One of the largest collections of 18th Century Madeira in the US and including wines imported in 1796 has been unearthed during a restoration project in New Jersey.

Madeira wines dating back to just after the American War of Independence were discovered in a cellar during restoration work at Liberty Hall Museum in New Jersey. Liberty Hall is a registered national historic landmark and part of Kean University.

Three cases of the Madeira discovered contained wines imported in 1796, according to bottle labels, while other bottles are from the early 19th Century. Each cases contained 12 bottles.

It is thought to be one of the most significant discoveries of wine from this era in the US.

‘We were blown away,’ said Bill Schroh Jr, director of operations at Liberty Hall Museum. ‘We know of other people who found single bottles of Madeira from this era, but not three cases.’

madeira 1796

Madeira was shipped to the US in demijohns and bottled at destination – in this case, in Philadelphia. Credit: Liberty Hall Museum.

Madeira wines were popular in America during this period and it was standard practice for wines to be shipped in ‘demijohn’ glass containers for bottling at a later stage.

Most of the Madeira arrived at Liberty Hall with the Livingston family, following a move from Philadelphia, according to a surviving ‘removals list’ from the era, Schroh told Decanter.com.

The residence was owned almost continuously by the Livingston family and its descendants in the Kean family from the late 18th Century until 1995, when the latest generation turned it into a museum. John Kean is president of Liberty Hall and himself a family member.

Wines in the Liberty Hall cellar have been largely untouched for more than half-a-century.

‘The wine cellar hadn’t been touched since 1949,’ said Schroh, explaining that more recent family residents were not big drinkers.

The wines were discovered as part of an ongoing restoration project, which last year saw the museum team enter the cellar and do an inventory of its contents.

None of the Madeira wines have been opened – yet.

‘We’ve been very tempted,’ said Schroh. ‘We consulted an expert we were told that it was 50-50 whether the wines would be drinkable. But the cork and seal is intact on many of the bottles so we are hopeful.’

It will be up to John Kean to decide what happens to the wines next, Schroh said.

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