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One man’s Madeira is America’s liquid treasure!

July 15th, 2017

Liberty Hall 200 year old Madeira John Adams American revolution

By Joseph Temple

It looks like one man’s Madeira is now America’s liquid treasure!

While going through a six-month renovation project, Liberty Hall, a National Historic Landmark located on the campus of Kean University garnered headlines this week as it became the site of a great archaeological discovery. Originally built in the 1770s for Thomas Livingston, one of the founding fathers and New Jersey’s first governor, many famous Americans have stayed there, including George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams. But in addition to all its famous residents and guests, Liberty Hall can now add to its rich history by having the distinction of housing the oldest collection of Madeira in the United States.

After dismantling a wall inside the wine cellar constructed during the Prohibition era, architects uncovered 50 bottles and 42 demijohns of rare fortified wine that is almost as old as the country itself. With some Madeira bottles dating back to 1796, Bill Schroh, a director at the Liberty Hall Museum, told ABC News that “we never could have imagined finding what we did.” According to their research, the bottles were imported by Robert Lenox, a major player in the New York city wine trade and the estimated value of each bottle could be in the neighborhood of $20,000. Tracing back the origins of their purchase, it is believed that they were imported in order to celebrate the inauguration of John Adams, America’s second president.

Considering that Madeira is no longer a fashionable choice in America, at first glance, it might seem like a strange choice. But during the revolutionary era, drinking a glass of this fortified Portuguese wine embodied the spirit of the Gadsden flag and its iconic message: DONT TREAD ON ME. Since the archipelago of Madeira was technically in Africa, its wines weren’t subject to harsh taxation like other European imports nor were they required to sail on British ships, making Madeira a symbol of what taxation with representation might look like. Historian John Hailman writes, “By the late eighteenth century it was considered patriotic to drink Madeira and thereby avoid taxes to the Crown, and Madeira thus became the veritable mother’s milk of the American Revolution.”

An added bonus was that unlike Bordeaux or Burgundy, Madeira was virtually indestructible. In fact, seamen quickly discovered that the intense heat and humidity on board the ships transporting it to the thirteen colonies actually made the wine improve—a fact that made it wildly popular in the South. So during the Revolutionary War and following America’s independence, Madeira was consumed by many future presidents, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

Of course, John Adams was no exception. Back in 1768, when John Hancock tried to smuggle a cargo of Madeira into the Boston Harbor and was intercepted and charged by the British, he was represented by none other than the future commander-in-chief. Growing fond of this particular drink, which he enjoyed quite regularly, he once said that “a few glasses of Madeira made anyone feel capable of being president.”

And by ordering Madeira to celebrate his election victory, the people at Liberty Hall couldn’t have purchased a more symbolic wine—the wine of the revolution!

Sources:

Dubourcq, Hilaire. Benjamin Franklin Book of Recipes. London: Fly Fizzi Publishing, 2004.
Hailman, John R. Thomas Jefferson on Wine. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2009.


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Ask Sid: Wine Barrique

July 12th, 2017
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what is a barrique barrel wine oak

Question: I often hear about wine being aged in an oak cask or barrique. Is there a difference in these terms?

Answer: Yes there is a difference. Barrique should only be used to describe a unique barrel shape of a specific size of 225 litres (59 gallons) long used in Bordeaux and now other wine producing regions. Other shapes and sizes have different names from hogshead (300 litres in USA) to Burgundy piece (230 litres) to the larger sizes used traditionally in Piedmont for nebbiolo grapes and becoming increasingly more popular everywhere. These can all be called casks but shouldn’t be called barriques.


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Stockholm: Underrated Growing Food & Wine Culture

July 10th, 2017

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We all have heard of and admire the emergence of the unique culinary scene developed in Copenhagen under the inspiration of chef Rene Redzepi of Noma restaurant fame. This concept has been extended to his newer 108 and the many other restaurants opened by his disciples using quality local products. This “going green” focus on vegan and vegetables also is spreading to a more international style with several new popular hot spots in the developing meatpacking district with the very informal friendly Mother & even the upscale pizza being served at Baest.

