Independence Day is not a holiday associated with wine. By the 4th of July most of the country is baking, so I imagine (without any actual numbers to support my imaginings) that beer is the preferred 4th of July beverage. Confirmed winos probably make do with rosé.
But it turns out there is a wine that might rightfully claim to be America’s Independence Day wine, although today it is largely forgotten in the U.S. except for aficionados. That would be Madeira, the fortified wine from the Azores. Wine importer Bartholomew Broadbent, a tireless promote of Madeira, exclaimed:
It always amazed me that Americans had no idea their Founding Fathers drank more Madeira than any other wine,” says Broadbent, founder of Broadbent Selections, based in Richmond. “I’d tell audiences that George Washington drank a pint of Madeira every day, that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were both toasted with Madeira. And I’d explain that Betsy Ross, while sewing the flag, had a side table with a glass of Madeira on it. The only artistic license I allowed myself was to say, ‘That’s probably why she saw stars!’ The rest is all true.
The importance of Madeira for our founders is further supported by wine historian Aaron Nix-Gomez, who recently published a 4-part blog post detailing the lengths George Washington, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson would go to make sure they had a steady supply of Madeira.
The reason why Madeira was so treasured is no mystery. Like Port, it is one of the few wines you could throw into the hold of a ship during summer and have it improve during the journey. It was discovered quite by accident that if the wine was fortified with distilled alcohol, a long rest at high temperatures actually improved the wine while making it virtually indestructible. The island of Madeira is about 500 miles of the coast of North Africa, right on the trade routes to the New World, so its accessibility and durability made it a natural commodity for well-heeled patrons in the New World.
Today, Madeira wine is cooked during the vinification process to mimic the effect of a long sea voyage through tropical climates. Although it has a reputation for being sweet, there are actually several sweetness levels named for the grapes used to make the wines, ranging from the almost bone dry Sercial, to the off dry Verdelho, the semi sweet Boal, and the quite sweet Malmsey (Malvasia).
So later today I’ll be popping the cork on a bottle of off-dry Madeira and toasting the good taste of George Washington.
I also think it will go nicely with the baby backs I’ll be serving later on.