|Celebration for the end of the midwest tour|
|Vineyards on beautiful Madeira|
Madeira wine has an interesting history. First of all it comes exclusively from the Portuguese island of the same name situated to the west of North Africa. The island was supposedly discovered in 1419 by sailors exploring for Prince Henry the Navigator and settled shortly afterwards. About fifteen years later it started being referred to by its current name: Ilha da Madeira (Island of Wood after its rich forests). And it was ideally situated as a stopover for ships en route to and from the New World and the East Indies. In the sixteenth century there was a well-developed wine industry . Ships would stop to pick up “pipes” of wine. (A pipe is about 125 gallons.) Much of it spoiled on the long hot voyages so the vintners started fortifying the wine (adding first cane spirit and later brandy) to stabilize it.
|The four major styles|
But the heat of the journey still caused some strange developments in the wine and some pipes were rejected and sent back to Madeira. To the initial surprise of the winemakers, the somewhat cooked and oxidized wine became very popular. It has a distinctive rich taste and freshness assisted by the extra alcohol and mild pasteurization of the heating. Pretty soon the vintners worked out a way of getting those effects without shipping the wine halfway around the world and back. It’s called estufagem and essentially involves heating the wine to around 130 degrees Fahrenheit for considerable periods of time. It’s always at least ninety days, but for the best vintage wine it may be done naturally in sun-warmed rooms for twenty years!
We were amazed by the freshness and liveliness of the wine, nearly ninety years old. The taste was a sort of cross between port and sherry with hints of caramel but not sweet. The waiter was a bit concerned that the bottle had been “open for some time” as “there wasn’t much call for it”. He shouldn't have worried: the wine must be open for at least a day before you drink it and can be fine after it’s been open for as long as a year. Maybe we’ll have another glass after Cleveland in 2012.
Madeira wine has a long association with the US too. Jefferson enjoyed it and it was used to toast the Declaration of Independence. Washington and Franklin were also partial to it. A major event on the way to the Declaration was the British seizure of John Hancock’s sloop the Liberty on May 9, 1768. Hancock's boat was seized after he had unloaded a cargo of 25 pipes (3,150 gallons) of Madeira and a dispute over import duties followed. The impounding of the ship led to seething riots in Boston. I always wondered about all that fuss over some tea. Now Madeira is another thing altogether. Maybe the Tea Party should consider a name change? Wine Party has a nice ring to it.
If you’re a Flanders and Swann fan, click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OW_zi8n4HDQ for their take on the wine of Ilha da Madeira.
Michael – Thursday.