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.

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