Madeira wine, a truly historic wine

Madeira wine, a truly historic wine

The Americas

Madeira wine was the most favored American wine from the time of the pilgrims until the Civil War.  For a wine coming from a Portuguese island, that is remarkable.   But there is an explanation.  In 1665, the British banned the import into the New World of all European products not transported on British ships.  However the British exempted Madeira island of the ban.  Consequently Madeira wine became the number one wine of America.  Two particularly noteworthy historical moments for the Madeira wine, were the signing of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in July 1774 and the inauguration into presidential office of George Washington.

Signing Declaration Indepemdance US
According to legend, on April 30, 1789, Georges Washington took the presidential oath with a glass of Madeira in his spare hand.

Signing the US Declaration of Independence with a glass of Madeira

Signing the US Declaration of Independence with a glass of Madeira


On a dark day in 1478… death by Malmsey

There are many stories involving historical figures and Madeira wine.  However, this one is probably the least glorious.  George, the Duke of Clarence was convicted of treason against his brother, King Edward IV of England.  Subsequently, the High Chamber convicted and sentenced the Duke to death in 1478.  Here is where he allegedly chose death by drowning in a butt of Malmsey Madeira Wine.

Winston Churchill and Madeira Wine

Madeira wine is one of the few wines that you can keep for more than a century without it spoiling.  Winston Churchill visited Madeira Island on several occasions.   When Winston Churchill spent a painting holiday on Madeira in the company of his wife and daughter, he tasted a bottle of 1792 Sercial.  Awed by the experience, he supposedly reflected: “Do you realize that Marie Antoinette was still alive when the wine was made!”


Another anecdote is about the same 1792 Sercial.  A vessel transporting Napoleon (in exile) had to dock in the port of Funchal. Napoleon was not allowed to leave the HMS Northumberland in August 1815.  However, he received the visit of British Counsel onboard and a gift of a barrel of the Madeira wine.  Napoleon refused to drown his sorrow, and the barrel of Madeira came back from Saint Helena to Madeira and was bottled as the special 1792 Sercial. It is the same wine of which Winston Churchill endulged.

Winston Churchill summarized it nicely: “Madeira Wine is … like drinking liquid history”

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