Sunday, August 24, 2014

Madeira, the King of Wines, 1890

Excerpted from "Society as I Have Found It", by Ward McAllister, 1890. According to Wikipedia he was the "self-appointed arbiter of New York society from the 1860s to the early 1890s". Here is his passionate and very readable defense of Madeira wine.

Having had your champagne from the fish to the roast, your vin ordinaire through the dinner, your Burgundy or Johannisberg, or fine old Tokay (quite equal to any Johannisberg), with the cheese, your best claret with the roast, then after the ladies have had their fruit and have left the table, comes on the king of wines, your Madeira ; a national wine, a wine only well matured at the South, and a wine whose history is as old as is that of our country. I may here say, that Madeira imparts a vitality that no other wine can give. After drinking it, it acts as a soporific, but the next day you feel ten years younger and stronger for it.

I have known a man, whose dinners were so famous by reason of his being always able to give at them a faultless Madeira, disappear with his wine. When his wine gave out, he collapsed.
When asked, " Where is Mr. Jones?" the ready answer was always given, " He went out with his ' Rapid' Madeira."

Families prided themselves on their Madeira. It became an heirloom (as Tokay now is, in Austria). Like the elephant, it seemed to live over three score years and ten. The fine Madeiras were fine when they reached this country. Age improved them, and made them the poetry of wine. ' They became the color of amber and retained all their original flavor. But it is an error to suppose that age ever improved a poor Madeira. If it came here poor and sweet, it remained poor and sweet, and never lost Its sweetness, even at seventy or eighty years.

These wines took their names generally from the ships in which they came over. There is no more sensitive wine to climatic influences. A delicate Madeira, taken only a few blocks on a cold, raw day, Is not fit to drink; and again, you might as well give a man champagne out of a horse bucket, as to give him a Madeira in a thick sherry or claret glass, or a heavy cut glass. The American pipestem is the only glass in which Madeira should be given, and when thus given, is, as one of our distinguished men once said, " The only liquid he ever called wine."

In Savannah and Charleston, from 1800 up to our Civil War, afternoon wine parties were the custom. You were asked to come and taste Madeira, at 5 P.M., after your dinner. The hour of dining in these cities was then always 3 P.M. The mahogany table, which reflected your face, was set with finger bowls, with four pipe-stem glasses in each bowl, olives, parched ground nuts and almonds, and half a dozen bottles of Madeira. There you sat, tasted and commented on these wines for an hour or more.

The oldest and largest shippers of Madeira were the Newton Gordons, who sent the finest Madeiras to Charleston and Savannah. From 1791 to 1805, their firm was Newton Gordon, Murdock, & Scott. One hundred and ten years ago, they sent five hundred pipes of Madeira in one shipment to Savannah. These wines sent there were the finest Sercials, Buals, and Malmseys. All those wines were known as extra Madeiras. The highest priced wine, a Manigult Heyward wine, I knew forty years ago ; it was ninety years old—perfect, full flavored, and of good color and strength.

In Charleston and Savannah from 1780 to 1840, almost every gentleman ordered a pipe of wine from Madeira. I know of a man who has kept this up for half a century. There is a common prejudice against Malmsey, as being a lady's wine, and sweet ; when very old, no Madeira can beat it. I have now In my cellar an " All Saints" wine, named after the famous Savannah Quoit Club, imported in 1791 ; a perfect wine, of exquisite flavor. My wife's grandfather imported two pipes of Madeira every year, and my father-in-law continued to do this as long as he lived. When he died he had, as I am told, the largest private cellar of Madeira In the United States. All his wines were Newton Gordons.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Early American Winemaking in the Colony of Virginia

Excerpted from "The Grapes of New York", 1908, by U. P. Hedrick. A nice concise overview of an early attempt to grow European grapes on American soil, with an interesting note on the locals preferring Maderia!

