|- Vintage Madeira -
"... when this wine was vintaged Marie Antoinette was still alive."
The 1792 Blandy’s Madeira, the so-called “Napoleon” vintage
A unique cache of 12 bottles.
Vintage Madeira and the very fine old soleras are invariably rare, venerable and highly priced (although still astonishingly
cheap compared to similarly aged port, Bordeaux or Sauternes, none of which have anything like the same longevity).
Sustained both by fortification and by its high acidity, Madeira seems to be an almost indestructible wine: a vintage of 30
years age still being in its infancy, one of 60 barely in its prime and almost all vintages over 100 still alive and vigorous.
19th century vintage Madeira is increasingly scare and sought after, but 18th century Madeira, now entering its third century,
is most desirable of all.
All eighteenth century vintage Madeira is rare, but this Bual is arguably the most spectacular bottling of all. Only the 1790
Terrantez can compare, but that, while just as rare, doesn’t have the same fascinating and romantic history.
On August 7, 1815, a British warship, the HMS Northumberland, taking Napoleon to St. Helena for his final exile stopped at
Madeira to take on supplies. Napoleon was persuaded to purchase a pipe of Madeira (A pipe is a barrel containing a little
less than 600 bottles). The pipe was never opened by Napoleon as he developed a severe gastric complaint and his doctors
forbade him to drink any alcohol. After the ex-Emperor’s death in 1821, there was a dispute over payment of the pipe and it
was returned to Madeira where it lay with Blandy’s until 1840. Most of the wine - an estimated 400 bottles - was then used
to make the famous solera of 1792, but some bottles - perhaps 200 - were filled using only the wine from Napoleon’s pipe.
These bottles are immensely rare, with only a few still in existence – this cache of 12 is probably the largest holding extant
anywhere. Occasionally bottles from the 1792 solera come on to the market, but an opportunity to buy even a single bottle
of the unadulterated vintage 1792 wine is a very rare event indeed.
A bottle of this wine was opened as a special honour for Sir Winston Churchill on a visit to Madeira in 1950. Sir Winston
insisted on serving each guest himself, asking "Do you realise that when this wine was vintaged Marie Antoinette was still
In 1792 the French revolution was reaching its climax – in August the Tuileres Palace was stormed and Louis XVI arrested
and taken into custody. In 1792 Mozart had been dead for less than a year and Rossini was born. George Washington was
President of the United States.
The bottles are in excellent original condition with very good levels - top shoulder or base of neck - but no longer have any
labels or stencilling at all. This is typical of this bottling in particular, and 18th century vintage Madeira in general - those
bottles that are found labelled usually have more modern labels applied afterwards, by Christies amongst others. The
bottles were purchased in the late 1980's by a senior and highly respected member of the British wine trade, who personally
vouches for their provenance as follows:
"These wines were personally removed by me many years ago from the cellars of Abbey Leix in Ireland, the then home of
Viscount de Vesci. I have seen the cellar records to confirm that the details are correct – 1792 Blandy’s Madeira."
To the best of his knowledge the bottles were purchased by the de Vesci’s in the mid nineteenth century directly from Blandy’
s and never touched until he purchased them from the family over a decade ago. He's tasted one of the bottles, and says it
is absolutely superb, the finest Madeira he's ever drunk. Of course it's a pity there isn't a trace of the original stencil or label
still remaining, but this isn't at all unusual for bottles of this age. The provenance - critically important for wines more than
two centuries old - is extraordinarily well documented. The bottles themselves are hand-blown black glass with deep punts,
and quite clearly late 18th century/early 19th century.
The sale of Abbey Leix, where the bottles lay for more than a
century, in the mid 1990's.
Blandy's Luscious Malmsey Solera 1808
Date on neck label has faded to illegibility,
an auction house at some stage has added
the additional sub label. A blockbuster
Madeira from a two century old vintage.
