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.
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 bestvarieties 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 butwhether 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 ofGermans 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