Savannah is a storied city with libations dominating the headline for generations. And while the traditions of revelry have been held close to the chest of local ancestors, the Davenport House opens the vault of yesteryear with a program on Madeira.
This fortified wine has a deep history in our port city. Newspaper ads attest to the availability of Madeira in Savannah during the early 19th century and Isaiah Davenport's inventory attests to the assumed consumption of the wine in his home, said Jamie Credle, director of the Davenport House Museum.
"It was rare in that Madeira was not punished by the heat," she added. "So it was a popular drink in this region."
In an evening of informational indulgence, the museum will present "Potable Gold: Savannah's Madeira Tradition" each Friday and Saturday in February.
The orientation is intimate, with no more than 14 people allowed in the program. Patrons will absorb the historic atmosphere of the Davenport House while learning the long and rich tradition of Madeira as it relates to the history of Savannah. During the experience, they will see the historic house at dusk, including spaces usually off-limits to museum guests. A Madeira party will follow.
"It's a rare glimpse into the intricacies of Savannah wine culture," said Credle. "You'll feel like you're in a different place, a different time."
The wine itself comes from the volcanic island of Madeira in the Atlantic Ocean, 400 miles off the coast of North Africa. It became a Portuguese colony known for the production of wines. Because of the island's location, it was an ideal stop for ships traveling the sea lanes between the Old and New Worlds.
Wine merchants and partakers found out early that the wines produced in Madeira were transformed by the "brutality" of sea transport into a highly prized libation. The sloshing back and forth and the heat somehow made them better.
As a beverage, Madeira is generally a sweet, dry fortified wine resembling California sherry, and comes in at least four varieties: Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and Malmsey. It is the longest lived of wines and it is not uncommon for potable old Madeira to be sold at auction.
A tradition of consuming the "old Malmsey" continues today with Savannah's exclusive Madeira Club, which champions conviviality, fraternity and civil conversation. The club's records note, "Wine is customary, and Madeira is served with and after dinner."
IF YOU GO
What: "Potable Gold: Savannah's Madeira Tradition"
When: 5:30 p.m. Feb. 2-3, 9-10, 16-17, 23-24
Where: Davenport House Museum, 324 E. State St.
Cost: $22; 21 and older
Also: 7:30 p.m. show will be added if 5:30 p.m. sessions sell out Feb. 9-10, 16-17
See a video with this article at dosavannah.com.