Madeira Wine Notes - Recent
I have written before that I would travel the earth to attend one of Patrick Grubb’s tastings. This was billed as his last so I made an extra special effort to attend, moving commitments at the Decanter World Wine Awards in the process. I am very grateful to Stephen Spurrier and Christelle Guibert for making this possible for me as this is a tasting never to be missed. As always Patrick uncorked history: a dozen bottles of madeira dating from 1940 – 1780. The tasting included a number of old bottles from Barros e Sousa, a tiny producer still in existence though not registered as a shipper. Although I have tasted a number of their younger wines at their lodges in Funchal, I know that the company has no older vintages left to sell. These wines came from a family member.
The wines below were all decanted over the weekend before the tasting (held on a Tuesday) and Patrick noted those bottles where there was a heavy sediment. They are presented her in the order they were tasted, from dry to sweet though one or two were arguably in the wrong place.
Blandy 1940 Sercial ****
Pale amber colour; singed on the nose, leafy fruit underneath; a touch savoury with fine, rapier like acidity, bitter-sweet lemon peel twist, seemingly bone dry and quite austere on the finish, prototype Sercial. 17.5
Torre Bella 1865 Sercial (recorked before shipment this year). ****
Mid-amber with a green tinge; perfumed, floral aromas, orange blossom; a touch of sweetness initially, bitter-sweet marmalade character, lovely texture, a touch of soily – casky complexity on the finish, long and bone dry. A lovely old wine. 17
H.M. Borges 1810 Sercial (labelled ‘Family Reserve, Henrique Menezes Borges, established 1877’) **
Pale-mid amber; very strange vegetal aromas, garden lillys with a touch of cat’s pee; tastes much better then it smells, quite rich for a Sercial, dry astringency with an austere finish. Not a very pleasant drink to my mind though others thought differently. 14
V.M.V. 1877 (grower unknown, recoked and rewaxed prior to shipment. Heavy sediment.) *****
Mid-amber orange with a green tinge; lovely thick-cut tawny marmalade character with a touch of blossom on the nose; medium-rich, lovely spicy, citrus character with good weight mid palate, retaining purity of fruit. A lovely wine in near perfect condition that goes on and on! 19
Campanário 1846 (labeled Herdado do Dr Tarquino T.C. Lomelino, Eugenio de B. Henriques. Metal capsule embossed ‘Camara de Lobos. F. Eduardo Henriques Succr) *****
Lovely orange-amber colour, green rim; open expressive crystalised fruit, apricots and a hint of spring flowers; lovely texture, fine, quite delicate with dried apricots on the palate, long and lithe, a very beautiful wine with the merest touch of cask on the finish, fine focused and linear. 19
Barros e Sousa, Verdelho, Porto Santo n/v (with a label that looks as though it designed in the 1930s or 1940s) **
Before the airport was built, Porto Santo had plenty of vineyard and the Barros family owned most of them. This is the only Verdelho that I have ever seen from the island, the most commonly planted grape being Listrão. This wine is notable for its comparable lack of acidity: mid-amber with a touch of mahogany; a rather coarse, meaty nose, a touch of Bovril; savoury, rich and full with good weight and texture but without much finesse. Beef stock flavours right the way through to the finish. Difficult to award a mark as there is not much to compare this wine against. 14
ABS Barros e Sousa 1880 Madeira Velho ***
Slightly cloudy, pale to mid amber, subdued savoury aromas with pruney fruit underneath; rich and spicy initially, tawny marmalade character, slightly burnt and bitter sweet and astringent on the on the finish, not especially long, falls away on the finish. 15
PJL Barros e Sousa 1880 Boal ****
Mid-amber; lovely expressive aromas, pungent, dried figs and apricots, lifted and rich with a touch of marmalade; long, rich dried apricot fruit with a citrusy streak of acidity running all the way through, very sweet yet gentle with an almost mellifluous finish. 18
Barros e Sousa 1890 Boal **** / *****
Mid-deep orange amber; not quite so expressive, singed leaves, autumnal nose; medium-rich tawny marmalade character with a bitter sweet twist of orange peel towards the finish, long and pure. Very fine. 18.5
Barros e Sousa 1860 Old Reserve ***
Mid-deep amber; rather a soggy, soupy nose, musty and not terribly attractive; tastes much better with a marmalade tang, pure and lean mid-palate, orange peel, extending on to the finish. Let down by the nose. 15
Malvazia, Fajã dos Padres n/v (Recorked prior to shipment last year Heavy sediment) ****
Fajã dos Padres at the foot of Cabo Girão is the source of some of Madeira’s best Malvasia: cloudy amber mahogany colour; savoury, rather cheese-like aromas; rich figgy fruit, pungent and powerful with dried figs and spice on an expansive finish, lovely breadth and depth, just let down by the aromas on the nose. 17
HMB 1780 Bual (presumably Borges, heavy sediment) ****
Mid-amber, green rim; wonderful aromas, lifted and very expressive, a touch vegetal, herbal, crushed leaves; herbs and spice on the palate, quite dry in style initially, long with great persistence and poise. 18
Location: Armoury House, Honourable Artillery Company, London
Blandy’s Bual 1969 *****
Blandy’s new Managing Director, Chris Blandy, sent me a sample of this wine which he is very excited about, and with good reason. The year 1969 was singled out in early cask tastings by the late Noel Cossart, formerly partner in Cossart Gordon, then the Madeira Wine Association and author of Madeira, the Island Vineyard, as one of the best vintages for Bual.
