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has long appeared to me very doubtful whether the wine we now call sherry, from Xerez, was known in this country, even 150 years ago. I can trace no authority for it, except the words in Shakespeare, “sherris sack,' which is usually supposed to be dry sherry;' but we find also in old books, sack with sugar,' and sack in so many ways, that it is evidently not derived from the French word 'sec,' dry. Indeed, I have come to the conclusion that, at that period and to a much later date, little, if any dry wines were drunk, and that all had honey, sugar, meade, or other things added to them.
I am not aware that either Cadiz or Xerez is mentioned, till a comparatively late period, as places whence wine was brought. Malaga furnished the Spanish wines so long known under the names of malaga and mountain, both of which are quoted in all old wine circulars.
The subjoined letter from the house of Martinez & Co. in 1799, is another instance of the roundabout ways that trade had to be carried on in those times
It is with pain I have to inform you that owing to the advance of insurance, freight, and many other unavoidable expenses attending the importation of sherry wines from Cadiz to Guernsey, and the late rise of wines abroad, I have been under the necessity of increasing the charges to and at Guernsey from 61. to 81. per butt, and though I assure you the 21. is not adequate to the present circumstances, I am willing to bear a part myself rather than press too hard upon my friends; and I am persuaded, every
SHERRY PRICES IN 1799.
respectable house will feel the necessity of adopting the same plan, as I know that wines of good quality cannot be imported on better terms.
I have occasionally some sherries at Lisbon; the expenses, put on board there (filled up), will be about 51. 108. per butt.
At foot, I hand you our shipping prices, and shall be happy to be favoured with your orders through our friends and agents, Messrs. Smith & Cherinton. 3 to 4 years old sherry at 181. per butt
With the addition 4 to 5
of 81. per butt filled 5 to 6
up, and put free on 6 to 7
board at Guernsey.
Mr. Ballantyne, in his letter, states :
In taverns, the call was only for red or white, but frequently the red was called claret, and the white sherry. Sherry was then generally, like other white wines, kept in a state of fermentation by sweet malaga, meade, cyder, or honey. Pale wine was but just coming home on the lees, with which was mixed Spanish, or small French wine; and a similar mixture was made of the various sorts of white wine. The dexterity of the wine cooper then, was making the most palatable, at the lowest prices. But now, all wine comes in so clean, and in so perfect a state, that the wine cooper's skill of former days is not required. From 1767 to 1774 no pale wine was bottled but for immediate use; only draft wine of all kinds was used in the principal taverns, and it was often very bad, not from tricks of the vintners, but from bad management.... With white port (being subject to ferment in summer, and to grow foul in winter) we mixed a little fine Teneriffe, which improved its flavour and prevented any farther fermentation.
I think three years of the above time bad passed before I had seen a butt of sherry, but, when I did, I recommended it in preference to white port. A man of quality recommended to me Mr. Duff, our late consul at
Cadiz, to whom I sent orders from several friends; and white port soon became despised, although it had been in such esteem that, even as late as 1782, I got orders in one week for shipping 80 pipes. Now (1807) it is forgotten, and sherry has prevailed. But I beg, as many of you as have given up your affection for your palates, to gratify your eyes, with what is extremely pale, when you discover a hot, pungent, bitter taste, such as no grapes could ever give, you will not impute it to the wine-merchant, many of whom, with reluctance, import it to gratify your perverted tastes.
The accompanying statement of the shipping prices, amount of duty, and shipments from the years 1787 to 1863, is as correct as I can make it ; but I offer it only as an approximation to the truth. (See p. 235.)
I may here state that, for my own part, I attach very little confidence to any wine statistics of an earlier date than 1821; and this is not said without a good deal of practical experience. Since the Parliamentary Committee on Wine in 1852, there has been no difficulty in referring to any amount of statistics ; but when I began, twenty years before that time, I had to search in old Acts of Parliament and innumerable documents, and was sometimes disposed to give it up in despair, as errors and confusion were so palpable.
Duties, until 1825, were also increased or diminished by the tun, which explains such rates as 7s. 7d. and 1ls. 5d. per old gallon ; and as I had to assimilate all, from the earliest date, to the imperial gallon, with the rate upon it, by which alone a just
comparison could be made, it may well be supposed that the labour was not light. Previous to 1821, the United Kingdom’sometimes included Scotland and sometimes not. As to Ireland, it was impossible to comprehend the customs arrangements; but I recollect that the documents required in sending wines there, were similiar to those for shipment to Holland, &c.
Wine-merchants will immediately perceive that the prices quoted here show neither the lowest nor the highest that they have often known to have been given; but, while referring to circulars, I have recurred also to memory, not only for quotations, but for qualities.
I can go back personally to 1822, when the lowest shipping prices of the then eight or ten old sherry houses was 281. to 571. 10s., and occasionally 65l., and I am much mistaken if the sherries of that period had not a flavour and character' in them that are now rarely found.
By reference to Gordon & Co.'s list of 1802, it is seen that the lowest price was then 241., rising to 401. for the best. This has been described to me as very fine, but not so bright and well-made as at a later date; though, not improbably, its brightness and freedom from fermentation now, may be, in some degree, owing to larger additions of brandy. For a considerable length of time, before the vine disease broke out in 1852, sherries,—at least, white wines shipped in Cadiz Bay—could be had, at very low prices, of good drinkable quality. Many will concur with me in thinking that a more agreeable quality could then be bought for 201. per butt, than can now easily be met with at 401.
Below is the consumption of sherry, and the percentage which it bore to all other kinds, from 1831 to 1863.
In 1831, consumption 2,089,532 gallons, and 33.63 per centage
The shipments during the first six months of 1864 have been 40,419, so that if the same is continued till December 31, they will have amounted to the enormous quantity of 80,838 butts of (so-called) sherry, during the twelve months. By looking to the table of consumption, it will be seen that the imports are greatly in excess of the consumption (the duty paid), and this is the case very strikingly in 1864. Already it is showing its effect by a fall in the price of the common kinds. The same may be said of ports.