Wines Of Spain, Portugal And Madeira
( Originally Published 1907 )
SPAIN is one of the principal wine-producing countries of Europe, but though a great many sorts of Spanish wine are made and exported she has always been more closely identified in this country with Sherry than with any other variety.
This wine derives its name from Jerez in Andalusia, which is the headquarters of the trade, and it is a wine which is essentially Spanish, nothing like it being produced in any other country. There are several varieties of Sherry, but for the purposes of general description they may be divided into two classes; the "fino" which is a pale, delicate, dry wine of the Amontillado type; and the "Oloroso," a more full-bodied, richer, and deeper coloured wine.
Fine, well-matured Sherry is full of vinosity, and contains a very high proportion of ethereal products. These particular qualities have always been considered as rendering it exceedingly valuable as a stimulant and restorative, and for this reason it was formerly much in favour with medical men in cases of illness, and in the debility of old age. At one time it was also, as is well-known, exceedingly popular in this country as an everyday beverage, and no dinner table was complete with-out it. Times, however, have greatly changed in this respect, and in consequence of the very questionable habit having sprung up of drinking whisky instead of wine, the consumption of Sherry, as also of many other wines, has fallen off to a very considerable extent. It is satisfactory to note, however, that doctors, and sensible people generally, are beginning to see the evil which is likely to follow from this change in the national habits, and also the hardly less baneful effects to health which are connected with extreme teetotalism, and signs are not wanting that wine is gradually reestablishing itself in public favour.
There are many well-known and old-established shippers of Sherry, and excellent wine can always be procured from proper sources. It must be remembered, however, that such a wine as this cannot be produced very cheaply, and though, with perhaps the exception of Claret, there is, in the present day, better value to be obtained in Sherry than in any other wine, a reasonable price must always be paid; and if health is valued, the cheap, but generally fictitious, concoctions bottled by ordinary grocers and wine-shops, should be carefully avoided.
Besides Sherry, Spain produces a great many other wines, some of which form a considerable portion of her trade with this country. Tarragona from the province of Catalonia, which is one of the best known, is a rich, spirituous, red wine, largely used. to blend with other wines, but is also sold as Spanish Port. Val de Penas from the central provinces is a natural, full-bodied wine of the Burgundy type, and with Rioja and Malaga has a certain market in England, but the consumption of most of the other varieties is confined to their own country.
Wines of Portugal
Although Portugal produces a large quantity of wine, practically the only variety known in this country is Port, a beverage which our ancestors had a much more intimate acquaintance with than their descendants of this generation can boast of.
This wine is the produce of the Alto Douro, and takes its name from the seaport of Oporto. It is a rich, generous, full-bodied wine of which, roughly speaking, there are two distinct classes. Tawny or draught Ports, which have been matured in casks, and are comparatively light in colouring, and Ports of rather a fuller colour, which have been bottled a few years after the vintage and require to be kept for some time before drinking.
Port belongs to the fortified class of wines, and spirit is added, not only during the primary fermentation, but at frequent intervals afterwards to prevent further fermentation. The effect of this treatment is to preserve the richness and keeping properties of the wine, but somewhat at the expense of its vinosity and wholesomeness.
During the greater part of the nineteenth century Port enjoyed a very special distinction, and was, perhaps, the most popular wine in England. Of late years, however, it has rather fallen from its high estate, though the finer vintages may always be expected to hold their own up to a certain point. The decline in the consumption of this and other old-time favourites, which has been so noticeable among a certain section of the community for some time past, is probably due, to some extent, to an increased taste for lighter and more natural wines, but also, perhaps, to a greater degree, as has been mentioned be-fore, to the use that is now made of spirits as an everyday beverage. This can hardly be considered a change for the better so far as refinement of taste and personal health are concerned, and it is much to be hoped that people will soon realise the deleterious effects of spirit-drinking, and will return to the more natural, and infinitely more wholesome, juice of the grape.
Wines of Madeira
Half a century ago the wines produced in the lovely island of Madeira had a reputation such as few other wines have ever attained to, and no cellar was considered complete without a goodly stock of "Old Madeira." The name was one to conjure with, and take pride in, but unfortunately evil times fell upon the Island soon after the middle of the last century, and, owing to disease attacking the vines, the production of wine came practically to an end, and old stocks were only to be had at very high prices. This naturally caused the wine to be somewhat lost sight of for a good many years, but in course of time the disease was completely over-come, and new vines planted, with the result that for some time past many choice wines have reached this country from the Island, which are said to be in every way equal to their illustrious predecessors.
There are several varieties of Madeira, but, speaking generally, it may be described as a full-bodied wine with a marked vinous and somewhat nutty flavour, and a very choice aroma. It greatly improves with age, and its mellowness and general quality are supposed to be very considerably enhanced by a sea voyage to a hot climate, such as the East Indies, and wines that have really made this voyage have a special value attaching to them.
"Good wine," it is said, "needs no bush"; and good "Old Madeira" needs no recommendation to those who have ever been fortunate enough to possess any. It is, therefore, a matter for congratulation that this beautiful wine with all its prestige and associations is not going to be lost to us, but is again asserting its right to be classed amongst the choicest and most aristocratic occupants of our cellars.
Wines of Tenerife
The history of the wine trade in the Canary Islands commences to-wards the close of the fifteenth century when vines were imported from Crete. From these vines were produced the famous Malmsey wines and the Canary sack, which enjoyed for centuries a very considerable reputation, and were constantly referred to in the writings of the great Elizabethan poets and authors. From the terms of universal commendation in which they are mentioned, by these and later writers, it is evident that the wines were thought very highly of in England, and they remained more or less in favour till about the middle of the nineteenth century. About that time, however, disease at-tacked the vines, and the wine trade for some considerable time came quite to a standstill. The re-planting of the vines, however, has been proceeding for many years past, and as the paucity of the exports has led to the accumulation of large stocks in the merchants' cellars, very good value can now be obtained in these historical old wines.
Port and Sherry Vintages