Sarah D’Oyly, 1725 – 1821 and her wine cellar

Let us raise a glass to commemorate the bicentenary of the deaths of both Napoleon Bonaparte and Mrs Sarah D’Oyly with a glass of Port, a fortified wine popular in their days.

Mrs. D’Oyly of Curzon Street, London and Twickenham died 200 years ago this year.   She might be surprised to know that she is being written about so long after her death and nearly 300 years after her birth in 1725.

Napoleon Bonaparte also died 200 years ago – it’s the bicentenary of his death this month of May and much will undoubtedly be commented upon regarding his considerable legacy.

Mrs. D’Oyly’s legacy, by virtue of the auction of her wine cellar contents in 1822, provides a window into a 19th century collection of Choice Old Wines – a gift to anyone interested in the history of wine and its context.

Sarah D’Oyly was a child of the Enlightenment Period in the 18th and 19th centuries, whose three principle concepts were: use of reason, scientific enquiry and progress.   It was a time of intellectual and scientific advancement to improve human life and a time of prominent thinkers like Voltaire, Diderot, Montesquieu, Adam Smith and Kant.

I recall reading Candide by Voltaire in my A level French studies at school and enjoyed the debates between Candide and the philosopher Pangloss and Candide’s encouragement that, “we must cultivate our garden”.

We now talk about the great changes in our lifetime and yet so much change happened during Mrs. D’Oyly’s lifetime.  For starters, the American War of Independence 1775 – 1783, the French Revolution 1789 – 1799 and the Industrial Revolution 1760 – 1840.

So who was Sarah D’Oyly?    She was the widow of Christopher D’Oyly, a barrister and administrator.   They lived in Mayfair in London and also had a villa in Twickenham, 10.5 miles from their London home.   Twickenham was first recorded in AD 700 as Tuick Hom and is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 following the Norman Conquest in 1066.   In fact, D’Oyly is an old Norman name.

Upon the death of her husband in 1795, Mrs D’Oyly remained both at Twickenham and their Curzon Street house in London until her own death in 1821 at the age of 96, a considerable age at any time and in particular 200 years ago.   She was buried at Walton on Thames beside her husband and her memorial reads:

“In memory of Mrs Sarah D’Oyly,
grand daughter of Sir Hans Sloane, Bart
and widow of the late Christopher D’Oyly, Esq
who departed this life on the eighth day of September 1821,
in the ninety seventh year of her life”

 Sarah D’Oyly was the granddaughter of Sir Hans Sloane, (1660 – 1753), an Ango-Irish physician, naturalist, collector and prominent figure in 18th century London.     Sir Hans Sloane’s collection of 71,000 objects from around the world were bequeathed by him to the British Nation on his death and were the foundation of the British Museum, the British Library and the Natural History Museum.     Currently, this and other collections are being evaluated in the context of how these significant collections from the Enlightenment Period contributed to the development of knowledge and understanding with an attempt to understand the world in which the collectors lived.

 

The collection of Choice Old Wines for auction by Mr. Christie in 1822 highlights the taste for sweet fortified wines in that era.   The practice of fortifying wines with grape spirit also reflects the long voyages required to bring the wines to England in a drinkable state.   Additionally, with fortified wines, there was the advantage that the wines kept longer once the bottles were opened.

A typical cellar of the period could also have included Claret from Bordeaux and Champagne, at that time usually a still red wine.

The 18th and 19th centuries saw considerable innovation in grape and wine production in various parts of Europe, permitting a number of distinctive wines such as Madeira, Port, Sherry, Claret and Champagne to be marketed.   However, there were high import duties so wine was a luxury.

The main market in Britain at that time for alcoholic beverages was beer and spirits and even by 1815, the annual consumption of wine was low due to the high cost.

Between 1816 and 1820, Portuguese wines were the highest percentage of available wines for home consumption in Britain, as in Madeira and Port, and Sherry and Port accounted for approximately ¾ of all British imports of wines before 1860.   Port became firmly established in the lifestyle and habits of a section of the British public.

Another 19th century wine cellar inventory that I am aware of corroborates that fortified wines were the mainstay of a wine cellar at that time.

