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In the 18th and early 19th centuries, Madeira was the United States’ most coveted wine.

Every public event—from the signing of the Declaration of Independence to George Washington’s Inauguration—was toasted with a glass of Madeira. For more than 150 years, no other wine rivaled it in the eyes of connoisseurs.

But after the Civil War, Madeira wine drifted into obscurity, the victim of a series of natural, political and economic calamities. It was not until the dawn of the 21st century that America once again embraced this enigmatic wine, helped in no small part by The Rare Wine Co.’s creation of its Historic Series.

The Idea

The goal of these remarkable wines was to introduce a new generation of American wine lovers not only to our shared history with Madeira, but to the wine’s magical quality: its astonishing bouquet, its glorious richness and balance, and its versatility as an aperitif, dessert wine and food wine.

With this in mind, in 1998 we began working with Vinhos Barbeitos owner, Ricardo Freitas, to create a series of Madeiras reflecting the style and complexity that enchanted our forefathers. The Rare Wine Co. had long been known as America’s pre-eminent source of Vintage Madeiras from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries; yet, Ricardo was perfectly positioned to help us. He, too, possessed a remarkable library of old Madeira, but he also had a unique understanding of the qualities we sought. And, for the project, he could contribute wines ranging in age from ten to sixty years, allowing us to produce superbly complex, aged Madeiras at affordable prices.

The Cities

To emphasize America’s deep historical connection to Madeira, each wine in the series is named for a U.S. city where Madeira was popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. Thus, Charleston Sercial and Savannah Verdelho celebrate the South’s love of drier Madeiras, while Boston Bual and New York Malmsey acknowledge the North’s appreciation of sweeter Madeiras.

Each bottle bears an early engraving from that city, along with a back label describing the wine and America’s special link to Madeira’s illustrious history.

The Wines

How remarkable are these wines? They have been instrumental in rekindling interest in Madeira in the United States ... after more than a century of neglect. Each wine offers profound complexity, crisp acidity and marvelous richness on the palate. Below, please find links a detailed description of each Historic Series Madeira:

Storing and Serving

Among the many virtues of Madeira is that it is not subject to temperature variations, so that it can be stored just about anywhere in the home. It also keeps for months, if not years, after opening. Just put a cork or stopper in the bottle, and store it in your wine cellar or even a kitchen cabinet.

Madeira is best served at a cool room temperature in a small to medium-sized glass, ideally with a tall, or tulip-shaped, bowl.


Charleston Sercial

“Like a salted caramel without its sugar.” Alice Feiring

This is the driest wine in the series and a wine that has been served throughout meals in America for nearly 300 years. Chef Mario Batali won over 1000+ guests at the 2009 New York Wine Experience by boldly pairing Charleston Sercial with a wild boar dish of Wolfgang Puck’s creation.

Just two weeks later, in the Wall Street Journal, Alice Feiring picked the same Madeira as a wine of choice for chestnut soup, noting that it “is like a salted caramel without its sugar.”

But Mario and Alice were not the first to discover Charleston Sercials charms. In 2005, Grant Achatz, whom many believe is Americas most inventive chef, attracted national press for his cutting-edge pairings of Charleston Sercial with dishes at Alinea in Chicago. 

Josh Raynolds, International Wine Cellar 92 rating


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NV Rare Wine Co. Historic Series Charleston Sercial Madeira JG94
JR92
12+ $49.95 add

Savannah Verdelho

“A mouth-filling personality, with a luscious texture and a salt-sea aroma.” Elin McCoy, Bloomberg

Released in April 2010, Savannah Verdelho is simply incredible, its bouquet exuding orange zest and buttery shortbread with hints of ginger, milk chocolate, and almonds. Lightly sweet with zesty acidity to keep it fresh, the palate reveals notes of candied citrus, ginger, and spicy honey. The finish sharpens all of the above into a refreshing and palate-cleansing blend of spiciness and citrus sweetness. 