However the Nordic food movement is alive and thriving with less world recognition also in Stockholm. On a previous trip your scribe was delighted by the tasting menu at now closed Fredman F12 and especially the talents shown by chef Mathias Dahlgren who back in 1997 won the Bocuse d’Or championship using natural produce to great effect at the Grand Hotel. Found this month that the culinary scene at the top end has expanded considerably with 3 newly discovered gems that indeed are very impressive though all are quite expensive.

1. The Champagne Bar By Richard Juhlin. The respected Champagne expert tasted and rated 8,000 of them in his 2013 tome A Scent of Champagne so he is ably qualified to find and serve you a glass or more of chosen choice bubbles. It has been relocated to Hotel Kungstradgarden at Kocksgrand 1 reopening after the Summer break on August 19.

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2. Oaxen Krog. Blown away by 8 tasty hors d’oeuvre followed by a 10 course dinner prepared by Chef Magnus Ek and brigade. This place was honoured by a second Michelin star in 2015 and richly deserves it. The courses are well conceived with flavours that deliver far more deliciousness than many similar foraging style restaurants.  They also serve their interpretation of Scandinavian bistro food at Oaxen Slip. Special kudos to Fredrik Horn the Sommelier/Manager who provides knowledgeable wine pairings and is developing an expanding wine list of special offering including well chosen Champagnes (Roger Pouillon Solera 1997-2011). Enjoyed a sublime bottle of 1998 Clos de la Coulee de Serrant suitably decanted and structured 2010 Nuits. St. Georges Aux Lavieres Domaine Jean Grivot.  Serenely situated in Djurgarden at Beckholmsvagen 26 in Stockholm.

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3. Gastrologik. Another tour de force effort of many courses by Chef Jacob Holmstrom (who worked with Mathias Dahlgren) and others where logical gastronomy of the future is shown on their no pre-defined set menu but the use of daily seasonal fresh ingredients that really do shine. The culinary works of art on the plate were highlighted by a tart of dried cepe mushrooms with pointed cabbage & field rose petals sitting on a bowl of rosehip buds that was a brilliant artistic masterpiece. New crop green peas with Mollosund oyster & pickled onions sitting on the empty peapods with iced granite melting on top was memorable. Some fair value wines assembled and served by Hans and the crew including a classy 2014 Bourgogne Blanc from Domaine Roulot. Located in the Ostermalm district at Artillerigatan 14 in Stockholm.

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How wine became a luxury?

July 8th, 2017

arnaud de pontac chateau haut brion wine

By Joseph Temple

Ever since 1982 when Robert Parker enthusiastically described that year’s Bordeaux vintage as one that is “destined to be some of the greatest wines produced in this century,” the concept of wine as a lucrative financial investment continues to grow. Twenty-five years after Parker’s prophecy, one case of Château Latour has increased in value by a staggering 8,000 percent, making wine, according to CNBC, the single best collectible investment—even better than classic cars! Putting another exclamation mark on that statement, The Telegraph recently published a list of ten bottles that have given buyers a ROI of 150% and more in just five years.

With such a powerful bull market occurring before our very eyes, it makes you wonder how some wines went from mere alcoholic beverages to highly sought-after items of luxury?

To answer that question, you need to go back centuries, long before Robert Parker and even the 1855 Bordeaux classification. During the reign of Elizabeth I in the late 16th century, it’s safe to say that the English loved their wine, consuming approximately 40 million bottles annually at a time when the entire population was a little over 6 million. However, their interest had nothing to do with terroir or tannins; what attracted Britain was the idea of wine as an antiseptic. With contaminated water being a fact of life back then, many thought that the best way to relieve sickness was through the consumption of wine.