Amber – orange in colour with clear, clean ethereal aromas, crystalized citrus peel with a hint of orange blossom; fine, almost delicate initially with beautiful poise maintained throughout, crisp lime marmalade with just a wisp of wood smoke towards the finish, long, linear and very beautiful to behold. It is deeply reassuring that wines as great as this are still being bottled in Madeira (bottled 2012). 19
Location: The Barn at the Rookery
This was a truly international tasting of wines made from what is one of Madeira’s greatest grapes. It was organized by Roy Hersh (For The Love Of Port) and Mannie Berk (The Rare Wine Company) and drew in twenty madeira aficionados from all over the world, each of whom brought along a bottle. The tasting follows on from the Transcendental Terrantez tasting held at the same place in New York City last year.
The wines were tasted in 6 short flights after which we all were given the opportunity to comment on and discuss the wines. Background notes, some of which I have included here, were compiled by Manny Berk. The tasting lasted from 11am until early evening by which time everyone was well and truly ready for a good dinner at Del Posto restaurant where the tasting was held.
I have never tasted so many magnificent Verdelhos together before. The wines had all been decanted two days before hand. As always the wines are listed here in the order they were tasted.
D’Oliveira 1890 Verdelho *** / ****
Almost certainly from vineyards in São Martinho, just to the west of Funchal. D’Oilveira still have stock of this wine in wood at their lodges in Funchal: mid-mahogany colour, thin yellow-green rim; torrefaction aromas, very characteristic of D’Oliveira, singed leaves with a touch of cask but lifted and aromatic; fine, nervy marmalade style, rich with lovely texture and mouthfeel. Caramelised with the torrefaction character re-appearing on the finish. 16.5
Torre Bella 1887 Verdelho ‘São Filipe’ ****
In the 18th and 19th centuries the Torre Bella estate was the largest on the island, including some if the finest vineyards at Câmara de Lobos, Ribeira Brava and Campanário. By the 1980s the family had almost died out, the estate had been broken up and sold. The wines were sold off at auction in London thereafter: pale mahogany–amber with a red glint and a yellow-green rim, perfumed, seductive, lifted and very beautiful on the nose, floral (honeysuckle); soft initially, gentle and almost mellifluous until the acidity cuts in, toasted character, multi-layered and quite complex with a rich yet bitter edge to the finish. Dry for a Verdelho and quite funky! 17.5
Lomelino 1885 Verdelho ****
I have always had a soft spot for Lomelino, ever since I tasted some lovely wines from them early in my wine trade career. This wine is a rarity with only two bottles having appeared at auction: mid amber to pale mahogany, green tinged rim; gentle, savoury smoked aromas, hickory, nuts too; rich in style for Verdelho, savoury flavours, hazelnuts, slightly salted towards the finish, lovely savoury length. 17
Leacock 1882 Verdelho AO – SM **
Produced by D’Oliveria who were partidistas until the 1970s and sold wine to the Madeira Wine Association (now the Madeira Wine Company). This was bottled under a variety of labels including Blandy, Cossart-Gordon and Lomelino. Almost certainly from vineyards in São Martinho: very deep mahogany colour with a thin yellow-green rim; rather a soupy nose, lacking in definition, caramelized fruit, rich and sweet in style, soupy, raisiny fruit with a burnt edge. The colour and the character of this wine suggest the addition of calda at some stage. 13.5
Torre Bella 1879 Verdelho ‘San António’ ****
Mid-orange amber with a broad green tinged rim; singed nose, quite delicate and high toned, smoky, not so funky as the 1887 but there is a family resemblance; toasty flavours, touch of apricot with good weight and mouthfeel, lovely length, quite well defined with just a hint of cask on the finish. 17.5
São Martinho 1879 (Blandy embossed on the capsule, bottled 1893, recorked January 1953, 1960, rebottled and recorked July 1996) *****
