It’s President’s Day weekend and we all know what that means: Three. Day. Weekend. President’s Day is the federal holiday we celebrate on the third Monday in February to honor George Washington’s birthday, though the holiday’s significance has shifted to include all of our nation’s presidents. For such a patriotic weekend, we’re raising a glass of the most patriotic drink there is. No, it’s not Budweiser. We’re toasting to our nation’s leaders with America’s original toasting beverage: Madeira.
Madeira is a fortified wine made on the Portuguese islands of Madeira, produced in a range of styles from bone dry to sticky sweet. The wines are extremely versatile; they can stand solidly alone as aperitifs, pair deliciously with a variety of dinners, or be consumed with dessert as a delightful after-dinner wine.
The fortification of the wine brings the alcohol content up to around 20 percent, which was crucial back in the days of shipping wine via overseas voyages. What we know of as table wine today could’ve never withstood the trip from Europe to America, due to the extreme temperatures aboard the ships. Sailors realized that while “regular” wine cooked at these heats, Madeira actually got better as the temperature rose. The result was that nearly 25 percent of Portugal’s Madeira was being imported to America during the time of our founding fathers. In short, they freakin’ loved it.
They loved Madeira so much that the precious drink was used as the beverage of choice to toast to the signing of the Declaration of Independence in the summer of 1776. In other words, our nation’s foundation was cheers’ed to with a glass (or two) of precious Madeira. After such a monumental toast, Madeira became the drink of choice for other significant toasts in our country, such as Washington’s inauguration. In fact, it’s been said that he used to drink three to five glasses nightly. President Jefferson’s decision to acquire the Louisiana Purchase was also toasted with three special beverages: Champagne to honor the French portion of the deal, Malaga to acknowledge Spain, and Madeira, the beloved wine of America.
Madeira’s popularity in America went down rapidly, mainly due to the phylloxera epidemic in Europe and a little American phenomenon called Prohibition. In a time when everyone wants their wines “dry,” let’s take a moment to appreciate the favorite flavors of our founding fathers and raise a glass of our nation’s OG beloved wine, Madeira.