Sunday, March 14, 2010


This engaging and thoroughly researched (150 pages of endnotes) work delves into all aspects of Madeira from the growing of the grapes on the Portuguese island of Madeira to the merchants, shippers, and consumers.

The often complex and changing transatlantic trade was not restricted to the British colonies, but among many nations.

Colonial Americans were large importers of Madeira before the Revolution, and to a lesser degree after. Madeira was so popular in the colonies in part because, unlike continental European wines, the wine actually benefited from the warmth and movement of the ships. It could even be stored in the attic.

Madeira during the colonial and early Federal period: “South Carolinians and Virginians preferred extremely pale, dry wine as ‘white as water’ that had been heavily fortified [with brandy]; Philadelphians requested golden wines with slightly less brandy and slightly more sweetness; and New Yorkers wanted an amber, somewhat reddish drink that was even less brandied and more sugared.” Later, Madeira was allowed to age for longer periods and the Americans turned to lighter Madeiras closer to the increasingly favored continental wines.

Oceans of Wine: Madeira and the Emergence of American Trade and Taste by David Hancock. New Haven: Yale, 2009

Covering 1640 to 1815, the book has fascinating chapters on cellars, wine use at home and taverns, glass; bottle shapes, and even the backcountry trade.

For a current Madeira with a historic flavor see

©2010 Patricia Bixler Reber

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