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NV Rare Wine Co. Historic Series Savannah Verdelho Madeira WA93
JR93
12+ $49.95 add

Boston Bual

“A spectacular aroma of dark sugar and orange...” Frank Prial, The New York Times

Sweeter than either Charleston Sercial or Savannah Verdelho, Boston Bual still boasts incredible balance and refreshing acidity. The hallmark of this wine is its otherworldly complexity, featuring cinnamon-clove spiciness with overtones of citrus peel and woodsmoke. There is just enough sweetness to excel as an after-dinner wine, but its long, dry finish also makes it work beautifully with food.

Port and Madeira expert Roy Hersh has written that Boston Bual “emulates some of the finest qualities of vintage Madeira ... exhibiting a light amber-tawny color and a nose of dried figs, walnuts, maple syrup, mahogany and a sense of bouillon cube; the mélange of fragrances is complex and compelling. Medium in weight initially, it develops greater heft after a few days open, with a rich and sumptuous mouthfeel.”


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NV Rare Wine Co. Historic Series Boston Bual Madeira JR92
JG92+
12+ $49.95 add

New York Malmsey

“Incredibly rich, with dark fruitcake flavors and dry spice that balances its sweetness...” Food & Wine Magazine

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NV Rare Wine Co. Historic Series New York Malmsey Madeira JR92
JG92
12+ $49.95 add

Baltimore Rainwater

Madeira was once the most prestigious wine in America. And the most prestigious style of Madeira was Rainwater.

Rainwater took its name from its pale color and delicate texture and flavor. Yet, the origins of the style are shrouded in mystery. Some attributed it to a Savannah wine merchant after the Civil War, but that cannot be, as Rainwaters existed at least a half century earlier. Others said Rainwaters were a freak of nature. Noel Cossart credited his own firm with creating Rainwater in the 1700s, after a barrel of wine was left on a beach.

Rainwater Madeira reached the pinnacle of prestige in Baltimore. In 1902, that city’s greatest Madeira connoisseur, Douglas H. Thomas, called Rainwater the highest standard. And the absence of Rainwaters in a 1900 New York auction prompted one merchant to speculate that Baltimore connoisseurs thought so highly of them that they bought them all up and none reached New York.

Unfortunately, in the 20th century the name “Rainwater” became bastardized—used to label inexpensive Madeiras that were too sweet and too soft to have anything in common with the great Rainwaters of the past.

I have long wanted to remind America of Rainwater’s pedigree by making a classic example. And from contemporary descriptions, I had a fairly good idea of what it should taste like. But I hoped to find an actual model for my wine. I finally found it in 2008, when I purchased a few bottles of a very rare Rainwater imported into New York City by Robert Benson in the 1820s. Because the wine was put into glass soon after its arrival in the U.S., its taste was essentially frozen in time, giving us a very good idea of what Rainwaters tasted like in the 19th century. I shared samples of this wine with Barbeito winemaker Ricardo Freitas and asked him to model our Baltimore Rainwater on it.

Ricardo started with a base wine that was 80% Verdelho, made up of two lots ranging in age from 8 to 13 years. Young Verdelho was a perfect starting point, not only because of its delicacy and minimal sweetness, but because Verdelho would have been the most common component in the early Rainwaters.

For a greater sense of age and also a bit more body, but without increasing the wine’s sweetness, Ricardo added two different lots of old Tinta Negra Mole. Prior to entering the Baltimore Rainwater blend, each of the components was aged (like all of our wines) by the time-honored Canteiro method.

Baltimore Rainwater is very possibly the first Madeira made along the lines of a classic, 19th century Rainwater in at least a half century. Hopefully it will mark a return to Rainwater as it should be: a Madeira of ethereal body, great finesse, delicate flavors and just a touch of sweetness.


