Wine As History, Not Just Industry

It’s by far the best wine story of the day. Christie’s, in advance of an important December auction, describes the discovery and character of a historic cache of old Madeira found in New Jersey’s Liberty Hall Museum at Keen University back in 2016.

Three cases of 1796 bottles and 40 demijohns from 1822 were uncovered during a restoration of the Museum’s old wine cellar. Apparently, it was known that old wines were buried in the cellar, but no one knew what they had until they pulled back plywood.

Christie’s will be auctioning a selection of these Madeiras at its December 7 auction in New York. They will undoubtedly draw considerable interest. But are they still drinkable?

“From demijohn number one on we were just flabbergasted by the quality of the wines. I was honestly expecting a few small disappointments, but I was overwhelmed by their quality,” according to Edwin Vos, Christie’s Head of wine.

American, Mysterious, Historical

The beauty of this story is that it’s not political nor hyperbolic. It’s not sensational nor polarizing. Rather, the story of the uncovering of a stash of old Madeira is uniquely American in character, mysterious, historical and revealing. In the 18th century, long before any serious wine was made in America and when this continent was much more distant from the old country, Madeira was America’s wine; Madeira was the choice of the connoisseur class—of those who could both afford and identify quality. Most important, Madeira was then as it is now a wine of great longevity. Finally, this particular discovery is unlike most other discovery of historic artifacts: It can be consumed with pleasure.

Wine stories that tend to make it into the mainstream media and into the consciousness of the broader American public tend to be tales of cheating, snobbery, excess and caution. And here’s another reason I love this story—it puts our product in a different light, a historic light that helps reveal our past in a legitimate way.

Go read this story that Christie’s has posted in advance of its auction of these Madeiras. It will rekindle your faith in wine being more than just a commodity or symbol of excess.


Posted In: Culture and Wine


One Response

  1. Helene - October 11, 2018

    Hmmm…old Madeira. ‘Take a chance on me!’ Old Madeiras don’t die; they simply fade a wee bit.

    I grew up drinking Madeira because it was in grandfather’s cellar and they never went off. Surprisingly, perhaps, no TCA or other anisole taint either. Was the quality of corks better then?

    We were lucky enough to acquire a couple of bottles of 1852 Terrantes Madeira (Who knows who made it?) years ago, so we opened them for our son’s (2009) and daughter’s (2011) 21st birthday suppers. Delicious, especially with my signature chocolate mousse.

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