The English were the first to plant the Old World grape in the territory in which this species fails because of the attacks of native parasites. Lord Delaware seems to have been the original promoter of grape-growing in the New World. In 1616 he wrote to the London Company urging the culture of the grape as a possible source of revenue for the new colony. His letter seems to have been convincing, for it is on record that the Company in 1619 sent a number of French vine-dressers and a collection of the best varieties of the grapes of France to Virginia. The Colonial Assembly showed quite as much solicitude in encouraging the cultivation of the vine as did the Company in London. The year of the importation of vines and vine-dressers, 1619, the Assembly passed an act compelling every householder to plant ten cuttings and to protect them from injury and stated that the landowners were expected to acquire the art of dressing a vineyard, either through instruction or by observation. The Company, to increase the interest in vine-growing, showed marked favors to all who undertook it with zealousness; promises of servants, the most valuable gifts that could be made to the colonists, were frequent. Under the impulse thus given vineyards were planted containing as many as ten thousand vines.

In spite of a rich soil, congenial climate, and skilled vine-dressers, nothing of importance came from the venture, some of the historians of the time attributing the failure to the massacre of 1622; others to poor management of the vines; and still others to disagreements between the English and their French vine-dressers, who, it was claimed, concealed their knowledge because they worked as slaves. It is probable that the latter explanation was fanciful but the former must have been real for we are told that the farms and outlying settlements were abandoned after the great massacre. But the colony could hardly have recovered from the ravages of the Indians before efforts to force the colonists to grow grapes were again made; for in 1623 the Assembly passed a law that for every four men in the colony a garden should be laid off a part of which was to be planted to vines.

In 1639 the Assembly again tried to encourage vine-growing by legislative enactment, this time with an act giving a premium to successful grape-growers. Later, about 1660, a premium of ten thousand pounds of tobacco was offered in Virginia for each “two tunne of wine” from grapes raised in the colony. Shortly after, some wine was exported to England but whether made from wild plants or cultivated ones does not appear. In spite of the encouragement of legislative acts, grape-growing did not flourish in Virginia. The fact that tobacco was a paying crop and more easily grown than the grape may have had something to do with the failure to grow the latter. Or it may have been that the cheapness of Madeira, “a noble strong drink,” as one of the Colonial historians puts it, had a depressing influence on the industry. But still more likely, the foreign plants did not thrive.

Encouragement of the home production of wine did not cease in Virginia for at least one hundred and fifty years; for in 1769 an enactment of the Assembly was passed to encourage wine-making in favor of one Andrew Estave, a Frenchman. As a result of the act of this time, land was purchased, buildings erected, and slaves and workmen with a complete outfit for wine-making were furnished Estave. The act provided that if he made within six years ten hogsheads of merchantable wine—land, houses, slaves, the whole plant was to be given to him. It is stated that this unusual subsidy is made “as a reward for so useful an improvement.” Estave succeeded in making the wine but it was poor stuff and he had difficulty in getting the authorities to turn over the property which was to be his reward. This was finally done by an act of the Assembly, however, the failure to make good wine being attributed by all parties to the “unfitness of the land.”

An attempt was made to cultivate the European grape in Virginia early in the eighteenth century on an extensive scale. Soon after taking office as governor in 1710, Alexander Spotswood brought over a colony of Germans from the Rhine and settled them in Spottsylvania County on the Rapidan river. The site of their village on this river is now marked by a ford, Germania Ford, a name which is a record of the settlement. That they grew grapes and made wine is certain, for the Governor’s “red and white Rapidan, made by his Spottsylvania Germans” is several times mentioned in the published journals and letters of the time. But the venture did not make a deep nor lasting impress on the agriculture of the colony.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Altar Wine in the Catholic Church, 1913

Excerpted from "The Catholic Encyclopedia", 1913.

Wine is one of the two elements absolutely necessary for the sacrifice of the Eucharist. For valid and licit consecration vinum de vite, i.e. the pure juice of the grape naturally and properly fermented, is to be used. Wine made out of raisins, provided that from its colour and taste it may be judged to be pure, may be used. It may be white or red, weak or strong, sweet or dry.

Since the validity of the Holy Sacrifice, and the lawfulness of its celebration, require absolutely genuine wine, it becomes the serious obligation of the celebrant to procure only pure wines. And since wines are frequently so adulterated as to escape minute chemical analysis, it may be taken for granted that the safest way of procuring pure wine is to buy it not at second hand, but directly from a manufacturer who understands and conscientiously respects the great responsibility involved in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice.