A bottle from my late father-in-law’s cellar (Richard Blandy), produced just before phylloxera. It is possible, given its early bottling date, that this wine was sent on HMS Challenger during its expedition from 1872 – 1876: mid-amber orange colour, broad green rim; gentle, delicate ethereal aromas, dried apricots with a hint of blossom, very pure and clean; quite dry in style, long and lithe, lovely texture and purity on the palate, apricots with a touch of honey and a long dry finsh. Gentle and expressive. 19
Cossart Gordon 1864 Verdelho *****
Apparently this is the only 1864 wine labeled ‘Verdelho’ in existence. Fairly rare with 9 bottles having been sold at auction: mid-deep amber, green tinged rim; lovely candied peel aromas, not especially expressive, very clean and gentle; fine and delicate, beautifully taut flavours, orange peel and spice with balanced by near perfect acidity, long and lithe on the finish with a touch of bitter orange. Very fine and focused. 19.5
Lomelino 1862 Verdelho *****
From a vintage known for Terrantez, this wine has appeared under at least three different labels: Lomelino, Blandy’s and Avery’s. A rare wine with only five bottles seen at auction under three brands: pale mahogany, thin green rim; pungent and powerful on the nose, expressive tawny marmalade character, rich and powerful, quite sweet with lovely limey acidity to offset the tang of tawny marmalade. A touch meaty. The acidity goes all the way through to the finish, giving this wine great poise. 19
D’Oliveira 1850 Verdelho ****
This is the oldest Verdelho still available from D’Oliveira, coinciding with the year of company’s foundation. This bottle from the family’s private collection was bottled in the 1960s or 1970s: very deep red mahogany colour, thin green rim; rich but not soupy, lifted figgy aromas, a touch burnt around the edges, D’Oliveira in style but not overtly so; big and rich against a slightly casky backdrop, tawny marmalade character and roasted coffee. Very rich and long with lovely acidity. 17
Avery’s Verdelho Reserva Velhissima, Visconde Val Pariso circa 1846 ****
In the 1950s and 1960s Averys was one of the richest sources of old Madeiras from a stock built up by Ronald Avery. Most of the wines are believedto have come from the then Madeira Wine Association and the estate of the late Stephen Gaselee: mid amber, thin green tinged rim; gentle, lifted although not especially expressive on the nose, just a touch beefy; firm and spicy, peppery even, very clean and quite powerful with a fine focused linear finish and the mereest touch of cask, a very beautiful wine, just a touch savoury though perhaps drying out. 18
Lomelino, Quinta da Paz, 1840 **** / *****
From the late William Leacock’s cellar, sold at Christies in London in 2010. It was produced on the estate of Joseph Phelps and the stock came into the possession of the Leacock and Blandy families when Lomelino joined the MWA in the 1930s. The wine had been rebottled by Lomelino in 1926. In 1971 Graham Blandy gave each of his children two bottles, calling them ‘museum pieces’. He noted that the wines was probably Verdelho. Before the Leacock sale only seven bottles had appeared at auction: mid-mahogany, green tinged rim; unsual and somewhat disjointed initially on the nose, slightly scented, floral, leafy; bitter-sweet twist, lovely candies peel character, cinnamon too, complex with a beautiful texture, leafy finish with a green edge. 18.5
Newton, Gordon, Cossart & Co 1840 ‘The Rebel’ (bottled Feb 1889)
A rare surviving example of the glass-aged madeiras popular in the USA in the nineteenth century. It came from the Goelet collection sold at Morrell and & Co. in New York in 1999. The wine presumably arrived at New York on the ship called The Rebel. It is not clear if 1840 is the date of bottling or the vintage. The label also bears the name of William F. Fearing, a wine merchant who for decades sold madeiras to wealthy New Yorkers on behalf of William Neyle Habersham of Savannah. The February 1889 date on the label is presumably when Fearing transferred the wine from demijohn to bottle. The bottle was recorked on April 16 1919, only a few months before the start of prohinition: pale-mid amber, green tinged rim; odd nose, smelling of mothballs and butterscotch, syrup too(others noted glue, shoe polish, rubber); similarly odd taste, malty flavours, smooth, quite soft, falling away on the finish, is this why it is called ‘The Rebel’? I have never tasted a wine quite like this before! Sadly this wine does not live up to its long history. No Mark.
