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.
Photo of Mr. Christie’s poster advertising Port style wines including Cyprus wine by auction in 1822.
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.
Wine labels from the collection of Dr Richard Wells that match the wines in the 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.
I hear the buzz of conversation before I see the people. Mid morning chat is at a gentle hum as people from across London and elsewhere greet each other and settle down to the serious business of a portfolio tasting courtesy of Davy’s Wine Merchants established in 1870.
Davy’s Portfolio Tasting
I have been thinking about historical context quite a bit recently, so I am distracted by considering the age of this business and thinking about what was going on when Davy’s Wine Merchants was established. A time of upheaval and change in Europe with revolutions in the mid century and the unification of Italy a year later. Queen Victoria was well established on the English throne and the Victorian writers: Trollope, Dickens, Elliot, Hardy were writing books that have become classics of English Literature. I admire the skill and tenacity required to build and sustain a business over that length of time: 146 years. Certainly, it speaks to the ongoing public interest in enjoying quality wines.
So back to the business at hand: sampling some of the wines presented by wine producers and/or the Davy’s Team. It’s an impressive sight in the Hall of India and Pakistan at The Royal Over-Seas League house in St. James’s, London. 31 Tables with over 250 wines presented representing all the classic wine growing areas of the Old and New Worlds and developing wine growing areas such as England itself.
It would take a great deal of time to do justice to the large selection of wines at this tasting. After walking around the room and looking at all 31 tables, I resolve that the only way to take advantage of this opportunity is to be selective in my approach.
I taste a number of wines presented by Jean Becker from Alsace in France. Their Pinot Gris 2013, soft, with peach fruit aromas; Gewürztraminer 2013, violets and very floral aromas, Riesling Vendanges Tardives Kronenbourg 2009, smooth, honeyed, acidic, and excellent for sweet and sour dishes.
I move on to Bodegas Miguel Merino Rioja, from Spain and really enjoyed the Miguel Merino Gran Reserva 2008, a beautiful rioja nose on the wine, smooth and long.
Vini Montauto, Maremma, Tuscany
Italian wines from the organic wine producer, Azienda Agricola Montauto, in Maremma, Tuscany are something new and stand out wines for me. Their winemaking philosophy is to make wines that support food, not overpower it. I particularly enjoyed their white wine: Montauto Vermentino Malvasia 2014. There is considerable length to the wine, with deep and balanced fruit aromas. At 13% alc./vol it is a very drinkable wine. Vermentino and Malvasia are grape varieties typical of this area in Tuscany along with Trebbiano and Grechetto. Sauvignon Blanc from neighbouring France has found a natural home in the area too. The Maremma area of Tuscany looks like an area worth visiting for its natural beauty, historical interest and microclimate supporting viticulture and the organic wines themselves.
As a final tasting experience, I can’t resist the Fine Wine Collection hosted by Davy’s staff and in this instance by wine consultant, Martin Everett MW. I look at the line up of wines and notice that a Monbazillac AOC wine, a late harvest botrytized wine from the wider wine region of Bergerac is included; a Monbazillac Chateau Fonmourgues 2009.
Fine Wine Collection
The red wines at this Fine Wine Collection table are Bordeaux classics, both Left and Right Bank.
I focus on the right bank, Pomerol and St. Emilion. Château du Tailhas, Pomerol 2012, located near Château Figeac, and Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, Grand Cru St. Emilion. 2006 – a special vintage- and taste these wines.
When I look at my notes, all I write is “ Beautiful”.
It says it all.
When I taste these top of class, prestigious Bordeaux wines with their full and satisfying flavours and aromas, I am always transported back to other occasions when I have enjoyed them.
On this occasion, I think back to 2009 and a visit to both Château Figeac and Château Beau-Séjour Bécot. What struck me at the time was not just the quality of the wine but the accessibility and congeniality of the proprietors, in each case with family members at a multi-generational helm. I remember at Château Figeac, Madame Manoncourt, the co-proprietor with her husband, rushed up to meet us as we were leaving. She had just driven back from Paris, a considerable distance, yet insisted on taking the time to welcome us to the Château. In reading the history of Château Figeac, the Manoncourts were one of the first Châteaux owners many years ago to open their doors to general public or non trade visitors. That sincere interest in the consumer is what good customer relations is all about.
Similarly, at Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, which we also visited in 2009, Monsieur Bécot joined us on our tour of the Château and the cellars and went to great lengths to explain their approach to making their wines.
It’s always the people who make the difference.
Peeling back the onion rings of memory, these experiences make me think of teenage visits to Bordeaux with my parents many, many years ago, when the proprietors always took the time to show us around yet the visits had to booked then by correspondence some time in advance. I remember at that time we visited Château Palmer and Château Margaux among others.
All these thoughts and memories come flooding back as a result of attending the Portfolio Tasting of Davy’s Wine Merchants, an organization with a long history and family lineage.
Enjoying wine, especially excellent wine, is always an evocative experience for me of other times, places and people. It’s a time machine in a bottle.