If the wine is changed into vinegar, or is become putrid or corrupted, if it was pressed from grapes that were not fully ripe, or if it is mixed with such a quality of water that it can hardly be called wine, its use is forbidden. If the wine begins to turn into vinegar, or to become putrid, or is the unfermented juice is pressed from the grape, it would be a grievous offence to use it, but it is considered valid matter.

To conserve weak and feeble wines, and in order to keep them from souring or spoiling during transportation, a small quantity of spirits of wine (grape brandy or alcohol) may be added, provided the following conditions are observed (1) The added spirit (alcohol) must have been distilled from the grape (ex genimime vitis); (2) the quantity of alcohol added, together with that which the wine contained naturally after fermentation, must not exceed eighteen per cent of the whole; (3) the addition must be made during the process of fermentation.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Instructions for Making an American Wine Cask, 1866

A mid-19th century American wine cask
Excerpted from "The Cultivation of The Native Grape, and Manufacture of American Wines", by George Husmann, 1866.
 
These should be made of well-seasoned white oak staves, and can, of course, be of various sizes to meet the wants of the vintner. The best and most convenient size for cellar use I have found to be about 500 gallons. These are sufficiently large to develop the wine fully, and yet can be filled quick enough to not interrupt fermentation. Of course, the vintner must have some of all sizes, even down to the five-gallon keg; but for keeping wine, a cask of 500 gallons takes less room comparatively, and the wine will attain a higher degree of perfection than in smaller casks. The staves to make such a cask should be about 5 feet long, and 1½ to 2 inches thick, and be the very best wood to be had.

The cask will, when ready, be about as high as it is long, should be carefully worked and planed inside, to facilitate washing and have a so-called door on one end, 12 inches wide and 18 inches high, which is fastened by means of an iron bolt and screw, and a strong bar of wood. This is to facilitate cleaning; when a cask is empty, the door is taken out, and a man slips into the cask with a broom and brush, and carefully washes off all remnants of lees, etc., which, as the lees of the wine are very slimy and tenacious, cannot be removed by merely pouring in water and shaking it about. It is also much more convenient to let these large casks remain in their places, than to move them about. The casks are bound with strong iron hoops.

To prepare the new casks, and also the vats, etc., for the reception of the must, they should be either filled with pure water, and allowed to soak for several days, to draw out the tannin; then emptied, scalded with hot water, and afterwards steamed with, say two or three gallons of boiling wine; or they can be made "wine-green," by putting in about half a bushel of unslaked lime, and pouring in about the same quantity of hot water. After the lime has fallen apart, add about two quarts of water to each pound of lime, put in the bung, and turn the cask about; leaving it lie sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other, so that the lime will come in contact with every part of the cask. Then pour out the lime-water; wash once or twice with warm water, and rinse with a decoction of vine leaves, or with warm wine. Then rinse once more with cold water, and it will be fully prepared to receive the must. This is also to be observed with old casks, which have become, by neglect or otherwise, mouldy, or have a peculiar tang.

The casks are then filled with the must; either completely, if it is intended that the must should ferment above, as it is called, or under, when the cask is not completely filled, so that the husks, which the must will throw up, will remain in the cask. Both methods have their advantages, but I prefer the former, with a very simple contrivance, to exclude the air, and also prevent waste. This is a siphon or tin tube, bent in the form of a double elbow, of which one end fits tightly in the bung hole, and the other empties into a dish of water, to be set on one end of the cask, through which the gas escapes.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Champagne Region During World War I (1914-1918)

Epernay during WWI
Excerpted from "The Champagne Vine Country and Champagne Wine", 1920, by Georges Chappaz and Alexandre Henriot. 
 
Throughout the war the Champagne region was the scene of a tragic but glorious struggle. It was in front of the Reims mountain that the German front was immobilized from 1914 to 1918, and along the slopes of this same mountain, at the foot of the hills of the Marne, and in the neighbonrhood ,of Epernay, that the last German offensive in July 1918 was broken. The vineyards naturally suffered severe damage.

