Wooden cases, cardboard boxes and bottle containers
As most wines of higher quality do, Madeira wines used to be traded and shipped in wooden cases of 12 bottles. First this was for practical reasons since the long oversea transport raised the need for extra protection of the bottles. Second this also added to the high quality image of the wine. Initially those cases were made of wicker since durable wood was needed for building. Later the wood was imported and the production of wooden cases started.
Making of wicker boxes, shown at the I.V.M.
Bottles and wooden cases at Blandy's, shown at the I.V.M.
Due to the somewhat shorter and more compact shape of the Madeira bottles, these boxes also were more compact in size then today's standard wooden wine case like used for Californian or French reds. The case usually featured the name of the producer, the name of the importing company and sometimes even some information about the wine inside the case. The cases were either branded or stenciled or both. The two following pictures show two cases of Power's and Barbeito, each to contain 12 bottles, additionally protected by a straw filling (The Power case even contained some original straw when I got it). The cases also show the name of the importer and the Power's case gives you the name of the wine (Sercial 1900).
Wooden cases 1.
Wooden cases 2.
Interestingly both cases feature some sort of sealing to prevent tampering with the cases contents. Whether this was really because of a realistic risk or more for image reasons I can not tell. The Power's case top bears the remains of a wax seal that covered a wire going around the case to secure it from being opened. Note the vertical impression of the case front just above the letter "R" made from the wire. Any attempt to open the case would have resulted in destruction of the seal or the wire. To protect the seal from damage during transport, the seal itself was covered with a round metal cover that had been hammered into the case top. The impression of this cover is still visible on the case top.
Wax seal on case.
The Barbeito case features a different sealing. Every edge of the case had been secured with small driven metal seals. Any attempt to open the case would have destroyed some of these seals.
Metal seals on case.
Unfortunately today most of the Madeira wine comes in cheap cardboard boxes. In my opinion this reduces the good image of Madeira wine. One might think, that if you buy a complete case of vintage Madeira, the extra cost for a wooden case would not really matter. But to my knowledge none of the existing producers uses wooden cases anymore. Due to stability reasons cardboard boxes contain 3 by 4 bottles of wine standing upright instead of lying like in the wooden cases. This also makes them more compact and easier to arrange for transport on a pallet.
Cardboard boxes on pallets at Merces lodge.
Today the only wood you will get is a wooden bottle container. Image being the main reason for this container, it also serves quite well as a protective cover during the flight home. Make sure that the wax cover of the bottle is wrapped in some extra paper or bubble wrap since the bottle tends to move a little inside the wooden container thereby damaging the wax cover. I always take my socks to cover the bottle top and stuff out the extra space in the bottle container. Also this means more extra space in the suitcase to pack in that extra bottle.
Bottle containers at Loja dos Vinhos.