And back then, the wines of Bordeaux didn’t arrive in bottles with labels listing the sub-region or vintage. Simply labeled ‘Claret,’ there was no mention of the estate, making the casks that arrived on English soil as generic as possible. According to some historians, what most people drank was a light red made from white and red grapes (think Rosé) that arrived in either the late fall or early winter and needed to be finished by late summer at the latest. After that, the wine quickly turned into vinegar.

This all changed forever with the arrival of Arnaud de Pontac. Purchasing Haut-Brion in 1649, the Premier President of the Parlement of Bordeaux embarked on a revolutionary approach to both winemaking and wine marketing. Realizing that the most important market by the mid-17th century for Bordeaux was in London, he actively sought out the wealthy with an entirely new way of looking at wine. Dating back to when Edward II ordered the equivalent of a million bottles to celebrate his marriage to Isabella of France, the idea of wine as a luxury item was something that quickly caught on, especially during the Restoration.

What separated Pontac and Haut-Brion from the competition were concepts that are still in place to this day. By limiting the crop, rejecting unripe grapes, and allowing for a slow fermentation process, his focus of quality over quantity made his product superior in the eyes of the English elite. According to one historian, “Pontac carefully produced and named a wine that came from a small, circumscribed area of land in order to enhance its value on the palates and in the minds of English customers.” This can be seen in the cellar book of King Charles II who purchased 169 bottles of “Hobriono” in 1660. All of a sudden, the brand became more important than the wine.

Another advantage was that Pontac sent his son across the Channel to open up “Pontack’s Head”– a popular tavern where customers could buy Haut Brion directly. Needless to say, the other Bordeaux winemakers took note of Pontac’s brilliant marketing strategy and quickly followed suit. By the time of Queen Anne, luxury claret had arrived in a big way amongst royalty and wealthy English landowners. The whole idea of “the Château” took off as impressive buildings were built throughout the region in order to impress potential clients. Prestige and quality become the guiding principles for the Bordelais, etched in stone with the now famous 1855 classification.

So the next time you wonder why certain bottles are fetching record sums, you can thank Arnaud de Pontac and Château Haut-Brion for creating the first brand name wine of the modern era.

Sources:

Clarke, Oz. The History of Wine in 100 Bottles: From Bacchus to Bordeaux and Beyond. London: Pavilion Books, 2015.
Estreicher, Stefan K. Wine: From Neolithic Times to the 21st Century. New York: Algora Publishing, 2006.
Ludington, Charles. The Politics of Wine in Britain: A New Cultural History. New York: Springer Publishing, 2016.
Sander, Merton. Wine: A Scientific Exploration. Boca Raton: CRC Publishing, 2003.


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Ask Sid: Russian Wines?

July 5th, 2017
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russian wines which one to buy

Question: I am travelling to St. Petersburg on a cruise for a holiday this summer. What Russian wines to you recommend we should look for to taste while dining there?

Answer: Very topical question for me as I was just there this year too. Visited the wine cellars in the beautiful Constantine Palace in Strelna with their vast collection. Also had a wine tasting there with some tired white blends from 2012 of 50% Riesling & 50% Chardonnay, West Hill Blend limited production 2012 reds from the Black Sea coast of 50% Merlot & 50% Cabernet Sauvignon with some sweetish smokey spicy notes, and older Tokay from Hungary. The best Russian wines we found in restaurants in St. Petersburg were all from the Krasnodar southernmost region bordering the Ukraine to the west at about 45 degrees latitude. My favourite was Temelion Brut sparkling by Lefkadia a blend of chardonnay & pinot noir displaying drier refreshing citrus lemon flavours. Also served some simpler 2016 varietal Sauvignon Blanc & 2015 oaky Chardonnay. A unique almost Syrah-like red from the native vitis vinifera grape Saperavi 2015 called Fanagoria Vintage is worth investigating. Believe there are some of this variety also being grown in the Finger Lakes of New York state. This acidic grape variety native to Georgia though with thin skins produced an intense deep red colour wine with some interest. Check it out.


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