The roots of Madeira's wine industry dates back to the Age of Exploration when Madeira was a
regular port of call for ships traveling to the New World and East Indies. By the 16th centuries,
records indicate that a well established wine industry on the island was able to supply these
ships with wine for the long voyages across the sea. The earliest examples of Madeira, like port,
were unfortified and had the habit of spoiling at sea. Following the example of port, a small
amount of distilled alcohol made from cane sugar was added to stabilize the wine by boosting
the alcohol content. (The modern process of fortification using brandy did not become wide
spread till the 18th century). The Dutch East India Company became a regular customer, picking
up large (112 gal/423 l) casks of wine known as pipes for their voyages to India. The intense
heat and constant movement of the ships had a transforming effect on the wine, as discovered
by Madeira producers when one shipment returned back to the island after a long trip. It was
found that customers preferred the taste of this style of wine, and Madeira labeled as vinho da
roda (wines that have made a round trip) became very popular. Madeira producers found that
aging the wine on long sea voyages was very costly and began to develop methods on the
island to produce the same aged and heated style - typically by storing the wines in special
rooms known as estufas where the heat of island sun would age the wine.
The 18th century was the "golden age" for Madeira with the wines popularity extending from
the American colonies and Brazil in the New World to Great Britain, Russia and Northern Africa.
The American colonies, in particular, were enthusiastic customers, consuming as much as a
quarter of all wine produced on the island each year. The mid 19th century brought an end to
the industry's prosperity, first with the 1852 outbreak of powdery mildew which severely reduce
production over the next three years. Just as the industry was recovering through the use of
the sulfur-based treatments, the phylloxera epidemic that had plagued France and other
European wine regions reached the island, and devastated the entire Madeira vineyard. By the
end of the 19th century, most of the island's vineyards had been uprooted and many were
converted to sugar cane production. By the turn of the 20th century, sales started to very slowly
increase again, only to again collapse when the Russian Revolution and American Prohibition
closed off two of Madeira's biggest markets.
The rest of the 20th century saw a downturn for Madeira, both in sales and reputation, as low
quality "cooking wine" became primarily associated with the island - much as it had for Marsala.
But towards the end of the century, some producers started a renewed focus on quality, ripping
out hybrid and American vines and replanting with the "noble grape" varieties of Sercial,
Verdelho, Bual and Malmsey. Madeira's greatest grape variety, Terrantez, is almost extinct. It
was introduced on Madeira in the late 1600's, and in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
"The Leacock Cache"
Superb Madeira from the private reserve of the Leacock family, uplifted directly from the cellars of the family mansion
4 bottles of Malmsey Solera 1808, renowned as the greatest Madeira solera of all time.
5 bottles of Sercial Vintage 1870, the finest Sercial I have ever drunk, a quite magnificent wine
The Leacock family has been synonymous with the finest Madeira since their business was established on the Island in 1741
by John Leacock. Successive generations established the firm's pre-eminence, alongside Blandys and Cossart Gordon, as one
of the great merchants and bottlers on the island. These wines were likely bottled for private consumption on the orders of
Thomas Leacock, who took control in 1877. The firm was finally sold to the Madeira Wine Company in 1981, and these
bottles come directly from the family cellars of William Leacock, the last head of the firm, and the great-grandson of Thomas
Bual/Malmsey Solera 1808, Leacock bottling
1808 is one of the very greatest Madeira vintages, and the 1808 solera is legendary, regarded widely as the finest ever.
There is some
uncertainty as to whether this solera should be classified as Bual or Malmsey - my own feeling is that it's likely Malmsey.
Michael Broadbent's notes are: "Medium deep, warm tawny, pronounced apple-green rim indicating age and high quality;
distinctive, scented, harmonious bouquet with a whiff of caramel, very sweet, very rich, soft lovely flavour, 5 stars *****
These Madeiras have the finest possible provenance, coming directly from the Leacock private family cellars in Funchal, they
has never left the island until now.
