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.
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.
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
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.
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