Trenches furrowed the vines, and shells uprooted them; peasants saw their houses and furniture destroyed by fire, and many lives were lost. But their activity never failed and in spite of shells and aeroplanes they kept on with their work as far as possible until 1918.

As soon as the enemy was gone, in October 1918, they camped out in their ruined villages, started to put the vineyards in order, and cultivated such vines as had been spared. So it was that as early as 1920 an excellent vintage was gathered amounting to nearly 7,000,000 gallons.

The merchants too suffered severely: from 1914 to 1918 the Germans were at the very gates of Reims, and bombarded the city every day, often with gas and incendiary shells. All of the houses in Reims were more or less destroyed, and many of those in Epernay suffered the same fate. Fortunately not a single shell, however big, was sufficiently powerful to break through into the cellars, which are deep and well built, and the stocks of wine were not damaged.

Like the peasants, the champagne merchants showed great pertinacity and never ceased working except from April to November 1918, when all civilians had to be sent away.

Immediately after the armistice, the merchants and their men got to work again in temporary buildings hastily thrown together over the cellars, and by 1920 work was again in full swing.




Monday, September 30, 2013

The Great Champagne District, 1920

Map of Champagne District
1920


Excerpted from "The Champagne Vine Country and Champagne Wine", 1920, by Georges Chappaz and Alexandre Henriot. This is a somewhat simplistic but still pleasant introduction to the towns within that famous region of France, and to the basic grape varieties grown there. 

Here's a link to the original document at archive.org.

The best part of the Champagne vine-country lies some hundred miles to the east of Paris, in the districts of Reims, Epernay and Chalons.

The vines grow on slopes, of which the northern boundary is the Reims mountain and the southern limit is the Brie country. The river Marne, celebrated by its victories, forms the central valley.

Magnificent forests crown these slopes, and the undulating vineyards with their woodland background afford many picturesque features, with extensive views over ,he surrounding country.

The peculiar character of the soil is one of the chief causes of the remarkable quality of the wine.

The trade in Champagne wines is an extremely ancient one; its principal centres are Reims, Epernay and Ay, but Chalons-sur-Marne and other place such as Mareuil, Avize and Vertus, are also the homes of well known firms.

The whole region of the vineyards is well worth a visit, and the roads are excellent for motoring. Several railway lines running between Paris and Reims, Paris-Epernay-Chalons, and Epernay-Ay-Reims, make it possible to travel from Paris and back the same day.

On the slopes of the Mountain of Reims lie the leading first growths of Verzenay, Verzy and Mailly, to the west of which are many secondary growths of great value. Between the Mountain and the Marne valley are Bouzy and Ambonnay, also leading first growths.

Ay, with the neighbouring villages of Mareuil, Dizy, Hautvillers and Cumieres, is the centre of the Marne valley district.

To the south of the River lies the "Cote des Blancs ", where white grapes are grown. Cramant and Avize are perhaps the best parts of this region, with Oger and Le Mesnil. Further south are the slopes of Vertus, where black grapes reappear.

Champagne with its pale golden tint, is made, contrary to what might be supposed, mostly from black grapes. On the mountain and in the Valley of the Marne, as well as at Vertus, the vine is the" black Pinot" together with the "Pinot Meunier" also a black grape. On the Cote des BIancs the "White Pinot Chardonnay" only is grown.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Wines of Australia, 1883

This is a personal account of the wines of 19-century Australia,  excerpted from "Town Life in Australia" R. E. N. (Richard) Twopeny, 1883. It is interesting for the comparison to European wines of the time.
 
I have not seen burgundy half a dozen times since I have been here. The old colonist finds claret thin and sour; but the younger generation are beginning to take to it, although there is no wine harder to obtain here than claret. Nine-tenths of what one buys is adulterated. His knowledge of crûs being naturally limited, the colonist likes to see on his wine a fine label, one which makes the quality of the wine easily comprehensible to him. Thus the most successful claret sold here is divided according to degrees of nastiness into five ranks, and you ask for So-and-So's No. 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, irrespective of vintage or year. 'Bon ordinaire' is of course unobtainable, but you can get 'Chateau Margaux,' duty paid, at from 40s. to 50s. a dozen. I was once asked to buy some wine bearing that label for 2s. 6d. a bottle. The names of one or two well-known wines having reached your host's ears, he likes to show you by the name on the label that he is giving them to you; and, unfortunately, Margaux and Lafitte labels cost no more than any other.