Sercial Vintage 1870, Leacock bottling, original corks and capsules, not recorked as these wines usually are
1870 was one of the last two great vintages before phylloxera, and this is fantastic wine, certainly the finest Sercial I have
ever drunk, with unbelievable but perfectly balanced acidity, and a fantastic dry finish. It really illustrates how long-lived
Madeira is - even a dryer wine like this tastes as fresh as the day it was made, after nearly a century and a half.
Michael Broadbent's notes: "Pale amber with very pronounced apple-green rim, a bouquet like Vesuvious, ethereal, whiff of
caramel, medium dry, superb flavour, great length, exquisitely dry finish, 5 stars *****.
Terrantez C.V.M. 1795
Lomelino Bastardo 1836
From the famed Leacock cellars, Bastardo
was one of the two great Madeira varietal
(together with Terrantez) not
commercially replanted after phylloxera.
Terrantez HMB - Believed 1862
This legendary wine almost certainly originated from a
single grower, Joao Alexandrino Santo, renowned for
the quality of his grapes. HM Borges ("HMB") were
extremely important holders of old vintage wines. It
would seem that a number of shippers bought this
particular wine from them in bottle - all have the
same distinctive stencil. So although this is not dated,
it is almost certainly the 1862.
Profound nose, typical Terrantez notes of bitter
orange, immense complexity, a magical madeira. .
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Famous vintage for
tinged; the acme of
refinement yet amazingly
powerful. What great
madeira is all about."
Virtually unknown, exceptionally rare. Direct from
the personal cellar of descendants of the Araujo
family, still living in Madeira. Their ancestors arrived
at the end of the fifteenth century. Later the firm of
Araujo, Henriques & Co., merged with H.M.Borges
in 1932. The family still own vineyards at Quinta do
Jardim da Serra, at Estreito de Camara de Lobos,
producing what are regarded as the finest Sercial
grapes on the island.
(sweeter than the typical late 19th century Sercial),
Malvasia Velha 1862
malmsey from a very
Malmesy 1920 Cossart
According to the late Noel
Cossart, this wine was made
from the last of the Malvazia
Candida grapes grown in the
Fãja dos Padres vineyard,
sited at the foot of a very
high cliff, to which access was
only by boat. Probably the
rarest and most romantic of
all 20th century madeiras.
Ruma da India 1810 Cunha
This wine has been shipped in cask to
India and then returned to the Island for eventual
bottling. The process of gave Madeira some of its
unique flavour, and the ability to survive for
centuries. The India and then returned to the
Island for casks went out as ballast to customers
eventual bottling. The process of and the rest came
back to the island, "cooking" in the hold was in
part what making four crossings of the Equator.
The firm of Julio Augusto Cunha was founded in
1820 and incorporated into Pereira d'Oliveira
(Vinhos) in 1900. Variety not stated, but almost
certainly bual or malmsey.
Direct from the personal cellar of descendants of
the Araujo family, still living in Madeira. Their
ancestors arrived at the end of the fifteenth
century. Later the firm of Araujo, Henriques & Co.,
merged with H.M.Borges in 1932.
Quinto de Serrado Bual 1827
One of the most renowned
madeiras of all time. Highest
possible rating from every
authority. 5 stars from
Broadbent. A true vintage, not a
solera (nearly 200 years old!).
Solera 1792 Extra Reserve
Very rare, a famous wine. Although Very rare, a
famous wine. Although 19th century, and the vast
bulk of the technically a solera, closed in the early
wine is believed to be from the 1790 vintage. Perfect
original label and Christie label, metal capsule. On a
visit to Blandy's lodge in 1877, this wine was offered
to Henry Vizetelly to taste. He reported a "powerful
choice Reserve from Cama do Lobos".
Borges Family 1720 "Pather"
really legendary wine, from the private cellars of the Borges
family (not the company, this is from the family's own private
reserves). Apart from a few bottles of 1715 Terrantez, this is
the oldest Madeira in existence. Probably a Moscatel, but
might be a Bual. Originally purchased by the grandfather of
the Borges family (hence "Pather"). His wish was that it
eventually forced the family to do so. Kept in demijohns for
most of its life. Several people have tasted it, and
pronounced it superb.
