1795 Terrantez Twins?
Just like every other collector of Madeira wine I too have been watching the auction market over the last years. Besides the usual suspects sometimes you stumble across a unique bottle that provokes your attention. In 2005 a bottle of a 1795 Terrantez bottled by a South Side Madeira Association surfaced at auction in Germany. Another bottle of the same type was auctioned just a few months later in the beginning of 2006. Some other wines from the SSMA company selling at these auctions bore a JNV paper seal, however the two 1795 bottles did not. The two 1795 bottles looked authentic, the straw cover of the cork and the label suggesting a bottling before the end of the 1970ies.
And suddenly in 2010 and 2011 there were about 12-15 bottles of this wine at various auctions in Germany. According to a wine retailer with a vast knowledge about Madeira wine the story behind these bottles was, that an old lady in northern Germany (probably the widow of one of the former importers of the SSMA) was left behind with about two cases of this wine. After her death the bottles fell to a local wine merchant in northern Germany who knew little about Madeira wine and he turned the wines into money by selling them off at various auction houses. Prices ranged between 750 and 1.560 Euros plus buyers premium and lot money.
Since I own three different old bottles from the SSMA I thought that maybe I could start from there. And indeed, one bottle showed a German importer on the label. After some research I was able to contact him and asked him about the SSMA wines in general and especially about the 1795 T. The former importer does not wish to be mentioned in the whole discussion about the 1795 SSMA T being genuine or not. But he was kind enough to tell me that the former exporter on Madeira Island claimed all the vintage Madeira wines from the SSMA to be labeled just with “commercial dates”. Whatever “commercial date” is supposed to mean exactly, the former importer had the impression that these wines were very old blends indeed, probably from well before 1900, or at least early 20th century, but no vintage single grape Madeira wines. Other wines that he mentioned from the SSMA were a 1935 Boal, 1935 Quinado, 1930 Sercial, 1860 Verdelho and 1890 Malmsey. After I wrote him a letter he even mailed back, confirming the story about the “commercial dates” in writing. He sounded somewhat disappointed with Madeira wines in general and since he seems to be in his mid-80ies now, I can understand why he wanted to be left out of this. By the way: He still owned some bottles of the various SSMA wines, the 1795 T among them. However he would not want to sell any of these, even when I made some very high offers.
1795 Terrantez by the SSMA
In Mannie Berks’s revised second edition of Cossart’s “Madeira – the island vineyard” you can find two bottles of 1795 SSMA T being sold at auction in 1996 at Christie’s in London on page 222. The price range was 847-864, very roughly the same range like the other 1795 T wines being sold in that time period. So, if this wine is a fake, it sure has been around for some time and some buyers must have thought that it was genuine. On the other hand, we know that some people at auction just go for the date on the bottle, not for the wine that’s inside…
Even after two years of searching, there are still only two tasting notes about the 1795 T SSMA. The first tasting note I was able to find came after some zigzag research. A shop called Grashoff had sold some bottles of the 1795 T SSMA wine about 30 years ago. The owner recalled his “father going to Madeira island and buying wines from the Southside company, but the company soon went out of business, whether it just closed down or was bought up by some other company” he did not know. Some of the bottles later ended up at the MunichWineCompany, a Bavarian auction house and were auctioned off in 2010 and 2011. Much earlier, one of the Grashoff bottles had allready been tasted by Markus Del Monego in 1993. Mr. Del Monego is “Master of Wine” since 2003 and has been sommelier world champion in 1998, so I would very much think that he is a reliable source of information when it comes to wine. I contacted him and he wrote back: “I tasted the wine in 1993 at a dinner and it was perfect. The color was mahogany, the nose was dried fruits and chocolate, singed sugar and mild spices with some balsamic components. In the mouth this remarkable wine was very opulent, with fine sweetness, elegant acidity and a very good finale. The wine still showed surprisingly much potential for development. Next morning I tasted a little rest of 2 cl from the decanter and it was even better than last night, complex and with fine maturity.” The tasting note of Mr. Del Monego sure sounds like a high quality old Madeira wine. Also the development over night seems to be typical to me. Again, like mentioned above, the fact that the wine had been tasted in 1993 indicates that it has been around for some time.
1795 Terrantez twins? Left the SSMA, right the CVM wine.
The second tasting note comes from Michael Broadbent himself, “Master of Wine” and legendary wine auctioneer at Christie’s and fortunately Alan Gardner was able to find the TN - thanks Alan! Broadbent refers to this wine in his “New Great Vintage Wine Book” (1991 Christies; Knopf, New York) - although it is a summary entry: 1795 ****, generally very good. Several notes. One bottle, labelled "South Side Madeira Association Ltd Funchal", turned out to be rather a curiosity; a bit too deep in colour, a peculiar nose, a cross between lightly malted calf's-foot jelly and a rather drab raya sherry; fairly sweet, rich, quite a nice old drink. On six other occasions I have tasted...... (other different wines - not relevant). Again, the tasting note is rather old.
So I finally asked the IVM/IVBAM if there ever was a company or export brand called the SSMA. They wrote back, stating: “Regarding your request, our department responsible for the seals have been looking at our data and here is what we know: in what regards “SOUTH SIDE MADEIRA ASSOCIATION, LDA.”, the only documents we have are 2 letters, from 11th December 1985, informing the Institute that they were finishing their activity, as well as one from Companhia Vinícola da Madeira, Lda. stating that their associate “SOUTH SIDE MADEIRA ASSOCIATION, LDA.” had ceased its activity of exporter. Therefore, we believe, since we only found export data from Companhia Vinícola da Madeira, Lda., that this company owned the brand “SOUTH SIDE MADEIRA ASSOCIATION, LDA.” What we also know is that, in 1985, the wines from Companhia Vinícola da Madeira, Lda. were transferred to Vinhos Justino Henriques & Filhos, Lda., now known as Justino’s, Madeira Wines, S.A.”
So it seems that the SSMA was an exporting brand of the CVM. My theory is that it was an export brand for the German or European market, since this is where the majority of bottles have surfaced. As you can see from the pictures, the style of bottling sure is similar. Both bottlings have the same type of wicker tops. And if the SSMA T 1795 indeed comes from the CVM, it might very well be the same wine. Why should the CVM fake a special 1795 wine for one of its brands, when they already have one 1795 T in their portfolio? Of course there are other possibilities that I do not even want to think about. What, if the CVM and the SSMA 1795 T are the same wine and they are both fakes? However given the constant and numerous appearance of the CVM T at auction, one might think, that if it was an obvious fake, someone buying and tasting the wine would have rung a bell. Also when I tasted the CVM 1795 T at the NYC Transcendental Terrantez Tasting it sure tasted like a genuine old Terrantez wine, even when it was the stenciled version which is supposed to be superior to the wine from labeled bottles of the CVM 1795 T.
Comparison of the wicker tops: SSMA left, CVM right.
Bottom line: There is no way to proof whether the wine is genuine or not. I tried to find more information, but this is all I could come up with and the facts still remain somewhat inconclusive. However especially the last bit of information from the IVM/IVBAM makes a strong case for the SSMA 1795 Terrantez wine being genuine. And if it’s for real, then there is a high probability that the SSMA wine is the same as the 1795 T bottled under the CVM label.
A big thank you goes to all the people who helped me, shining a little more light on this 1795 mystery (in no particular order): Roy Hersh, Alan Gardner, Markus Del Monego, Batholomew Broadbent, Barbara Sofia da Silva Spinola and the IVBAM staff, Theo Morgenschweis, Oliver Schmidt and everyone else that I forgot to mention.