History lovers and wine lovers can celebrate the Fourth of July this Saturday in unison. While historians can expound on the importance of the date as the founding of our country, few know that George Washington, a whiskey distiller, toasted the reading of the Declaration of Independence with a glass of wine.
Actually, wine was the most prevalent beverage at the time. Colonists drank heartily due to the poor conditions of the water. Some say they drank over six gallons per year, more than twice the rate of today.
While rum was the most popular beverage early on in the colonies, increasing taxes made in difficult to obtain. As a substitute, colonists began drinking Madeira. This fortified wine, which comes from an island of the same name off the coast of Portugal, was part of the triangular trade and was not taxed. While the English thought the wine common, the long journey by ship to America made it more palatable and popular. When authorities realized that, it soon became taxed, as well.
Madeira remains available today, though it is a lot less popular. The wine is brown in color and tastes very similar to sherry and can be dry or sweet. I enjoy it in the winter to counter an evening chill. With cheese and nuts, it makes for a great treat before or after dinner. Madeira continued to be popular through the 19th century and only declined with the onset of Prohibition and the growing popularity of spirits.
We all know about turkey on Thanksgiving and ham or roast beef on Christmas. Lesser known is the tradition of salmon and peas on the Fourth of July. Our forebears found that both were available in July and make a wonderful match. If you decide to make this meal, Madeira might be too strong, but a nice chardonnay would accompany it well. Widely available chardonnays to consider would include Josh, Kendall-Jackson or Sonoma-Cutrer. Consult your local wine store for other suggestions.
If you're gathering for an outdoor barbecue, you'll likely think of serving beer, wine or hard seltzer, a new addition. For any barbecue, especially ribs, wine lovers should think about syrah (shiraz in Australia). It’s a full-bodied red, usually quite drinkable, and would complement any grilled food, even salmon.
Keep in mind that none of these beverages mix with fireworks. Enjoy a safe Fourth of July.
Bob McGinn has spent his entire career in the wine industry—forming wine clubs, working in wine sales marketing and engaging in all facets of the winemaking process, including vine management, fermentation and yeast analysis. He has developed wine programs for companies such as Marriott, Sheraton and Smith & Wollensky, and consults with local restaurants. You can read more of McGinn’s work at gulfcoastwinejournal.com.