Acciaioly Verdelho Special Reserve 1839 ****
Oscar Acciaioly was the last of one of Madeiras oldest families, descended from the Dukes of Burgundy. The Acciaiolys arrived in Madeira in the early 1500s and are thought to have brought the Malvasia Babosa grape to the island. When Oscar Acciaioly died in 1979 his stock of wines was divided between his second wife (who sold them to Mario Barbeito) and his sons Michael and David who sold them at Christies. This bottle is from Christies: mid-deep mahogany, thin green rim; lovely, lifted leafy aromas, green leaves with a touch of toffee apple; sweet initially, lovely greengage fruit, rich and intense with wonderful texture and length, fresh citrus finish with a touch of butterscotch, Verdelho in a richer and rather atypical style. ‘Slutty’ according to one fellow taster! 18
Avery’s Verdelho 1838 *****
Ronald Avery believed that this wine came from Stepehn Gaselee, a great Bristish Madeira collector. Gaslee (1882 – 1943) worked at the Foreign Office in London and visited Madeira every winter between 1919 and 1939. He befriended both Portuguese and British families on the island and was sold or given wines that no one else had access to. André Simon wrote that ‘some of the Madeira notables sold to Gaselee some priceless wines which they would not have let any wine-merchant buy for sacks of gold.’ This wine lives up to its billing: mid-deep mahogany, reddish glint, thin green tinged rim; not as pungent as some of the wines here, savoury bouillon nose, fine and well defined, savoury – toasty character, caramelized nuts, leading to a deliciously savoury finish. Very, very fine, finishes beautifully. 19
Averys Verdelho 1822 ****
Possibly a solera. Most Avery’s 1822 Verdelho was labelled solera but some were not. This bottle is one of the few where the label does not say ‘solera’ although the bottle is newish suggesting it was bottled in Bristol in the 1950s: mid-deep amber with a green tinged rim; fine savoury aromas, beef consomée (this wine demands it!); soft and savoury, yes this is beefy yet gentle and delicious, not much depth but a lovely, gentle old wine. 17.5
Henriques and Henriques Velho Verdelho **** / *****
One of a number of wines dating back to before the founding of H&H in 1850. This wine belonged to Peter Cossart who managed H&H, was inherited by his son John and sold by his children to The Rare Wine Company in the USA. John Cossart believed that this wine was already considered ‘old’ when the company was founded and may well date back to the late eighteenth century. This wine was aired for about six months in demijohn before being recorked in late 2011: mid-deep amber, thin green rim; soft, clean, gentle aromas, not especially expressive; smooth, soft toasty flavours, hazelnut, savoury with a touch of casy]k on the finish and a saline edge, very elegant. 18.5
H.M. Borges Verdelho 1800 *****
One of several wines left by Henrique Menèzes Borges to his children on his death in 1916, with instrictions not to sell them. The wines ended up with one son, Joao Maria, who on his death in 1980 bequeathed them to his six children. On February 13th 1889 the wines were all bottled from demi-john in the presence of the Borges family and the wines were divided equally among the family. Though the date was given by H.M. Borges, it should be considered approximate. Twenty three bottles of 1800 Verdelho were bottled in 1989: mid-deep amber, green rim; lovely nose, clean, gentle, delicate yet lifted and savoury; very fine, powerful toasty-savoury flavours, spice as well, dry tangy finish with the merest hint of candied citrus peel, beautifully clean and elegant, amazing for a wine at 213 years of age! 19
Justino Henriques Verdelho 1748 Solera
This wine was shipped to the US in the mid-1960s and sold by Sherry Wines and Spirits on Madison Avenue (predecessor of Sherry-Lehman). According to Justino Henriques, the wine had been acquired from João Alfredo Faria, ‘an important land owner in Funchal’. In 1967 an ad claimed that the entire contents of one 1748 cask were bottled, totaling 700 bottles. This bottle is number 38. The wine was sold at $29.75 a bottle: slightly cloudy mid-mahogany, green tinged rim; a really soupy, beefy nose, Bovril character both on the nose and on the palate, very meaty and coarse in style, attenuated without any power, pungency or depth. Rare possibly but not really worth $29.75 even today! No mark
