill of lading. It is noted in the margin, ”No. 21.22. Two pipes Meda. Wine not mentioned in the No. of Casks-“. George Washington brought his rare India wine back home to Mount Vernon where he drank the last glass just months before passing away in 1799. Pintard became disgraced by consular affairs that year and departed the Island. In doing so he closed this early trade in India Madeira with America.


[1] Arrowsmith, Aaron. Composite: Map of India. 1804. David Rumsey Map Collection.  URL: https://www.davidrumsey.com/luna/servlet/detail/RUMSEY~8~1~233589~5514095:Composite–Map-of-India-?sort=Pub_List_No_InitialSort%2CPub_Date%2CPub_List_No%2CSeries_No#