New Jersey Museum Holds A Stash Of 221-Year-Old Madeira Wine : The Two-Way As it was doing an inventory of its wine cellar, the Liberty Hall Museum in New Jersey came across some eye-popping labels: "Imported 1796." The wine was ordered to celebrate John Adams' presidency.
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New Jersey Museum Holds A Stash Of 221-Year-Old Madeira Wine

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New Jersey Museum Holds A Stash Of 221-Year-Old Madeira Wine

New Jersey Museum Holds A Stash Of 221-Year-Old Madeira Wine

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Happy Friday. Time for a drink.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Bill Schroh has a bottle that he may or may not open for happy hour.

BILL SCHROH: It has a very clear label. It says Lenox Madeira, Robert Lenox of Philadelphia. And it has a date saying bottled 1796.

MCEVERS: You heard that right - 1796.

SHAPIRO: This bottle of fortified Portuguese wine is 221 years old. Three cases of the wine were discovered in an old house on the campus of Kean University in New Jersey.

MCEVERS: The house was once owned by John Kean, a revolutionary patriot. His descendants lived in the house for generations before it became Liberty Hall Museum.

SCHROH: So we have a very large historic house. It has 50 rooms and lots of stuff in it.

SHAPIRO: That's Bill Schroh again. He works at the museum. He says museum staff have been going room to room, renovating and repairing the house. And last year, they took on the wine cellar.

SCHROH: All the bottles off the shelves, all the cases, all the shelving we repainted. We fixed a lot of the woodwork. But then we discovered that some of the cases were still nailed shut. And that's when we found the discovery of the Madeira from 1796.

MCEVERS: Madeira is kind of like sherry. And it was a favorite of the upper class back in the 1700s. It apparently was even used to toast the Declaration of Independence. The Portuguese wine was imported because there weren't any vineyards yet in colonial America. It's a hardy wine that made the trip better than other varieties.

SCHROH: And how it came over - it came over in large barrels or large glass jars called demijohns, which were of great ballasts on the bottom of ships. And then you basically bottled it yourself once it got here.

SHAPIRO: This wine was imported and bottled by Robert Lenox, a banker and financier in Philadelphia. And then it was sold to the well-to-do Kean family.

SCHROH: John Kean's widow - her name was Susan Kean. She purchased the wine to celebrate the election of John Adams as our second president.

MCEVERS: And now that we are under our 45th president, the bottles are back on the table - well, maybe. That's up to John Kean's descendants.

SCHROH: We have not opened a bottle yet. That's really up to Mr. John Kean, who's the owner of the bottles. I'm hoping he opens the bottle, but we haven't opened a bottle yet. And it could still be good. We don't know. From the research that we've done, as long as the wax seal - because these are all wax-sealed as well as corked - is not broken, there's a good chance that it still might be a decent-tasting Madeira.

SHAPIRO: If Bill Schroh does open a bottle, we'll look forward to hearing how it tastes.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOT CHIP SONG, "STARTED RIGHT")

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