Location: Del Porto, New York City
Blandy’s 10 Year Old Bual ****
Mid-amber; lovely smokey aromas, gentle, refined and above all clean, none of the rancio of yesteryear; soft initially, dried apricots followed by lemon and lime marmalade, long and clean with a fine streak of acidity running all the way through. 17
Blandy’s 1996 Colheita Bual **** / *****
Pale green-tinged amber; fine lifted aromas, sings from the glass, smoked apple and a touch of autumn bonfire; lovely crisp citrus character, clean lemon and lime fruit, long and sinewy, sweetness and acidity in perfect balance. 18.5
Blandy’s 1968 Bual *****
Mid-amber, green tinge; lifted, high-toned, grassy, hedgerow aroma, high summer, a touch of toffee apple; lovely, lithe, sinewy flavours, weaves its way across the palate, rich maderized finish. Long and very fine. A beautiful wine. 19
Blandy’s 1920 Bual **** / *****
Mahogany – amber colour, thin green rim; lovely rich, concentrated opulent style, caramelized fruit; fine concentration of flavours, rich toffee-like concentration, not lithe like the 1968 but richer and weightier with texture and depth. Long and fine. 18.5
Location: Blandy Wine Lodge, Funchal
The silence on my website has been deafening over the past few weeks, at least to me. I have been busy finishing the third edition of my book Port and the Douro which is due to be published in the autumn. With nearly all the i's dotted and t's crossed I can go back to posting tasting notes on my website. One of the highlights of updating my book was spending a day with António Agrellos at Quinta do Noval. At the end of lunch he served two wondefrul wines, Noval Colheita 1968 (bottled in 2012) and Quinta do Noval Nacional 1994. I was too busy talking about clonal selection with Nuno Magalhães, viticultural consultant to Noval, to take detailed notes on the '68 Colheita, but suffice to say that it was a beautiful wine, quite sweet and rich in style with highlights of chocolate and torrefaction. It is bottled to order. However I never miss an opportunity to take notes on a Nacional:
Quinta do Noval Nacional 1994 ****
Mid-deep, youthful colour as you would expect from an eigthteen year old wine of this calibre; wonderfully pure fragrance, surprisingly delicate, open and floral in character, cherry fruit, not especially big, powerful or muscular and seemingly quite forward (surprisingly so), pure, great finesse, long and very charming. Despite being ready to drink this is a beautifully poised Nacional which I suspect will surprise us with its longevity. Only 240 cases made. 18
Location: Quinta do Noval
Patrick Grubb’s annual tasting of old madeiras is unmissable. It didn’t take place last year so when he invited me to taste a dozen wines going back nearly two centuries I jumped at the chance. The following wines are listed in the order that I tasted them accompanied, where relevant, by some of Patrick’s own background notes:
1. Blandy 1966 Sercial (bottled 2004) ****
Pale amber colour, lovely gentle, floral, leafy high toned aromas, not a hint of the cheesy smell that often comes from wines of this era; very clean and pure, just short of bone dry with relatively delicate (rather than searing) acidity, apples and pears, quite austere on the finish but not shockingly so, long, pure and lovely. 17.5
2. Bual 1941 CDGC **** / *****
The late Noel Cossart set aside a pipe of this wine to mark his son David’s birth which (after annual loss due to evaporation in wood) would amount to 27 dozen bottles but very few turn up now. Mid amber with a green tinge to the rim; beautiful fragrance, slightly lifted and singed, lemon barley sugar, heavenly aroma; fine, pure and delicate, lime marmalade flavours with just a hint of cask on the finish, long and linear. 18.5
3. Cossart Bual 1958 (bottled 2006) ***
Deep mahogany; rather soupy aromas, burnt, perhaps appealing to some (but not to me); caramelised toffee, rich toffee apple flavours, better than on the nose, more definition with a surprisingly dry and rather burnt finish. 15
4. Leacock 1934 ‘SJ’ ****
From an outstanding vintage, the grapes for this wine came from the Leacock’s own São João vineyard (now occupied by a hotel and an apartment block), where Thomas Slapp Leacock experimented with ways to control phylloxera. Mid green tinged amber; lifted liquorous aromas, perfumed too, like an apricot liqueur (if there is one); bitter sweet (actually more bitter than sweet), dried apricots and figs, slightly singed with a touch of chocolate towards a dry finish. Complex, very unusual and rather lovely. 18
