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Copyright © 2018
Forkmedia LLC


by Fred McMillin
for September 6, 2001


Madeira Magic


Prologue—The Wine's Charms

The s.s. Newton is wrecked on a reef near Madeira when the captain and crew decide to "taste freely" the wine they took aboard on the island. (1881)

"George Washington drank a pint of Madeira at dinner daily."...Vinifera Wine Growers Journal

"In Shakespeare's 'King Henry the Fourth' Falstaff is accused of having sold his soul for a cup of Madeira and a cold capon's leg."...H. Warner Allen

On his way to exile on St. Helena, Napoleon ordered a supply of Blandy's Madeira. (Incidentally, one can pass Madeira en route to St. Helena; both are off the west coast of Africa.) Blandy's? If it's good enough for Napoleon, it should be good enough for us. Let's look at the...


Blandy Benchmarks and Vicissitudes

18O7—Napoleon just might try to seize Madeira. Hence, the British posted a garrison of soldiers on the island, including 23-year-old John Blandy. Only four years later, he founded the firm whose wines quickly caught Napoleon's attention!

1812—Romance! John found time to scurry back to England, marry Janet Burden, and bring her to the volcanic island. There, son Charles Ridpath Blandy is born in 1812. He will raise Blandy Madeira to unrivaled heights. His son, John Burden Blandy, will bring the company and its undiminished reputation into the 20th century.



Charles R. Blandy1852—The Illustrated London News cries out, "The wine of Madeira, which has acquired a worldwide celebrity, will soon be no more than a thing of history." A devastating form of mildew had attacked the vineyards. Some of the growers converted to sugar cane, while "the faint-hearted shippers began to leave the island." But, Charles Blandy (see picture) stayed and bought up the best stocks of Madeira...about a Half million gallons!

Dec. 31, 1863—To Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States, from Charles R. Blandy.

    " Sir: Having been an unfortunate victim in consequence of the destruction of the bark Lauraetta and her cargo [of barrel staves of American oak ordered by Blandy's for delivery to Madeira], I take the liberty to call your attention to the fact...and hope my claim of Rs. 8,835,000 Madeira currency will be paid to me."

There was no doubt that the Confederate's Alabama had sunk the Lauraetta. But Charles probably was not surprised that he was never paid, since his letter also stated he realized that President Davis was "doubtless occupied with more important matters." (The South had just been defeated at Gettyburg and Vicksburg.)


The U.S.A. Contribution

But the U.S.A. had contributed more to Madeira than barrel staves. During the American Revolutionary War, the British forces met Madeira, and took their enthusiasm for it back to Britain. At the time, America bought about a fourth of all Madeira production. Now, the Revolutionary War had inadverently opened up the London market.

And that's enough to explain why anyone becoming interested in wine should taste a Madeira. It is one of man's landmark wines, with an impressive history. and make it Blandy's, for the 5th winemaking generation is still on the island. So, here is today's bottle.


Blandy's Malmsey

My first tasting notes on Blandy's Madeiras are dated Jan. 21, 1971. "Drink after the entree, with roasted nuts and Brie." On the island at Reid's Hotel (see picture), it was served to us with a sharper white cheese. Incidentally, the Blandy family owned the magnificent Reid's for many years.


Just the Facts

Reid's Hotel, Funchal, MadeiraBlandy's Rich Malmsey Madeira
10 Years in Oak Casks
Blandy's established in 1811
Importer—Premium Ports & Madeiras, San Francisco, CA.
Contact Dixie Gill, (415) 401-1700, FAX (415) 401-1712
Rating—The newer tasters in my class gave it a VERY GOOD, the veterans gave it EXCELLENT.
Comments: "Good fruit," "Nutty," "Nice balance."
Service—I prefer room temperature. Some like 30 minutes in the refrigerator, to drop the temperature about five degrees.
Preserving the Open Bottle—I squirt Private Preserve inert gas into the bottle, store it in the refrig, and don't disturb it unnecessarily.


Postscript—Malmsey Madeira Cake

In London, baker Fred T. Vine charged the outrageous price of 24 cents for his best 1-1/2 pound Madeira cake. I'm looking at my wife's fragile, ancient edition of his Cakes and How To Make Them. In it, Fred Vine says of his "Old Original Madeira Cake" (includes 15 eggs and 1/4 pint Madeira), "fit for 'ye gods' and eats really splendid; try it."

My wife did, along with many other, recipes and developed her own version for her cooking classes(only four eggs with 3 tablespoon Malmsey). If you'd like a free copy faxed (no e-mails), send your FAX number to FAX (415) 567-4468

Rupert Croft-Cooke, Madeira, London Fred T. Vine, Cakes and How To Make Them, London


About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.



This page created September 2001