October 8, 2013, Plume Restaurant , Jefferson Hotel, Washington DC

On October 8th we explored Madeira’s incredible history in America, with wines dating back nearly two centuries.

The setting was key. When the Jefferson opened in 2009, Wine Director Michael Scaffidi decided to make the hotel a museum of old Madeira, with a range of old Madeiras by the glass unparalleled in recent years.  Michael has become a great champion of these noble wines, and so it was a privilege to co-host this dinner with him.

And our special guest for the evening was Ricardo Freitas, the acclaimed managing director and winemaker of Barbeito. Ricardo not only shares our passion for Madeira history, he has been responsible for all the extraordinary Madeiras in our Historic Series, including the special bottlings honoring Benjamin Franklin, the Lee Family of Virginia and Thomas Jefferson.

A Once-in-a-Lifetime Journey

In recent years, The Rare Wine Co. has worked to create wines that recall what was drunk in the United States a century or two ago. We compared some of these wines with very rare examples of equally rare American provenance, and we talked about how Madeira has evolved since the time of the War Between the States.

Among the highlights were an incredibly rare and important 1821 Rainwater imported by Robert Benson during the 1820s. Benson was one half of New York’s March & Benson partnership that dominated Madeira importing in America in the early 1800s.

From the same era, we shared an equally rare Madeira imported by the Coffin family of New England, sometime between 1825 and 1840, that was aged in demijohn until it was bottled in 1881.

We tasted an even more venerable Madeira: a very rare Velhissimo Doce, an ancient Malmsey-styled wine dating from the beginning of the 19th century, that we purchased from John Cossart’s children, a few months after our friend’s death in 2008.

Island Treasures

Just before he departed for the U.S., Ricardo drew two special wines from large glass demijohns in his mother's collection:  his family's great 1863 Bual, vintaged in the year of Gettysburg, and their spectacular 1834 Malvasia, which was made when John Marshall, our Madeira-loving fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, was still on the bench.

A Tribute to Madeira Parties

Our dinner relived the Madeira Parties that thrived in East Coast cities in the late 1800s. A common feature of these parties was to make a toast, using a blend (called the "lees") of all the Madeiras drunk at a previous Madeira party.

In 1999, The Rare Wine Co. reenacted these Madeira Parties in a number of cities, and we bottled the lees from some of these events. A high point of our October 8th dinner was the lees of the wines drunk on October 19, 1999, at the Judson Grill in New York. More than a dozen great and rare Madeiras went into the blend, including the iconic 1802 Acciaioli Terrantez and 1827 Quinta do Serrado Bual.

The New Thomas Jefferson Madeira

We also explored the special historically rooted Madeiras created for us by Ricardo Freitas. We were treated to our wonderful and rare Ben Franklin and Lee Family Madeiras.  We also showed our new Thomas Jefferson Special Reserve, whose blend is based on Jefferson’s own writings, and which was created in cooperation with the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello.

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