5. HFS 1896 (from the Leacock family) ****
Mid deep amber /mahogany; curiously closed and sullen, very uncommon in a madeira of this age, touch of quince jelly; quince again on the palate, medium sweet and gentle in style, almost elegant on the finsh, not rich but beautifully poised yet restrained. 17.5
6. Cossart 1916 Malmsey **** / *****
Mid-deep reddish amber colour; very expressive on the nose, soily, touch of cats pee on a door mat, cinnamon too (Noel Cossart in his 1984 book asserts ‘cloves’), an unusual mix but surprisingly attractive and beguiling; lovely gentle greengage fruit, spiked with richness and sweetness but delicate on the finish and over all. 18.5
7. ‘FV’ 1920 Malvasia (stencil in the Barbeito old style). *****
Dr Favila Vieira’s family owned vineyards in Calheta, Ponta do Sol and Jardim do Mar on the south side of the island. He was related to the Henriques, Bianchis and Perestrelos. Mid-red tinged mahogany; rich yet subdued thick-cut orange marmalade character; full, very rich, classic Malvasia style, thick cut marmalade richness cut though by crystalline acidity, long and explosive on the finsh. Very fine, a classic. 19
8. Pereira d’Oliveira 1905 Reserva Verdelho ***
Slightly muddy mahogany colour; typically soupy nose, baked and lacking definition; quite rich in style for a Verdelho (hence its position in this tasting), caramelised oranges with a thick topping of brown sugar, rich but clumsy on the finish. 15.5
10. MBV 1802 Boal (Barbeito family). ***
Bottled in 2011 from a demi-john in the private stock of the late Mario Barbeito Vasconcelos, whose monogram seal is impressed on the wax capsule. Deep amber, green tinged rim; pungent rancio nose, powerful, aggressive, a touch of washing powder (!) perfume; rich but coarse burnt flavours, again powerful on the palate, fierce and austere, not that pleasurable but admirable. 15
11. Ferraz 1880 Velhissimo Reserva. **** / *****
Billed as ‘a legendary wine’ by Patrick Grubb this did not disappoint: deep green tinged amber; exuberant perfumed nose, touch of rancio, powerful but not aggressive; figgy richness mid-palate, crystallised fruits, powerful, rich and to be enjoyed. Long and fine with great poise. 18.5
12. Boal Velho, Miguel Jardim, Henriques & Henriques. ****
This wine adtes from the first half of the nineteenth century. It was bought by H&H in 1906 and bottled in 1927, re-corked in 1955, 1969 and 1991. There were 890 bottles and this is number 96. Mid-deep red tinged amber; an autumnal bonfire on the nose with a slightly sour note; nothing sour on the palate, rich autumnal flavours, clean, gentle with lovely weight and the texture of age, savoury dry finish akin to brazil nuts falling away quite fast. A fascinating wine. 18
Location: Medal Room, Honorable Artillery Company, London
Cossart Gordon Bual 1961 ****
I discovered this wine by accident whilst taking a tour behind the scenes at the Blandy wine lodge earlier this year. There are all too few fortified ‘61s (1261 bottles of this) so I bought a few bottles for future birthdays. Bottled in March 2004, this wine spent 43 years in wood: deep amber-mahogany in colour with a burnt nose, characteristic rancio with a touch of dried fig and prune (Francisco Albuquerque, wine maker for the Madeira Wine Company) describes finds ‘vanilla’ and ‘curry’ on the nose); lovely singed flavours, dried apricots and prunes with the natural richness and concentration offset by acidity. A bit coarse though in the company of some very distinguished Claret and Port (see Birthday Wines Part I and Part II). 17.5
Location: Rowley's Baslow
I previously billed this as a ‘tasting of a lifetime’ and so it turned out. Never again will these rare Vintage Madeira wines be tasted together and it is likely that I will never see some of them again.
The following wines were shown in London at the Blandy’s 200th Anniversary tasting in addition to those shown in New York and San Francisco (see Two Hundred Years of Blandy Part I, posted on April 11th). As I had the privilege of chairing the event I did not have time to make detailed notes in London but did have the opportunity to taste the wines beforehand in the calm of the Madeira Wine Company tasting room in April. The notes that follow are combined from both tastings.
