Election 2018 has come and gone … mostly.

Whether you’re in need of solace or celebration after these midterms, wine is clearly the perfect choice.

But, James you say, “I need something stronger!!!”

My friend, you should consider the drink of America’s original politicians. The Founding Fathers had an obsession with a certain fortified wine from a Portuguese island – Madeira.

Yes … our election system is enough to make someone want to drink … but, back in the day, drinking was part of the process.

Old Town Winchester has changed quite a bit since young Mr. Washington worked downtown

Frustration on the frontier.

In 1758, the young 25-year-old rockstar colonel of Virginia Regiment was getting pretty frustrated with military life. He desperately wanted a commission in the regular British Army, but we American colonists were not considered qualified for such lofty positions. Miffed at this slight, he turned his eyes towards politics.

On the frontier in Winchester, Virginia, George Washington found personal success surveying land, dodging bullets and accidentally starting a war – the Seven Years War a.k.a. The French and Indian War.

“Destiny had now conferred upon Washington a pivotal place in colonial, and even global, affairs, for the Jumonville incident was recognized as the opening shot that precipitated the French and Indian War, known in Europe as the Seven Years’ War. In the words of Sir Horace Walpole in London, ‘The volley fired by a young Virginian in the backwoods of America set the world on fire.’ ” ― from Washington: A Life

Moving on up!

Despite all his overachieving, the future father of our country decided he needed to obtain a more influential position if he was ever going to be treated with respect from folks back in Britain.

So, he ran for a seat in the House of Burgesses to represent Frederick County, Virginia.

Technically, he had run once before, but it wasn’t his idea… his buddies had tossed his name into the mix late and without his consent. It didn’t go well.

Three years later, things were a little different. He was gunning for the win. Since campaigning was extremely unbecoming of a gentleman, young Mr. Washington left the dirty business of politics up to his friends in Winchester. This included filling up the voters with whiskey, wine, and spirits.

Things did indeed go differently this time. Washington crushed the other three candidates by getting 309 of the 397 votes.

Interpretive Sign about Washingtons Election


“On election day, July 24, 1758, the absentee candidate engaged in the popular, if technically illegal, custom of intoxicating local voters. His campaign forwarded him an expense account for thirty-four gallons of wine, three pints of brandy, thirteen gallons of beer, eight quarts of cider, and forty gallons of rum punch, costing the candidate a sizable thirty-nine pounds in Virginia currency. Accepting this expense, Washington hoped that his backers had plied all voters impartially with strong beverages: ‘My only fear is that you spent with too sparing a hand.’ ” ― from Washington: A Life

Back to the future

I was walking through Old-Town Winchester after a client meeting last week and I always think of him when I do. I love following the footsteps of George … he and his brothers owned a lot of the land around here so it’s pretty easy to do. The town I grew up in is named for his younger brother Charles – its founder.

Anyhow, I used to have an office on Loudoun Street in Winchester and often imagined what his commute was like as I walked from the parking garage to my desk.

Old Town Winchester in Autumn


Lately, I’ve been wondering what his favorite wine tasted like. In my obsessive presidential history reading, Madeira comes up A LOT … but let’s face it … it’s not something you can easily find at the grocery or liquor stores today.

What is Madeira

I don’t know! I’m not a colonial American, but here’s what I’ve learned … The wine is as much a revolt against the system as dumping tea into the Boston Harbor is.

I mean, rule number one for wine is avoiding heat. With Madeira, that rule and many others get thrown overboard. This spiked juice gets heated and cooled, exposed to oxygen, and sometimes even light. Don’t try that with your bottles of Bordeaux anytime soon!

Madeira wine bottles

image credit: shutterstock.com

The result is a bulletproof caramel colored wine that travels well and comes in several styles:

  • Sercial: Dry
  • Verdelho: Semi-dry
  • Bual: Semi-sweet
  • Malmsey: Sweet, rich and complex … think dessert

Early Americans–especially our founders–loved the stuff.

You could say that love not only changed the wine, but the world. It was there at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, GW’s inaugurations, and many, many other pivotal moments in our country’s early history.