Perhaps these differences in wine taste between then and now illustrate one measure of changes over the centuries.   A more significant difference between the lifetime of Mrs. D’Oyly and now, relates to transportation.       The railway reached Twickenham in 1848.   Throughout Sarah D’Oyly’s long life, she would have used horses and horse drawn vehicles to move between her homes in Mayfair and Twickenham. This contrast speaks volumes about the difference in lifestyle then and now.

Over the past few blog posts, I have reflected upon the Choice Old Wines in Mrs. D’Oyly’s wine cellar that were auctioned in 1822 and tried to put them in perspective from a historical viewpoint.   As a visual cue, the wines have been beautifully illustrated by a photo-montage of historic enamel wine labels from the collection of Dr. Richard Wells.

I like to think that Sarah D’Oyly, following her long life, would be amused by this interest in her wine cellar.

Reference:   Twickenham Museum  www.twickenham-museum.org

Addendum:

I’ve been asked if Mrs. D’Oyly was a relative of the D’Oyly Carte family of Gilbert and Sullivan musical fame.   My conclusion is probably not.   Apparently, the word D’Oyly was used by Richard D’Oyly Carte and his sons as a forename, not part of a double surname.   If anyone knows of a connection between the families, I would be interested to hear more.

A Wine Auction Sale in February 1822 in London and the ‘back’ story of the wines.

When a story hooks you,  you go deeper…at least I do with topics like wine, history, geography…  This post is another look at the wines listed for sale by Mr. Christie in 1822, as illustrated by these beautiful enamel labels, which would have adorned decanters to identify and serve the wines.

This is my second post about this intriguing Mr. Christie sale advertisement, which put me on the path of discovery. That is, discovering more about the wines listed for sale nearly two hundred years ago.

In my last post, the focus was on Frontiniac, Sack, Calcavella.

This post is about Malaga, Cape, Paquaret/Pacaret and Lisbon wines. These wine names are beautifully illustrated in this photo-collage of enamel labels that are in the collection of enamel expert, Dr Richard Wells.   Richard kindly put together this grouping to reflect the wines from the cellar of Mrs. D’Oyly and I greatly appreciate his generosity in doing so.

 

Several of these label names, like Malaga, Cape and Lisbon are generic in nature for the particular geographic regions.

Malaga, for example, is the term that was applied generically to any variety of heavy sweet, usually red fortified wines that originated in the Malaga area in southern Spain, including certain kosher wines served at Jewish celebrations.   Spanish Malaga is made from Muscat grapes, and from a variety known as Pedro-Ximenez and these grapes are usually sun-dried to concentrate sweetness. Vineyards are in the Malaga Mountain Range and in the Ronda Mountain Range.     These are liqueur wines with a fairly high sugar content.

This area with its Mediterranean climate is one of the oldest wine regions in the world, since the arrival of Phoenicians almost 3,000 years ago.

Its not surprising that Mrs. D’Oyly’s 19th century cellar contained Malaga wines as they were at their greatest quality around that time before the phylloxera louse so badly affected vineyards in Europe.

Dr Wells tells me that the Malaga enamel wine label is French from the second half of the 18th Century.

Pacaret, Paquaret (also spelled as Paxarete)

This is another Spanish dessert wine.     It’s a wine of the deep south of Spain, like Sherry, from the Andalusia area. It was made in different styles, both dry and sweet and was also made from the Pedra Ximenez grape.

A note of interest: in the 17th and 18th centuries, Sherry was known in England as Sack and this is described in my last post.

In the 18th and 19th Centuries, Pacaret was generally considered to be a “ladies” wine, and suited to the American custom of drinking wines mainly after dinner.

Pacaret is listed in Thomas Jefferson’s Paris Wine Cellar list of 1787 and he continued to order Spanish wine, including Pacaret after he became the third President of the United States in 1801.

The Paquaret enamel label is English from the late 18th/early 19th centuries.

The Pacaret enamel label is French from the same period.

Lisbon.