A good deal of sherry and port--even more brandied than for the English market--is drunk. A wealthy man will never give you colonial wine, not because it is necessarily worse than the imported stuff on his table, but because it is colonial. Amongst the middle classes it is beginning to find favour. A great deal of extravagant praise has been lavished in the press on these wines since the Bordeaux Exhibition, and I fear that many who taste them for the first time will be disappointed. They are too heady, and for the most part wanting in bouquet, whilst their distinctive character repels the palate, which is accustomed to European growths. But for all that, I cannot understand how men with only moderate means living out here can pay large prices for very inferior imported wines, when a good sound, palatable wine is obtainable at from 15s. to 25s. a dozen. At the latter price a Sauvignon approaching to claret, grown close to Melbourne, is obtainable, which is really excellent; and the white hermitage from the same district, as well as from the Hunter River district in New South Wales, at 15s. a dozen, is also as good as one can wish, short of a grand vin, although in none of these wines do you entirely lose the goût du terroir, a peculiar earthy taste resulting from the strength of the soil. The cheapest wholesome wine I have ever drunk off the Continent is a thin vin ordinaire, smelling like piquette, which is sold at a certain rather low-looking shop in Melbourne. It is quite palatable, and when heavily watered I can vouch for its wholesomeness.

The lightest of these wines contain about 18 degrees of spirit, whereas, as you know, an 'ordinaire' has only about 8, and a burgundy not more than 11 or 12. But the native wines which are generally preferred by the colonists themselves are the South Australian. In spite of a duty of 10s. a dozen, large quantities of Adelaide wine are drunk in Melbourne. Its chief characteristics are sweetness and heaviness. It may seem to you incredible, but I have drunk a wine made from the Verdeilho grape, and, grown near Adelaide by a Mr. C. Bonney, which contained no less than 36 degrees of natural spirit, without a drop added: 32 and 33 degrees are quite common, and the average percentage in South Australian wine is about 28.

In most cases the wines are named after the grape from which they are made, though sometimes the less sensible course of calling the wine 'claret,' 'sherry,' or 'port,' is adopted. I say less sensible, because all colonial wines have a peculiar flavour, which makes it difficult to mistake them for the wines they profess to imitate. The Carbinet-Sauvignon grape, which I believe is the principal one used in the Bordeaux district, produces here a wine something like what you get on the Rhone. The Riesling, a Rhineland grape, resembles a brandied hock; it makes one of the best wines, and is often very palatable. The red and white Hermitage grapes do best of all. The Muscatel makes a delicious sweet wine in Adelaide, but it is very heady. I have no doubt that in the course of time, and when more scientific methods are pursued, South Australia will produce excellent ports and sherries, as well as Constantias, Malagas, and madeira, but I fear it will not be within the present generation. Claret, I understand from experts, will never be produced, but hermitages and wines of that type will be made in the course of ten or twenty years which will be able to compete in the European markets; long before this they should become useful for blending with French and Spanish wines.

As a rule the wine is already sound and wholesome; and if one comes to think of it, taste is a purely arbitrary matter. One forms one's taste according to a certain standard to which one is accustomed. To a man accustomed to colonial wines, clarets and hocks seem thin and sour. One great difficulty which militates against the reputation of Australian wine, is that of the untrustworthiness of all but a few brands. Of course all vintages from the same grapes differ, but there is a margin of difference beyond which a wine may not go, and with many an Australian vigneron this margin is frequently passed, owing to carelessness or inexperience in manufacture. Another drawback is the difficulty of procuring all but the most immature wine. Nearly the whole of each vintage is drunk within twelve months after it is made.

That Australian wines will ever compete with the famous French crûs I should very much doubt, but that they will in the course of the next twenty years gradually supersede with advantage a great deal of the manufactured stuff now drunk in England is more than probable. At present the prices are too high for Australian wines to find any large market at home. Although it is of course an exceptional case, there is an Adelaide madeira which fetches as much as 63s. per dozen within two miles of the vineyard. Nothing now obtainable in Australia under 15s. a dozen would be worth sending home, and by the time freight and duty is added to that, the London price would be considerable.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Wines of Maderia, 1834

From "A Voyage Round the World, Vol. I", by James Holman, 1834.

