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palates, to gratify your eyes with what is extremely palethat when you discover a hot, pungent, bitter taste, such as no grapes could ever give, you will not impute it to the wine-mercbant, many of whom with reluctance import it, only to gratify your perverted tastes.
As a tribute to the memory of my friend Mr. Robert Halcrow, I cannot refrain from telling you that he had been a seaman on board the Admiral Sir John Norris's ship. He was a Shetland man, of amazing strength; was a mate in the Portugal trade, then master, and afterwards owner of two ships, as before stated. He was also an elder brother of the Trinity House, and a governor of the Merchant Seamen's Hospital ; he made three of his nephews masters of ships; and was so esteemed by the Portuguese, that he became one of the greatest shippers of goods, both to Oporto and Lisbon. Like a seaman he would swear a little, but he was extremely generous and devout; he discoursed with me till the hour of his death, expressed no repentance for adulterating wine in his confessions, but desired me to write his epitaph without fulsome praise; which is in Stepney churchyard.
In 1775, I engaged with Mr. Paul Amsinck, a man of the highest pride in having good wine; he would as readily have committed robbery as have adulterated wine, and I think I know a hundred in London of the same disposition, and about as many in the outports, cities, and great towns. If
ask me, are there no wine-merchants who sell bad wine? I reply, that in places where there are three or four wine-merchants, there is one generally underselling the rest; and many of that sort are here. They do it not so much by the mixture of sloe, cyder, &c., as the vulgar error leads you to believe (especially in the last twenty-one years, since the exciseman comes in upon them unawares), as by purchasing inferior wine rejected by the wine-merchants, and sent on adventure or barter.
For instance, when I was buying some of Lynch's MR. BALLANTYNE'S LETTER.
particular madeira on the quay at 65l., which now would sell for 1151., a Madeira merchant offered me thirty pipes at 55l., which, a year afterwards, I could have bought for 451. I have seen wine shipped by shopkeepers of Oporto, that no wine-merchant of repute could have suffered to come into his vaults, so it is absurd to believe that all bad wine is made so here. These inferior wines are purchased by those who never presume to supply the tables of gentlemen or respectable men of business; and I am sorry the poorer sort, when they can regale themselves with a bottle, get any such in the houses whereon you see Wine neat as imported.'
In 1778, after my return from Oporto, where I had been on important business, and commenced agent for the (then) John Perry, in the quality of whose wines ten years' experience had given me confidence, I was kindly received by many of the most considerable importers, but particularly Mr. Allnutt, who was in the highest estimation, not only for the great extent of his business, but for his honourable spirit and generosity to all with whom he had any concern. I then set off to Bristol, and through Gloucester to Liverpool and Glasgow, making, as a seaman would say, a
, traverse course; and from thence to Edinburgh, returning by Newcastle, Durham, York, and Hull, and afterwards to Lynn and Norwich.
A man in my character, agent to a house of Oporto, and lately come from thence, with ten years' experience here, they had not before seen. I was most kindly received, and, except by one of the undersellers of Liverpool, I cannot recollect one who was not anxious to show me all his wine, and take my opinion. There seemed to be no fear of my discovering any that had been adulterated. The only fault I found, and which I corrected, was their having generally ordered their houses at Oporto to ship the very oldest wine, not regarding the price. Wines long kept at Oporto grow tawny in colour, and vapid, and get what we call the country taste; but those who took my advice and ordered two-year-old wine, obtained more praise from their customers than they ever got before.
If you wish to have excellent port, and wait till it be of age at home, buy young wine here, not what has been in a fever four years at Oporto. It was true what my old friend Admiral Vandeput often said: 'He is a fool who thinks he gets better wine by importing than buying of the merchants here. I have been in all the ports in Europe, Madeira, Teneriffe, but even if our friend Mr. Duff would ship me a butt of sherry, it might not please my palate; and I know the foreign houses lay on more than the profit the wine-merchant would charge me here, if I buy on the quays, and pay ready money, which I must do if I import; and if I do not like the wine, I cannot send it back. If at unlimited prices you get orders to ship for such houses as Carbonell's, Paxton's, Allnutt's, and other houses here, for forty or fifty pipes-- from Gourillet of Winchester, the Grangers at Exeter, or my old friend Major Balfour of Leith, and such houses, am I to expect my pipe better than theirs ? No, no; I know the contrary. He was the best judge of any gentleman I knew.