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Bastardo 1840 Ex Araujo family
Even rarer than Terrantez. Completely
unrecorded bottling. Possibly unique
Terrantez 1715 - Believed to be the oldest dated Madeira bottle in existence
From the Kassab collection. Kassab seal, heavy black glass handblown Burgundy-style bottle, circa
Believed bottled by João Carlos d'Aguiar, a highly reputed merchant that no longer exists (although
descendents of the family still live on the island). Braheem Kassab was a Syrian embroidery merchant
who put his personal seal, embossed B.A. K. on the bottles he collected in the first decades of the 20th
century. His collection was partly dispersed in the 1930's, and the balance sold by Christies in the 1980's.
All recorded bottles are crudely stencilled like this one "TERRANTEZ / 1715 / J C A & C". Excellent level for
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Terrantez 1795 Cossaert and Gordon,
Unrecorded. While the 1846 Cossart
Gordon Terrantez is the 1795 is
COMPLETELY UNRECORDED. One of the
greatest ever Madeira vintages, from
Madeira's greatest grape, bottled by
one of the most prestigious houses.
1790 The "Painted Pipe"
Shipped by Newton Gordon Johnson. Sold via
Habersham to Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1889. Bottled for
Mrs. Vanderbilt 1907 by Morten & Co June 1907
Level in neck, 5mm above shoulder.
William Neyle Habersham, born in 1817, was the greatest
American madeira dealer and expert of the 19th century,
or perhaps more accurately, any century. He essentially
single handedly created the madeira market in the
southern states of the USA. His palate was legendary, it
has perhaps never been equalled: he could drink any
madeira blind and not only name the year and varietal,
but also precisely the vineyards from which the grapes
came. Based in Savannah (exactly the same latitude as
Funchal), he dominated the American madeira trade for
most of the century, until his death in 1899. At his estufa
in Savannah where the pipes were stored after being
shipped from the island, he used a secret method to fine
his madeiras before bottling, believed to be a combination
of Louisiana clay (related to bentonite) and kid's blood
(from a young goat). This gave them a particular and unique brightness and clarity, superior to all other shippers.
Habersham madeiras were quite legendary in their day. He is believed to have originated the name "Rainwater" for the
madeira style a little sweeter than Sercial. In the Civil War he suffered great personal tragedy, both his sons were killed on
the same day in the Battle of Atlanta, and his business was devastated. He devoted most of the rest of his life to selling his
stocks (which had been hidden during the war) to the actual pipe ("Painted Pipe").
In March 1889 he sold some Painted Pipe and some Hurricane to Cornelius Vanderbilt, then arguably the richest man in the
US, through Ward McAllistair. In his memoirs written the next year, McAllistair wrote..."The Old Man (ie Habersham) relied on
his own taste, which I know never fails, and the history of these wines I have been familiar with for years. Painted Pipe was
imported by Thomas Gibbons in 1791 from Newton, Gordon, Murdoch and Scott, sold to him by Gibbons." Subsequent
historical research has revealed a small error in this account, the pipe was actually shipped in 1790, not 1791.
This is - possibly - a literally unique bottle, I can find no record at all of another example being sold in the modern era,
produced what I consider (and so do many experts) the greatest wines of the island. But it has a very thin skin, and is very
susceptible to rot and to mildew. This is a particular problem in Madeira, which has a hot and humid climate. The 1852 oidium
outbreak destroyed most of the Terrantez vines, followed by phylloxera, which wiped out the rest. When the vineyards were
replanted, Terrantez was abandoned, just as Folle Blanche was largely abandoned in Cognac. After the second world war a
few small patches were replanted, but even today, less than 500kg of Terrantez grapes are harvested each year, so it is as
good as forgotten.
Pre-phylloxera Terrantez Madeira is the same kind of thing as pre-phylloxera Folle Blanche cognac - something that is really
gone for ever, except on the tiniest scale.
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