Description Notes Avail/
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NV Rare Wine Co. Historic Series Baltimore Rainwater Madeira JG93
WA91
12+ $49.95 add

New Orleans Tricentennial

2018 marked the 300th anniversary of New Orleans' founding. And as lovers of the Crescent City, we joined in the celebration by releasing a highly limited New Orleans Tricentennial Reserve Madeira, made for us by Ricardo Freitas.

The wine made its inaugural appearance at New Orleans' most venerable Creole restaurant, Antoine’s, founded in 1840. The occasion was an RWC-hosted fundraising dinner for the city’s Southern Food & Beverage Museum.

The Tricentennial Reserve is fabulous, recalling our first New Orleans Madeira, made in 2006 to benefit in New Orleans’ recovery after Hurricane Katrina. But while that legendary Madeira was based on the rare Terrantez grape, the New Orleans Tricentennial Reserve is based on the even rarer Bastardo grape.

Like its 2006 predecessor, the Tricentennial Reserve is a relatively dry Madeira, electric in its acidity, and miraculous in its length. It more than held its own at Antoine’s, despite sharing the table with Madeiras from 1864, 1871, 1885 and 1898.

New Orleans' Madeira Legacy

Originally a French colony, the city became part of Spain in 1763. It was not until December 20, 1803, that the city became part of the United States, through the Louisiana Purchase. The transfer of the territory was celebrated at a dinner at the Cabildo in New Orleans.

As was the custom at that time, each of the nations involved in the sale—Spain, France and the U.S.—was honored with a toast of their wine. While France and Spain were toasted with Champagne and Malaga, respectively, the United States was toasted with Madeira.

As New Orleans became Americanized, Madeira rapidly took hold of the city’s wine passions. By the 1840s, the wine list at the city’s premier hotel, the St. Charles, was dominated by more than 30 prestigious Madeiras. New Orleans’ love affair with Madeira remained strong until the Civil War when, as elsewhere in the south, the flame was gradually extinguished.

This vibrantly tangy, deeply flavored and relatively dry Tricentennial Reserve bottling recalls the Madeiras that were enjoyed in Antebellum New Orleans. It is a wonderful aperitif and is a versatile companion to soups, cheeses and many other foods.

George Washington

“If it were in our choice, for him the rich Madeira should flow in copious streams.” James Madison of General George Washington, 1780

Everyone who’s seen the musical “Hamilton” knows not only of the Founders’ genius, but also their imperfections. Alexander Hamilton comes across as brilliant, but profoundly flawed, while his killer, Aaron Burr, appears as a conniving self-promoter. But there is one figure who emerges as unerringly heroic: George Washington.

As General and President, Washington sacrificed much both to press the cause of independence and to hold together the country he’d help create. And though he was no longer President when he died in 1799, many wondered if America could survive without him.

Over the past decade, The Rare Wine Co. has created a number of Madeiras honoring the nation’s Founders, from Ben Franklin and Richard Henry Lee to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. But the most worthy honoree is Washington, whose Historic Series Madeira appeared for the first time in 2016.

Devoted to Madeira

Made in collaboration with Mount Vernon, this wine celebrates not only The Father of Our Country but also Washington’s love of Madeira, which emerged in the 1750s and continued until his death. In 1798, just a year before Washington died, a visitor to Mount Vernon reported that the former President “loves to chat after dinner with a glass of Madeira in his hand.”

The Rare Wine Co. is indebted to both Barbeito’s Ricardo Freitas, who makes all of the Historic Series wines, and Aaron Nix-Gomez (the wine historian who writes hogsheadwine.com), who sifted through Washington’s Madeira correspondence to learn what he most liked to drink. Based on what Aaron found, we’ve concluded that Washington favored “rich” Madeira, which in the parlance of the time meant sweet.

For each release, Ricardo pulls out the stops to craft a Madeira of elegance to honor Washington. The blends consist not only of wines ranging from 10 to 20 years old, but also very old wines to give them depth. But the balance was even more extraordinary, consisting of some very old wines.

In terms of sweetness, the style of George Washington Special Reserve is that of a Bual, but with the superb acidity characteristic of very old Madeira.

