June 2014 

The Chicago Tribune’s wine columnist, Bill St. John, calls Madeira “the Doctor Who of wine. With it, in it, through it, you will travel through time as with no other wine.”

In today’s column, St. John takes us back more than two centuries to the time when Madeira was the King of Wines in America and was used to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence “at the insistence of its author, Thomas Jefferson, a grand fancier of Madeira.”

St. John rounds out his visit to 18th century America by quoting from our new edition of Noel Cossart’s Madeira The Island Vineyard: “George Washington was purported to drink a pint at dinner daily; Betsy Ross sewing her flag and Francis Scott Key composing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ sipped while they tasked.”

He continues: “Cossart relates how a far more delicious riot than that later wet by tea occurred in Boston Harbor in 1768 when John Hancock's sloop, Liberty, laden with Madeira wine, was disallowed from offloading its cargo. The harbor commissioners had trumped up a new tax—this would be called poor timing—and the public, looking to be deprived of their beloved Madeira, took matters, and their Madeira, into their own hands and mugs.”

St. John concludes his Independence Day tribute to Madeira by reviewing a few Madeiras available in the Chicago market, including three Rare Wine Co. stalwarts:

The Rare Wine Co. Historic Series Baltimore Rainwater 
Once the most popular style of Madeira in the U.S., rainwater must have been what Old George tippled as his daily pint: light-bodied, slightly nutty, spryly refreshing (terrific acidity) and can take a chill. It is a session” Madeira and it goes down good. While a one-off because of the style, Rare Wine Co.’s version has serious nuance, length, and persistence, and is worth its charge for that complexity alone.

The Rare Wine Co. Historic Series Thomas Jefferson Special Reserve
This is a remarkable wine, a Madeira of ever-unfolding complexity, nuance, invitation,and depth. It honors Jefferson’s own blend, a taste he preferred and invented for himself: one-tenth superfine old sweet Malmsey to nine-tenths drier Madeira such as verdelho, as he wrote, a dry wine dashed with a little sweetness, barely sensible to the palate.” Because Rare Wine Co. has at its disposal stocks of very old refined Madeira, it can create blends of this fashion. What stands out for me: scents of chalk, wet stone, cellar pavement overlying the dark chocolate and toffee pudding base notes; the orange threading in the dark tawny coloring; a flick of sugar and—snap!—the squeegee of Madeira’s acidity to swipe it away.

1988 D’Oliveira Terrantez Reserva
Like liquid fruitcake, that is, a combination of the aromas and savors of dried candied fruits, brown baking spices, nuts (walnuts especially) and of the cake that the English call sticky toffee pudding; the color of Grade A amber maple syrup, with the same gold-orange edge; soft and creamy texture, clipped shut by acidity just like a squeeze of lime. 

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