Lonely Planet Writer

A New Jersey museum has discovered Madeira wine in its cellar dating back to 1796

Staff at a New Jersey museum got a big surprise when cataloguing the wine collection from its cellars, as they discovered bottles of Madeira dating back to 1796. These, they reckon, were most likely used to celebrate the inauguration of the second president of the US, John Adams.

Staff at Liberty Hall Museum discovered wine dating back to 1796 in its cellars. Image: Liberty Hall Museum
Staff at Liberty Hall Museum discovered wine dating back to 1796 in its cellars. Image: Liberty Hall Museum

The wine cellars are located at the Liberty Hall Museum at Kean University, which was originally home of New Jersey’s first elected governor and signer of the Constitution, William Livingston. Built in 1772, the originally designed 14-room Georgian-style home grew into a 50-room Victorian-style mansion. The museum houses extensive collections of antique furniture, ceramics, textiles, toys, tools and wine owned by seven generations of the two families who owned it, the Livingstons and the Keans. The Kean family ultimately turned it into a museum on the campus of Kean University.

Staff at Liberty Hall Museum discovered wine dating back to 1796 in its cellars. Image: Liberty Hall Museum
Staff at Liberty Hall Museum discovered wine dating back to 1796 in its cellars. Image: Liberty Hall Museum

During renovations, staff were working on the building’s wine cellars and removed all the bottles to place them on inventory. They were surprised to discover several cases of Lenox Madeira wine that were hundreds of years old, and reckon it was shipped over from Portugal to toast the second president. They based this assumption on the date of the wine, and the fact that Madeira was a drink chosen by the wealthy because it didn’t lose its flavour while crossing the Atlantic. They discovered the Madeira, along with 42 demijohns of wine from the 1820s, behind a plywood and plaster wall that was constructed during Prohibition

Staff at Liberty Hall Museum discovered wine dating back to 1796 in its cellars. Image: Liberty Hall Museum
Staff at Liberty Hall Museum discovered wine dating back to 1796 in its cellars. Image: Liberty Hall Museum

The Rare Wine Co., a premier wine merchant based in California, tested the Madeira and confirmed its age. It also said that Lenox bottles are incredibly rare and expensive. Museum staff also sampled the wine, and said it tasted like sweet sherry wine. The Liberty Hall Museum has now removed the wall so that visitors can see the wines on display.