New Jersey museum discovers 220-year-old wine bought to celebrate second US president’s inauguration

The museum had no idea it was sitting on the country’s largest collection of Madeira

Helen Coffey
Monday 24 July 2017 13:09 BST
A museum stumbled across the largest Madeira collection in America
A museum stumbled across the largest Madeira collection in America (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

A museum in New Jersey has discovered several cases of wine from 1796 that are believed to have been shipped over to celebrate John Adam’s presidency.

The Madeira collection was discovered in Liberty Hall Museum during an extensive renovation to allow visitors to explore different eras of American history. Part of the renovation work included updating the building’s wine cellars – and it turns out the wine collection is slightly more interesting than curators had previously realised.

"We knew there was a lot of liquor down here, but we had no idea as to the age of it," Liberty Hall President John Kean told "I think the most exciting part of it was to find liquor, or Madeira in this case, that goes back so far. And then trying to trace why it was here and who owned it."

While the museum has always known that there were old wines in its collection, it wasn’t until each bottle was catalogued that experts found that several cases of Madeira wine were hundreds of years old, and were likely shipped over from Portugal to toast the second President of the US.

Researchers based this assumption on the date of the wine and the fact that Madeira was a drink reserved for the top brass – it was chosen by the wealthy due to the fact it didn’t lose its flavour while crossing the Atlantic. Bill Schroh Jr., director of operations at Liberty Hall, said: "So you could open some of these bottles, and it might be perfect."

The wine racks in the cellar were enclosed when Schroh started working at the museum 20 years ago – he said this was probably done by the Kean family during Prohibition to protect the collection. The museum has now removed the extra wall so that visitors can see the wines on display.

When the museum announced the discovery of the collection, it was contacted by The Rare Wine Co., a premier wine merchant based in California, which tested the Madeira and confirmed its age. Museum staff also decided to try some of the centuries-old wine. They filled a decanter with Madeira from one of the original casks, which tasted similar to sweet sherry wine according to those who tried it.

The Madeira collection is believed to be the biggest in the US and one of the largest in the world.

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