Thomas Jefferson

The Rare Wine Co. honors America’s earliest wine connoisseur with a Madeira worthy of his passion.

As an American, Thomas Jefferson had no peer in his appreciation of French wines.

But that seed wasn’t planted until he was in his forties, by which time he’d been passionate about Madeira for at least 20 years.

Born in 1743, Jefferson came of age at a time when Madeira was the king of wine in America—always present on affluent tables and ready to toast important events.

For years, we’ve wanted to honor Jefferson’s love of Madeira with a commemorative bottling as part of our Historic Series. And in 2012, The Thomas Jefferson Foundation and Monticello agreed to collaborate with us on this project.

After more than a year’s work—perfecting the blend and producing the wine—we launched it with a tasting and lecture at Monticello on October 9, 2013.

Joining us was Ricardo Freitas, who’d masterfully blended the wine, and Monticello’s resident wine historian, Gabriele Rausse.

The wine itself is a spectacular fusion of elegance and depth, and youth and antiquity. The oldest component in the blend is more than 80 years old, a fact that Jefferson would undoubtedly have appreciated.

A Refined Choice

Like others of his time, Jefferson had his own Madeira preferences. While a student, he fell in love with a “recipe” for a particularly elegant Madeira he’d learned from the wife of his law school mentor.

That recipe called for a blend of one-tenth “superfine Malmsey” with nine-tenths dry Madeira. Jefferson never lost his taste for what he came to call “silky Madeira.”

Decades later, he defined “silky” wines as having the taste of “dry wine dashed with a little sweetness, barely sensible to the palate: the silky Madeira we sometimes get in this country is made so by putting a small quantity of Malmsey into the dry Madeira.”

A Toast to TJ

Americans consider any article owned by Thomas Jefferson to be nearly sacred, and this extends to wine.

But since Jefferson’s death in 1826, only a few “Jefferson” Madeiras are known to have surfaced, always bringing high prices at auction.

The earliest sighting of a Madeira supposedly owned by Jefferson belonged to an Alexandria, VA, tavern owner John Gadsby. These were auctioned in 1839, and then subsequently in 1843 and 1845.

In 1852, a demijohn of Thomas Jefferson-owned Madeira was among the prized lots in the famous Josiah Lee sale in Baltimore. These were purchased by the descendants of the Revolutionary hero John Eager Howard and remained in that family for at least another four decades.

And finally, there’s the 1800 “Jefferson” Madeira acquired by the great Baltimore connoisseur Douglas H. Thomas in 1890. In 1896, Thomas gifted a bottle to President Grover Cleveland, as thanks for having “perpetuated Jeffersonian democracy.”

For all of these Madeiras, actual ties to Thomas Jefferson are as yet unproven. But Aaron Nix-Gomez is doing the best original research we’ve seen on Jefferson and Madeira. Look for an in-depth article soon on his blog, hogsheadwine.com. Our thanks to Aaron for his help with our own research.

Our Thomas Jefferson Special Reserve captures the spirit of this elegant style. The blend is sheer genius, with the 10% of Malmsey represented by a Favilla Vieira Malvasia believed to be at least 80 years old. For the first release, fewer than 100 cases were made, of which about one-third were set aside for Monticello.

Passionate Connoisseur

As President, Jefferson ordered (in barrel) the equivalent of more than 3500 bottles of Madeira for the White House cellar over the first three years of his presidency.

These were supplied by Thomas Newton of Norfolk, Virginia. Newton recommended them to Jefferson as “Brasil Quality ... superior to any other.”

Jefferson loved the Brasil Madeira, reordering it on a regular basis. But on one occasion Newton was able to supply only “good” rather than “superior” quality as the latter was already spoken for.

So, Jefferson took Newton up on his offer of a yearly allocation of the “superior” shipped directly from the island. And when in France in the 1780s—as the American minister—Jefferson asked that his Madeira be shipped via the U.S. rather than risk getting Madeira of questionable quality on the Continent.

