18th and 19th Century wine labels tell a story…

Last month, the fascinating poster for the sale of choice old wines on February 7, 1822, together with the images of the Cyprus enamel labels sparked interest.

Dr Richard Wells, my collaborator in identifying enamel wine labels, has kindly created this montage of labels from his collection, that represent the wines listed on the sale poster.

Most of the wines represented by these labels, with the exception of Rum,  are no longer consumed or popular, as they once were, so it’s interesting to know a bit more about them.   Apart from knowing more about the wines, the shapes and designs of the individual labels are really worth further examination for the colours, the floral motifs and in some cases grapes! and the shapes:  beautiful craftsmanship from another era.

All these wines were sweetish, a style of wine popular in Paris and London in the 18th and 19th Centuries.   Some of the labels and the wines are described below, more will be noted in the next blog.

Frontiniac label:  this is an English late 18th/early 19th century enamel label.    Frontiniac is a sweet muscadine wine made in Frontignac, France.      A reference to this wine in a collection of old plays refers to Frontiniac in this way:  ” One more Frontiniac and then a walk”.  With difficulty perhaps!

Sack label:  this is an English late 18th /early 19th century enamel label.  Sack is an antiquated wine term referring to white fortified wine imported from mainland Spain or the Canary Islands.  Most Sack was predominantly sweet.  Sack is commonly but not quite correctly quoted as an old synonym for sherry.  In modern terms, typical sack may have resembled cheaper versions of medium Oloroso sherry.  As a literary reference,  William Shakespeare’s character Sir John Falstaff, introduced in 1597, was fond of sack, and the Falstaff character said, “If I had a thousand sons, the first humane principle I would teach them should be, to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack”.

Calcavella label: this is probably an English label, again late 18th/early 19th century and unusually made from Mother of Pearl.    Calcavella is a Portuguese sweet wine that was noted in a wine sale in 1769.   Calcavella was noticed by Thomas Jefferson ( 1743 – 1826 and 3rd US President) when he was the US Ambassador to France from 1784 – 1789, right at the time of the French Revolution.  Later on, he would order Calcavella several times while living in the United States. When writing about wine, Thomas Jefferson said, ” I would prefer good Lisbon; next to that Sherry, next to that Calcavallo: but still a good quality of the latter would be preferable to an indifferent quality of the former”.

The remaining labels will be commented on in my next blog, together with an insight into the life and times of Mrs. D’Oyley, the widow highlighted in the sale poster and the late owner of these wines.

More to come…

Reference:   Dr. Richard Wells  www.drrwells.com

Various references to the wines and to Thomas Jefferson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “18th and 19th Century wine labels tell a story…

  1. Thank you for this, Liz. Am looking forward to the next instalment. Always something new to pique my interest. Cheers, David

  2. Thanks for this piece. It brings back very happy memories of when I worked as a Wine Guide in Harveys Museum in Bristol. We had dozens of these labels – some in enamel, others in silver. All beautiful and all with their own stories to tell. Shame the Museum closed in 2003 and the collection was sold off but you have highlighted a precious part of history which is important to keep alive.

    • Thank you so much, Ian for your appreciation of these beautiful small works of art. This poster sent by a friend opened up a Pandora’s box of interesting pieces of wine related and related social history.

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