The reference to Lisbon on the auction sale poster refers to the historic Denominaçâo de Origem Controlada, (DOC) wine region west of Lisbon, or Estremadura as it used to be known, and can include wines such as Carcavelos, Colares and Bucelas.     This area was known for fortified wine production; off dry topaz coloured wines that have nutty aromas and flavours. The grape varieties appear to have been Arinto and Ramisco.   When fortified, using distilled grape spirit,  the wines were world renowned in the 19th Century. Again, it’s not surprising that these wines would have been in Mrs. D’Oyly’s cellar. While similar to Port, these wines are not Port, which is only produced in the Douro river valley area and according to present law is only shipped from Oporto.

The manner in which wine names change over time is worth noting and the name of Carcavelos is a good example. Wine labels from the 18th and 19th centuries would be made for Calcavallo or Calcavello wine, which is the older name for Carcavellhos or Carcavelos wine as it is presently called. The change was to move away from Spanish spelling, which was a hold over from the Spanish occupation of what is now Portugal in the 17th century.

In a letter dated May 26, 1819, Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States of America (1801 – 1809), wrote to his wine agent in Marseilles referring to sweet wines including Frontignan from France and Calcavallo from Portugal.   He clearly appreciated wine and designated both wine and friendship as a, “True restorative cordial”.

Another quote from Thomas Jefferson about Calcavella wine is in my previous post.

Moving to the 21st century, the name for the wine area around Lisbon was changed in 2009 from Estremadura to Lisboa VR (Vinho Regional), again to focus on the Portuguese language.

In the modern era, the wine areas of Carcavelos, Colares and Bucelas have been affected  by real estate development in the suburbs of Lisbon and the coastal town of Estoril.   There is apparently some interest and activity in reviving the historic legacy and indigenous grapes of the area. We will wait and see.

The Lisbon enamel label in the photo collage is English, again from the late 18th/early 19th centuries.

Many people will have visited these areas of southern Spain and the Lisbon area of Portugal and not necessarily known anything about the 19th century history of these wine areas.    I’ve flown into Malaga and driven up the coastal mountain highway to Ronda, little knowing this history.   I stayed in the area 20 years ago and did some early morning runs as I prepared for the BC Arthritis Society Marathon in Hawaii!

Similarly, as a child my family spent many holidays in the Portuguese coastal areas of Cascais and Estoril at a time when Cascais was still a fishing village and the area was on the cusp of real estate development.   Little could I imagine then that years later I would be commenting on the wine history of the areas in the context of a George 1V era sale of Lisbon wines!

Cape: this is the generic term for the geographic area around Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.

 

A noteworthy three-century viticulture tradition exists in the area originating when the Dutch arrived and South Africa became an important staging post for both Holland and England for trade with the East.

At the end of 1654, the first cuttings of vines arrived at the Cape from Holland and were probably young vines from the Rhineland. Wine was pressed for the first time in 1659.   In 1688, French Huguenots arrived in the Cape and extended the vineyards and improved the quality of the wine. By 1711, South African wines were becoming known and travellers spoke of the ‘world famous Constantia wines”, which were sweet wines.   In 1805, as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, Great Britain took possession of the Cape.  Around the time that Mrs. D’Oyly’s wine cellar was developed probably from the late 1700s on, the export of Cape wine to Great Britain flourished.

In the 18th and 19th Centuries, the Constantia Valley was known for its legendary dessert wines.   These were the halcyon days of these wines, which were fortified for overseas patrons in order to survive the long voyage and generally unfortified for local consumption. The original grape varieties were probably Muscat, Pontac and maybe Chenin Blanc.

The Groot Constantia winery dates from 1685 and has a museum section on their website, which provides the chronology of their history.

These Cape wines took on a fame of their own as they were mentioned in at least two books that we might know.     In Jane Austen’s novel, Sense and Sensibility, Cape wine was mentioned as a cure for a broken heart!   Charles Dickens referred to it as a way to lift a character’s spirit in The Mystery of Edward Drood.   Were they writing from experience?  Perhaps tips worth noting!

The next post in this series about the Mr. Christie 1822 wine auction poster will be to share some history of Mrs. D’Oyly, whose generous wine cellar prompted these discoveries.

 

References:    Alexis Lichine’s Encylopaedia of Wines and Spirits and various references.

Thomas Jefferson:  Monticello.org

Groot Constantia:  grootconstantia.co.za

Dr. Richard Wells – enamel wine labels: http://www.drrwells.com

 

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’Oyly, 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.