Steeped in centuries of maritime history, my city of Liverpool is known worldwide for it's heritage of shipyards, docks, and historic merchant warehouses. We are a seafaring nation, we English. We are also quite fond of the sauce, so it was only a matter of time before I stumbled upon a connection between Liverpool and wine.
In 1773, an enterprising Liverpool merchant, John Woodhouse, fortunately found himself in peril at sea and sought safe harbour in the port of Marsala, on the island of Sicily. I say fortunate because during his sojourn there he experienced the local wine, Marsala. Whilst on the razzle, he realised that his new discovery would probably be popular back home and so, there and then, he decided to go into the wine business.
Marsala is made using a process called in perpetuum which is similar to the solera system used to produce Sherry. The finished wine is classified by colour, sweetness, and duration of aging. To guarantee the stability of the wine, whilst in transit to Liverpool, Mr. Woodhouse fortified each barrel with a good dousing of grape spirit, thus ensuring that his precious cargo was less likely to spoil on it's sea journey...and assuring that it packed an extra alcoholic punch. I like the cut of his jib!
Of course on it's arrival Marsala was a roaring success, in some measure due to the English penchant for sweet wines. (Champagne then, also popularised by the English but as a sweet wine, bares little resemblance to what we would recognise as Champagne today.)
Mr. Woodhouse struck gold when he marketed his concoction to the British navy. In place of the ubiquitous naval ration of rum, 15,000 pipes (a pipe = 105 gals) of Marsala were delivered to victual Admiral Lord Nelson's Mediterranean fleet. Cha-ching! Nelson himself described Marsala as a drink "worthy of the table of any gentleman."
I am quite taken with this little snippet of history. I can relate to this distant tale of a long past Scouser and his passion to introduce the joys of a hitherto unknown wine to his countrymen (or at least Liverpudlians), for I too have a great enthusiasm for wine, and I also have the briny water of the Mersey coursing through my veins.
Down the hatch!