Madeira Wine at the table of the Russian Czars
One of the most unlikely countries where Madeira Wine had a huge impact on social and cultural life was Russia. One of the events which originated this strong trade connection was the signing in 1787 of the Treaty of Friendship, Navigation and Commerce between Dona Maria I of Portugal and Czarina Catherine II (The Great). The treaty involved a larger tax leniency for the entry of Portuguese wines in Russia in exchange for the same treatment for Russian products like hemp, linseed, oil, iron, guns and ammunition. Thus began the regular supply of true Madeira Wine to Russia.
True Madeira Wine?
Yes, there is a story behind that term.
Madeira Wine was already known and very much appreciated by the nobility in Russia at the end of the 17th century in the reign of his Imperial Highness Peter the Great, however, only very small quantities reached Russia because it had to be bought through third countries. Thus, the idea arose to produce a fortified wine locally: a wine called “Imperial Madera”, of dubious quality, sometimes called ‘cheap vodka’. This, of course, damaged the reputation of noble, fine wine made on the Island of Madeira.
However, when trade became easier after the Treaty signed in 1787, more True Madeira Wine began to arrive in Russia. Instrumental in bringing this nectar of the gods to the table of Czars and Czarinas were two merchant brothers from Saint Petersburg: Piotr and Gregorii Elissev.
In 1821, Piotr sailed towards warmer lands where: “Oranges grow on trees like apples in Russia”. He was aiming for the South of Spain where he had heard he could get his hands on many colonial goods to take back to sell in Saint Petersburg. However, a violent storm landed him on Madeira Island. There, he fell in love with the island, the wine and the people and decided to stay a few months. He learned a little of the Portuguese language and watched wine being made, and that was when he decided to take Madeira Wine back home. Once back in Russia he and his brother set the stage for importing wine from Portugal on a regular basis and established shops which also sold Madeira Wine in Saint Petersburg and Moscow and became very successful – they are architecturally exquisite and still exist to this day.
Historical documents claim that between 1830 and 1840 Russia was one of the biggest importers of Madeira Wine, having traded two thousand casks of true Madeira a year. And in 1899 a total of 770 840 litres of Madeira Wine found their way to this cold part of the continent.
However, when the czars lost power in 1917, true Madeira Wine became inaccessible up until 1991, having been again replaced by maderas made in Russia, Ukraine, Moldavia, Armenia,…
Nowadays the reputation of Madeira Wine in Russia is making a comeback, especially after the footballer Danny Gomes, who plays for one of Russia’s main teams, was nominated Confrade in the Brotherhood of Madeira Wine.
“Thanks again for a wonderful day full of wine and food set to the backdrop of your beautiful island!”
David Mustra, United States