Jefferson was not only the foremost American wine enthusiast of his time, he was also its savviest.

The Thomas Jefferson Special Reserve is a fitting tribute to a towering American, both as statesman and wine connoisseur. We are pleased and honored to be able to offer it.


Mr. Madison's Madeira

RWC Honored our Fourth President on the 200th Anniversary of the British Burning of the American Capitol

This, the sweetest wine of the Series, finished in the ‘Top 100 wines of 2006’ in The Wine Enthusiast’s end-of-year wrote that it “unfolds slowly in the glass, gradually revealing layers of depth and flavor. Coffee, toffee and date notes emerge, followed by earthy, almost truffley flavors. Powerful and assertive on the long finish.”

New York Malmsey demonstrates why Madeira can be one of the planet’s greatest dessert wines. It marries with an astonishing number of desserts, its kaleidoscopic flavors bonding with chocolate, nuts, citrus and dark fruits. But it can also be served during the meal, with foie gras, sweetbreads and almost any dish that has a rich, sweet sauce.

Josh Raynolds, International Wine Cellar 92 rating

Two hundred years ago this year, towards the end of the War of 1812, British troops burned the U.S. Capitol, as well as the President’s House, then occupied by President James Madison.

The afternoon of August 24, 1814, the President’s table had been set for the afternoon meal, with a cooler of Madison’s best Madeira. On his website, hogsheadwine.com, Aaron Nix-Gomez recounts that day:

“After setting fire to the Capitol (the British troops) marched down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the White House or President’s House as it was known then. The last guards of the President’s House fled just minutes before the British arrived. The British entered the house without resistance to find the President’s dining room table set for a meal with a ‘large store of super-excellent Madeira and other costly wines’ cooling on ice.

“It was evening and the men were surely tired and hungry. One officer found that ‘never was nectar more grateful to the palates of the gods, than the crystal goblet of Madeira and water.’ After being satisfied by the wines the British forces set the President’s House on fire. The house burned to a shell ...”

“Between consumption and the burning of the wine cellar only one demijohn of ‘pure wine’ is known to have survived that night. News of the loss reached James Leander Cathcart, an American consul in Madeira who shipped wine to James Madison. Upon returning to Washington, DC, James Leander Cathcart brought a fresh supply of wine ‘upon a supposition that your stock was burn’t by the Goths.’”

Mr. Madison’s Madeira

Earlier this year, with the event’s 200th anniversary approaching, we collaborated with Montpelier, Madison’s home, to recreate a Madeira that might have been on the President’s table that day.

Mr. Madison’s Madeira joins other Rare Wine Co. bottlings named for our Founding Fathers—including wines dedicated to Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and the Lee Family of Virginia. All have been made in support of not-for-profit foundations that preserve the honorees’ legacies.

Only 450 liters of Mr. Madison’s Madeira were produced, most of which was earmarked for Montpelier and commemorative events held this fall. But we were sure to set aside a few cases for our own clients.

The Wine’s Model

Madison had been devoted to Madeira since his youth in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, and he stocked the Presidential cellar with the finest vintages. He drank Bordeaux and other French wines, but he remained devoted to Madeira as a central part of his life. 

He ordered the finest Madeiras to his specifications and then aged them in casks for no less than five years. This was followed by further aging in bottle in a warm place, such as his attic at Montpelier.

In early 1809, Madison purchased a barrel of seven year-old Malmsey from the U.S. Consul Cathcart.

“Mr. Madison’s Madeira” recreates that wine in grape variety, age and taste. It is primarily 2006 Malmsey, with a small amount of very old Tinta Negra to replicate the effects of the ocean voyage to America. To add a further touch of authenticity, each bottle is sealed with wax and a recreation of an original James Madison bottle seal.

As with all of the Madeiras in our Historic Series, this wine was blended for us by Ricardo Freitas, and produced by Vinhos Barbeito, from selected stocks of wine aged by the time-honored canteiro method.

