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.