While researching this story, I learned that the voyage to the colonies made the Madeira even better. On the journey, it got heated up in the ship’s hold and mixed to perfection by all the tossing and turning at sea.

My first time.

For our anniversary this year, my wife and I treated ourselves to a swanky weekend at Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michaels Maryland. The Inn has Madeira on the wine menu by the glass … a 5 year and a 10 year … so I finally had a chance to try it. What I remember is a nutty caramel sweetness, but I was too wrapped up in the excitement of the moment (and relaxing) to be very scientific.

Rare Wine Co. Thomas Jefferson Special Reserve MadeiraLet’s try again!

Since I can’t afford the time or money to head to the shore this week so I can recreate the moment for you, I’ve decided to order a swanky bottle to taste in the scientific environment of my home. The sacrifices I make.

Since this is site is a fusion of history, people, and wine I could not resist going all in on a wine made to celebrate another founding father–and wine lover–Thomas Jefferson.

Rare Wine Company has a pretty cool collection of Madeira celebrating the early history of wine drinking in America. I’ve been patiently waiting for the FedEx truck to arrive all morning with my precious cargo.

I wonder if this is how TJ felt too?

I may sound all romantic about history, but I’m really glad it only took four days for the bottle to arrive. Wifi, air conditioning, heated seats, airplanes, penicillin, etc…  the good ole days were not always… good.

Enough typing… Let’s taste the darn stuff!

Wine not just get to the point!

Rating: 4.5 outta 5
1 star1 star1 star1 starhalf star

Wine: Rare Wine Co. Thomas Jefferson Special Reserve Madeira

From: Madeira, Portugal

Grapes: A blend of that includes Malmsey that is 80+ years old.

Cost: $72, Don’t tell my wife!!!!!

Review: Struggling to find the words. This wine just keeps going and going and going. Unreal finish. It’s a transformer.

Kind of like when 5 or 6 different robots get together to form one giant badass robot …

What starts out as brown butter, chocolate and caramel becomes orange peel and tart cherry followed by mixed nuts… almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts. I was still tasting it an hour later while laying in bed … or maybe I was just dreaming of another glass.

Is it sweet? Yes … and no. There is this tingly acid party happening on your tongue that completely balances out the acid and the 19% alcohol.

I tried to pair it with some dark chocolate and it was fine. The truth is the wine is just so darn enjoyable on its own that it seemed shameful to screw it up with other stuff.

Should you buy some? I know a 4+ glass rating means to stock up, but a little goes a long way. And since it is already oxidized, this one bottle will last us a while. 

Just like the book review below, it may not be for everyone. I used to hate sweet wines, but what I’ve learned over the last 2 years is that perspective-altering complexity and balance are journeys these wines can take you on.

Other Stuff: Jefferson is known for his love of French wines, but before he was “enlightened” he drank plenty of Madeira.

This blend is was created with the help of Monticello’s resident wine historian, Gabriele Rausse. It reflects a particular blend he learned from the wife of his law school mentor George Wythe. The recipe says to use one-tenth “superfine Malmsey” and nine-tenths dry Madeira.

Washington: A Life

Rating: 4 outta 5

1 star1 star1 star1 star

Author: Ron Chernow

Words about words:

In my opinion, the man is way more impressive than the myth. If you want to get to know George Washington as a person instead of a statue or currency, this book is a great place to start. 

I am biased, but I really love this book.

I even bought a copy for my Dad so we could geek out on it together. My life has been lived on one side of the Potomac or the other … much like the guy this book is all about.

It’s a thick book, but worth the read if you like biographies or history.


It’s not a page-turner for everyone. My wife tried and did not get as excited as I did reading this book.

Dad? He’s more of a Civil War history guy, but he enjoyed it too. It’s hard not to love following along with a legend who’s busy changing the world while frolicking around your town … long before it was a town.

Check it out:

As I always say, head to the library or local bookstore, but if you’re like me and your eyes need help get it for the Kindle, ipad, etc.. click here to get it on Amazon.

Want more?

Check out these websites to learn more about George and Madeira wines.