Our thanks to Montpelier and to Aaron Nix-Gomez for their assistance in this project. You can learn more about James Madison at www.montpelier.org.


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Benjamin Franklin

A Fabulous Madeira Honoring Franklin

None of the Founding Fathers had a more lasting influence on America than Benjamin Franklin.

Largely unschooled, he became one of the 18th century’s towering figures, as printer and journalist; philosopher, scientist and inventor; public servant and diplomat, and leader of the American Revolution. And like other Americans of his time, he loved Madeira.

Last year, in conjunction with Philadelphia’s Christ Church, where Franklin is buried, we set about to create a Madeira in Franklin's memory—and to financially support the ongoing restoration of the church and burying ground.

Just 45 cases of Benjamin Franklin Special Reserve were made, and in March, the Madeira was launched at a dinner of rare Madeiras at Philly’s Fork Restaurant. Impressively, Ben's wine held its own against Madeiras more than 150 years old.

Most of Ben’s Madeira was set aside for the Philadelphia market—where it is now essentially sold out—but we held back a few cases for this newsletter offering, just in time for Thanksgiving.

The Wine

The wine itself is rich, powerful and long, with Bual predominating in the blend. The components have an average age of more than 20 years—all aged in barrel by the classic

canteiro method. Yet, thanks to the masterful blending of Barbeito’s brilliant Ricardo Freitas, the finished wine has the size and richness of a half-century-old Bual.

Even in Franklin’s day, Bual was rare and prized, and this is a wine he would have loved.

Ben and Madeira

Of the many stories about Franklin and Madeira, the most famous is one he wrote himself. Believing that science could one day resurrect the dead, he wished he could be laid to rest in a barrel of Madeira:

“... having a very ardent desire to see and observe the state of America a hundred years hence, I should prefer to any ordinary death, being immersed in a cask of Madeira wine, with a few friends, till that time, to be then recalled to life by the solar warmth of my dear country!”

He also figured in Madeira’s development, recommending in Poor Richard’s Almanack in 1743 that wines like Madeira be fortified with brandy. Within a decade, the addition of a bucket of brandy to each cask of Madeira became a common practice among merchants.

Madeira to the Defense

In his autobiography, Franklin credited Madeira with helping defend Philadelphia during the French and Indian War. In search of a battery of cannon to protect the city, and having exhausted other resources, he asked New York’s Colonial Governor Clinton for the cannon, but was initially refused.

However, “at a Dinner with his Council where there was great Drinking of Madeira Wine ... (Clinton) soften’d by degrees, and said he would lend us Six. After a few more Bumpers he advanced to Ten. And at length he very goodnaturedly conceded Eighteen. They were fine Cannon, 18 pounders, with their Carriages, which we soon transported and mounted on our Battery ...”

The Benjamin Franklin Special Reserve is a fitting tribute to a great American and a great Madeira lover.

Lee Family Stratford Hall

The idea behind our Lee Family Stratford Hall bottling is a Madeira that Harry “Light Horse” Lee, or his son Robert E. Lee, would have drunk in the early 1800s at their Stratford Hall plantation—after a couple decades of aging in cask and bottle in the warm climate of coastal Virginia.

It is essentially a medium dry wine, 60% Verdelho, made up of three vintage-quality lots ranging in age from 7 to 21 years. To this base wine, Barbeito winemaker Ricardo Freitas first added a small amount of 60-year-old Malmsey, and then two very old and very dry Tinta Negra Moles. The Malmsey gave the blend extra complexity and a touch of additional sweetness. The old Tinta Negras imparted enormous depth and richness of color, as well as the acidity to perfectly balance the Malmsey’s sweetness.

The result is a remarkably rich, intense Madeira, whose powerful acidity nearly eliminates any sensation of sugar. If I were to compare it a vintage Madeira, it would be like a 60-year-old Verdelho that has spent much of its life in barrel. It is a remarkable Madeira.


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