Skip to main content

A Shot of History: You, Too, Can Drink 297-Year-Old Madeira Wine

madeira wine
In 1720, the pirates Anne Bonny, Mary Read, and “Calico Jack” Rackham were captured by Captain John Barnett and brought to trial. In 1720, too, Jonathan Swift had just begun writing his classic novel, Gulliver’s Travels. There may not have been the Internet or Tinder or even, you know, the Declaration of Independence, but there was booze. Many kinds of booze were being made, but on the island of Madeira off the coast of Portugal, they were making fortified wine—which would come to be known as Madeira wine—and that fortified wine, by way of trade routes, made its way to what would become the United States. Those with money drank tons of it and now, if you’re in the DC area, you can drink it, too. Not just Madeira made today, but the exact same Madeira. From 1720.

Plume, the only Forbes-Five-Star restaurant in DC which is located inside The Jefferson Hotel, now has a bottle of Madeira wine from 1720 that, if you’re willing to spend the money, can offer you a chance to step back in time. For $1720 per 2 ounce pour, you can drink like our Founding Fathers drank. Aside from a few bottles of 1715 Terrantez, this is the oldest Madeira in existence.

Related Videos

Once it was acquired, the decision to offer this wine—and the Jefferson’s vast selection of other wines from various vintages—was easy.

“Let’s bring in wine that Thomas Jefferson drank or the types of wine that he would’ve drank,” Wine Director at The Jefferson Jennifer Knowles said.

Related: The Story Behind Madeira

But, what does a bottle of Madeira from almost 300 years ago taste like?

“It’s like bees stinging you in the mouth in the best way because of the acidity, but the finish goes on for around seven minutes,” Knowles said. Drinking this Madeira wine, or any of the other wines, Knowles added, are how people make memories. “When people drink these wines, it’s fun to see them pull out their phones and start telling each other about what was happening in the year that the wine was made.”

Fortified wine not your thing? Plume also offers rum flights that are based on the Triangular Trade, a series of trade routs that were also prevalent during Thomas Jefferson’s time. Currently on the menu at Plume are, among others, rums from the French Antilles.

Editors' Recommendations

Wine pros reveal the bottles that changed their lives
Most wine pros can think of a single bottle that made them join the industry. Here are a few of those tales.
Peter Wassam enjoying some wine.

For many in the wine industry, there was a defining moment that involved a very particular bottle. Over the course of a few sips, that wine changed the course of their lives, causing them to change career paths or give up prior dreams for a new, wine-soaked one. It's a tale as old as time in the wine industry, but the anecdotes are always entertaining. There aren't many liquids out there that can cause you to drop a successful role as a doctor or historian to become a sommelier, but that's the power of wine. Here are just some of the wine bottles that changed the lies of these professionals.

We asked some of our favorite wine professionals this question: What's the one bottle that changed your life? Here are their answers.
Josh Peeples
Peeples is the proprietor of a handful of labels, including Napa-based Elyse Winery and Institution Winery. “The experience that changed everything for me was when I visited Duckhorn Winery in 1995," he says. "I was only 18 years old and still living in my hometown of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. The 1992 Duckhorn Three Palms Merlot poured for me by the owner, Dan Duckhorn, connected all of the dots: Great wine, great people, and allure of the business. Little did I know I’d move to San Francisco just three years later.”
Matt Stamp
A longtime sommelier, Stamp is also behind Compline Restaurant. He, like so many in the trade, was blown away by burgundy. “Hands down, the 2000 fixin from Domaine Mongeard Mugneret," he says. "I was just getting started in wine and was sort of nodding along as people talked about tar and earth and grass and other strange aromas beyond simple fruit. This bottle of red burgundy made me see it clearly: A whole interlocked universe of scent in a glass of wine. It made me understand how impactful smell is in our own memories and experiences. It kickstarted my desire to learn.”
Adrian Manspeaker
The winemaker and owner of Joseph Jewell Wines was moved by a wine born the same year as him. “It was my 25th birthday, and my wife and I went to dinner at Josh Ash & Co in Santa Rosa," he says. "While reviewing the wine list, the 1978 IronHorse Cabernet caught my eye. 1978 is the year I was born and, at $120 a bottle, I thought it was a really good deal considering the age of the wine. After the bottle arrived at our table, I read the back label to find that the grapes were harvested the third week of October that year — the exact week I was born. Yes, the wine was amazing, but it was all of the elements of the story that stand out to me. Wine goes beyond what’s in the glass to capture a moment in time.”
Megan Skupny

Read more
These are the best wines to add to your collection: Our top picks
There are many great wineries out there, but these brands and varieties really stood out
Shelf of vegan wines.

We've already looked at some of our favorite spirits of the year and the tastiest beers of 2022, but what about wine?

2022 was a pretty good year for wine. We welcomed new appellations to the wine map, saw an increasing number of BIPOC industry members make waves, successfully messed around with new grape varieties, and generally heightened the status of the wine scene overall. So what really stood out? Well, several brands, but not just because of the wine they produce. That's a significant part of it, sure, but we're also interested in what they stand for, from real sustainability (environmental, social, economic) to how they're changing the game for the better. Read on to hear about our favorite wines.

Read more
5 amazing Black-owned wineries you need to know about
These Black-owned wineries are making a splash in the wine community
what is natural wine guide mem 2

As Black History Month approaches, it's important to pause and evaluate the businesses we support. Every month of the year, we should be doing our best to back and give prominence to businesses that, regrettably, don't get the appreciation they deserve. February is simply a time to refresh this knowledge, a time to highlight Black-owned businesses that are impressive every month of the year, not just in February.

Something else we love to do every month (day?) of the year? Drink wine. Good wine. Wine that pleases our palettes and calms our aching bodies and tired minds. Wine that helps us escape to a more relaxed world where words like "tax returns" don't exist. Many Black-owned wine labels have given us this gift. The gift of impressively decadent, bold and flavorful, award-winning, exquisite wines. These are a few of our favorites.
The Guilty Grape

Read more