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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cyprus’ Commanderia wine and social history

Last month’s blog featuring the beautiful 18th Century Cyprus enamel wine labels generated more fascinating information.   It is so interesting when wine intersects with social history!

Dr. Richard Wells, whose labels I included in my last post, kindly forwarded a photograph of this La Comenderie enamel label from his collection.  This is a late 18th Century English label, made possibly for the French market or to use the French translation of the word.  This label demonstrates how broadly the Cyprus fortified wine Commanderia was exported over the centuries and in this case in the late 1700’s.

Following the publication of my last blog post, a friend kindly sent me a photo of this fascinating poster that they have had for many years, of a wine auction to be held on Thursday, February 7th, 1822  to be conducted by Mr. Christie in Pall Mall, London.   Yes! 199 years ago next week!   Careful review of the list of,  “excellent and well-flavoured Old Port” to be auctioned, identifies Cyprus among the 125 dozens to be sold, even though Commanderia isn’t technically a Port, but a fortified wine.     It’s also worth noting that the wines are sold in Pint quantities, as that was the measure for wine at the time.   A pint is 0.5 litres.   The decanters used to serve these wines in the 19th Century would have been much smaller than those made today.

In the 18th and 19th centuries Port was a very popular drink.  This was influenced by the Treaty of Methuen in 1703, which was a military and commercial agreement between Portugal and England, resulting in the import of various wines from Portugal including several listed on the auction poster, for example: Madeira, Lisbon, Calcavella.

During this period, Port became known as a drink with medicinal virtues, in particular for gout.    Presumably, similar fortified wine was swept up in this popularity and Cyprus’s Commanderia wine benefitted from this fashion.

It was common at the time to drink these wines heavily every day and people became known as a ‘Three Bottle Man’ or a ‘Four Bottle Man’.  A bottle contained 350 millilitres.  Therefore, a Three Bottle Man drank slightly less than 2 pints of Port a day, or just over 1 litre in today’s terms.

An example of a Three Bottle Man in British history is William Pitt the Younger, who was the youngest Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1783.   He suffered from poor health and to address this problem, his physician recommended that he drink three bottles of Port a day!

Commanderia has been recognized as a popular wine since mediaeval times.   Today, sadly,the market for Cyprus’ Commandaria wine has diminished, whereas Port continues to be widely enjoyed, even if far less than in the days of Three Bottle Men!

The beautiful La Comenderie enamel label together with the intriguing wine auction poster provide a fascinating glimpse into the past.

References:    Thanks to Dr. R. Wells,  drrwells.com  Enamel Wine Labels

With thanks to Suekatunda for permission to include the photo of the Christie’s poster.

Beautiful enamel wine labels link wine history with the present and future: Happy New Year!

These beautiful late 18th Century enamel labels for Cyprus wine illustrate that the wine industry has a long and elegant history.

The four enamel labels most likely are for Commandaria wine, which is a Cyprus sweet dessert wine, sometimes fortified but always with a high alcohol level.    The label marked Malvoisie de Chipre refers to ancient grape varieties, known as malvoisie, used for dessert wines.    Commandaria wine dates back to approximately 800 BC and was popular during the time of the Crusades in the 11th and 12th centuries and subsequently exported widely within Europe.  

I wrote about Commandaria wine in a 2013 blog and described it as follows:

‘As a fortified wine, Commandaria travelled well and was exported throughout Europe.    It was popular in England, for example, not only in the 13th century but later and was a favourite of the Tudor Kings including King Henry V111.

Commandaria is made only in a defined region of 14 wine producing villages in the Troodos foothills about 20 miles north of Limassol. The wine production for Commandaria has remained true to traditional methods.   The production is small and it maintains its ranking among the world’s classic wines.  In 1993, the European Union registered     Commandaria as a protected name and geographic origin.

Commandaria is regarded as an eastern mediterranean equivalent of its western mediterranean cousins, Port and Sherry.   We found it had both similar and different characteristics and was more refreshing and lighter with higher acidity. ‘

For a fuller description of this fortified wine please look at my earlier blog post:

https://elizabethsvines.com/2013/02/04/cyprus-wine-maki…century-part-two/

The various spellings of Cyprus on the four enamels in the photograph suggest a robust export of Cyprus wines in the late 18th and 19th centuries.   Chypre is the french spelling for Cyprus and this label is early French in origin and the Chipre and Malvoisie de Chipre are early English.  The Cyprus label is more recent.   

2020 will surely be remembered as an extraordinarily difficult year for wine makers.  From my conversations with several over the years, including members of Confrèries, I realize that they are used to overcoming a variety of challenges including weather, soil and pest conditions as well as market changes.   This year they have again demonstrated their ability to tackle a new challenge with innovation and creativity.

These exquisite and historic Cyprus enamel labels, shown courtesy of Dr. Richard Wells, help to remind us of the longevity and resilience of the wine making industry and the pleasure it brings to so many people: past, present and future.

I wish all wine makers and their families everywhere a successful year in 2021.

Happy New Year!

elizabethsvines

 

Reference:   http://www.drrwells.com   Enamel Wine Labels:  refer to Dr Well’s blog for a full description of enamel labels.