The wines of Madeira generally may be divided into three denominations, and may be thus described.

Tinto is a red wine, the produce of the Burgundy grape, transplanted to Madeira. It is drank in perfection in the second and third years, before it has deposited its extractive matter, after which it becomes a full bodied Madeira wine, of the usual colour and flavour.
 
Sercial is the produce of the Hock grape: a pale, lively, and very high-flavoured wine. It ought not to be drank in less than seven years, and it requires a much greater age to reach perfection.
 
Malmsey, when genuine, is a rich and highly cordial wine. There is a variety of it called green Malmsey, bearing some resemblance to Frontignan.

The first quality of the Madeira wine is certainly equal to the finest production of the grape in any part of the world, for its aromatic flavour and beneficial effects: therefore it is much to be lamented that so small a quantity of it, in its pure state, should find its way to foreign markets: and that its character should be sacrificed to the sordid speculations of any unprincipled traders. Wine drinkers in England are very commonly deceived into the idea that a voyage to the East or West Indies is sufficient to ensure the excellence of the wine; but this is an obvious fallacy, for if the wine were not of a good quality when shipped from the island, a thousand voyages could not make it what it never had been. It is well known to every merchant in Madeira, that a great proportion of the wines so shipped are of an inferior quality, and are purchased in barter by persons who are commonly known by the name of truckers.

I may here observe, as a general remark, that fine Madeira wines are equally improved by the extremes of heat and cold, and that damp is always hurtful to them.

Burgundy vines have lately been introduced into Madeira. The generally received opinion that the wines of Teneriffe and the Azores are brought here for the purpose of giving them the Madeira flavour, and sending them to foreign markets as the produce of the island, is very erroneous. Although smuggling is openly carried on, and to an extent that ought to set at rest so fallacious an opinion, any one acquainted with this island must be aware of the utter impossibility of introducing foreign wines with a view to exporting them again as native produce; for, in the first place, the whole of the inhabitants would be likely to resist such an attempt, from a conviction that the introduction would militate against their own interests, and from the obvious apprehension that the increased quantity as well as the inferior quality of the adulterated wines, would injure the character and reduce the price of their own.

The great increase too, which it would occasion in the amount sent out of the island, would render it very difficult for the speculators in the spurious wines, to avoid detection. It is, therefore, much more reasonable to suppose, that these mixtures take place in the markets to which the wines are sent: the great demand for them tempting the persons engaged in the traffic, to embark in an imposition which has had the effect of deteriorating the wines so materially, that at last they began to lose their previous character, to get out of fashion, and, consequently, to fall off in demand as well as in price. This system of intermixing different wines, to swell the quantity of some favourite wine, is known to prevail to a great extent in those of France and Portugal. The Clarets of the London market, are principally prepared for the purpose, and, in the transit, lose much of the pure nature of the original production: and the quantity of adulterated Port that is sold in England is almost incredible. It is also a well known fact, that there is more Tokay sold on the Continent and in England, in one year, than the limited space where it is grown, on the mountains of Hungary, could produce in twenty years.

But there is also, independently of this vitiation to which the wines are liable, another cause for the inferior quality of those wines which are really the produce of the islands. A few Englishmen, and other foreigners, of a grade very different from that of the respectable English merchants who have been long established here, hit upon the expedient of exporting wines instead of attending to the business which they had originally established on the island. They thought it would turn out profitable to buy up cheap, and, of course, inferior wines, for the purpose of sending them to the European markets, under the impression that any thing would sell that was known to be the genuine production of Madeira. By this method of enlarging their business, the worst description of the native produce got abroad, and was substituted in place of the best. There are, of course, a great variety of qualities; but there is not a greater quantity of the first quality than is required to flavour their inferior wines; and it is only by appropriating it to that purpose, that they could be enabled to furnish a sufficient quantity for the immense demand in the various markets which they have to supply.