I have been in as much good company probably as any to whom I now address myself, here as well as in almost any considerable city and town in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and have found in most companies some troublesome pretender to a judgment in wine, thinking it a gentlemanlike accomplishment, but who generally tries to wake up your prejudice against the wine, till by the strength of imagination you fancy it sour; yet, if he has previously heard that his own esteemed wine-merchant has provided the wine, then it is indisputably the best in the world!
I beg, my good friends, that, to check these things, you would give your palates practice, and be not prejudiced in favour of Mr. Anybody's wine or Nobody's, nor in white wine by its colour. About the year 1790 and 1791 I had above 170 wine-merchants chiefly taking their port wine of me, among all of whom there were not ten who sought
cheap wine; and these mostly great importers, who sold to publicans and the lesser dealers, making no pretensions to supply gentlemen's tables.
Your obedient servant,
Letter of the Author to 'The Times,' Oct. 19, 1860. Subjoined is a letter from Mr. Shaw, the early and well-known advocate of a reduction of the wine duties to 18. per gallon, and whose exertions on the question were made at an epoch when there was a surplus revenue to favour the experiment, when the produce, unaffected by the vine disease, was good and ample to meet any sudden increase of demand, and when our Continental relations were such that there was time to trust to the effects of a continuous increase of trade through several years to prevent the growth of a military feeling and the preparation of enormous armaments against this country.
It remained for others to neglect or oppose his arguments at the date when they were put forth, and then to take 1860 as the period for adopting them, and to claim, amid the usual flourishes about international progress,' the consummation of free trade,' &c., all the popularity and advantages of the measure, political and otherwise. In his present communication, the object of Mr. Shaw is to modify the bearing of certain statements recently put forth as to the disastrous character of the French vintage this season, and also regarding the probability of wine becoming a general article of consumption. In the latter respect his views continue sanguine, but he points out a serious drawback to their realisation. The public are almost universally under an impression that at the reduction of duties to their lowest point on January 1, next, all wines of the lighter class will come in at a duty of only 18. per gallon. On the contrary, Mr. Gladstone and his advisers have arranged that the very weakest vin ordinaire, as well as the cheapest and dearest champagne and burgundy, and every wine imported in bottle,' must pay 28. 5d. per gallon, or nearly the same rate as that at present chargeable. This is a result of the sliding scale imposed with regard to alcoholic strength. It being impossible to test that strength in the instance of wine in bottle, the high rate is therefore imposed indiscriminately.
This clumsy contrivance would be vexatious even if it were necessary, but it will appear especially disagreeable if Mr. Shaw's statement is accurate, that the alcoholic test is altogether a needless device of official obstructives--ever ready to apprehend that all the commercial world live only for the purpose of defrauding or outwitting them :
Nuits, Côte d'Or, France : Oct. 12, 1860. •Sing-In your paper of the 5th inst. there is a letter from Mr. Standen containing remarks upon the vintage of the present year in this country, and his opinion on the results to be expected from the late and prospective reduction of the duty on wine. Although apparently unaware that the vintage in the great southern districts has proved both excellent and abundant, it is unfortunately true that it is bad in all other quarters, and that prices have risen, and would have risen still more, were it not for the general depression of trade and the considerable stocks of former years still existing. It should be remembered that a rise of even 25 per cent. on the usual good descriptions is seldom more than 31. to 41. per hhd., or from 38. to 4s.
dozen. “Mr. Standen mentions that the present price of a choice bottle of claret at the Hôtel du Louvre is 208., and that little, if any, more would be charged in England. The experiment might be tried at Mivart's or the Cla