One wine didn’t make it to London, Blandy’s Malmsey Colheita 1994 which is a pity as it won a gold medal at this year’s Decanter World Wine Awards. I have included my notes from the pre-taste that I did in Funchal in April.
It is striking how these wines change in the glass. Although all these wines were decanted of their natural deposit 3 months ago, re-bottled and poured into tasting glasses immediately prior to the start of the tasting, they changed noticeably over period of two to three hours. One wine, which showed quite badly in San Francisco (the Malmsey 1954) showed really well in both Funchal and London and scored my highest mark. The decanting process helped to rid the wine of the bottle stink that marred the nose in San Francisco.
Francisco Albuquerque, wine maker for the Madeira Wine Company was on hand to give technical information which I have included where relevant. One useful piece of advice that I gleaned from his short section in the commemorative Blandy Bi-centennial book is that he believes that ‘you can keep a bottle of Madeira open for five years if you store it in the dark’. This will give heart Madeira wine drinkers the world over, myself included: you can uncork one of these rare bottles and come back to experience its unique qualities again and again and again and again. No other wine can give so much repeated pleasure.
Blandy’s Malmsey Colheita 1994 ****
Representing a new generation of early bottled, dated Madeira: pale mahogany colour, attractive, clean, fresh, fig and raisin aromas; uncomplicated but well defined raisin and sultana flavours, the richness balanced by crisp acidity and a pure, crystalline finish. Easy and accessible. 17
Blandy’s Malmsey 1985 (bottled 2009) ****
Pale green-tinged mahogany; expressive but slightly stewed, pruney aromas with a touch of cheese-ball rancio (it belongs to that generation) which seemed to disappear in the glass; lovely concentration of flavour, very forward and quite evolved for its age, figgy, pruney depth with lovely texture mid-plate and steely acidity working its way through on a clean finish. Very good, just let down slightly by the nose. 17
Blandy’s Terrantez 1976 (bottled 2002) **** / *****
Mid-mahogany, green rim; high-toned, savoury-smoky aromas, toast and wood-smoke and a touch of varnish; lovely, characteristically bitter-sweet fruit, very clean with apple and citrus acidity, something almost burgundian about this wine’s gentleness and finesse. A distinctive and very good example of this variety which nearly became extinct in the 1980s and 90s. 18.5
Blandy’s Sercial 1966 (bottled 2004) ****
Pale to mid red-tinged amber; delicate, lifted aromas, a touch of varnish initially, almonds, slightly singed but gentle for Sercial; lovely lime marmalade flavours, just off-dry (though with 47grms / litre residual sugar), fresh tingling acidity (not searing as with many Sercials), clean and delicate rather than austere on the finish. Perhaps not very typical of Sercial but a lovely wine nonetheless. 17
Blandy’s Bastardo 1954 (bottled 1994) *** / ****
The last wine in the company’s collection made from this rare red grape that proved very difficult to grow: mid mahogany, green tinged rim; pruney and not terribly expressive on the nose; lovely fig and prune flavours, good depth and concentration, medium-sweet in style with a dryish finish. A curiosity that falls a little bit flat amongst its peers! 16
Blandy’s 1954 Malmsey (bottled 1975) *****
Mid-deep mahogany, thin green rim; beautiful floral aromas, very lifted and quite powerful and aromatic too, touch of coffee emerging; rich and intense, figs, raisins and marmalade, lovely depth and texture, quite complex, rich (125 grms / litre residual sugar) and very beautiful, very fine, combining pungency, power and elegance. Outstanding Malmsey. (Noel Cossart compares 1954 to the greatest Malmsey vintages of 1808 and 1880). 19.5
Leacock’s Verdelho 1952 Jubilee Selection ****
Deep mahogany, unusually deep for Verdelho; lovely lifted green tea aromas with some pungency and intensity, a touch of tobacco box emerging; quite rich in style for Verdelho, slightly smoky flavours, lovely intensity offset by lemon and lime acidity, beautiful, almost explosive finish leaving a hint of chocolate orange. 17.5
Blandy’s Bual 1920 (bottled 2006) *****
Mid-deep mahogany; very fine, pure and aromatic, really sings from the glass; crystallised fruits, marmalade too with a dry edge, pungent and powerful, crème brulée character with a thick-cut marmalade finish. Big but not brutish with very refined bitter-sweet zesty length. There is still one barrel of this wine left to bottle! 19
Blandy’s Sercial 1910 (Bottled 1984, recorked 2003) **** / *****
Mid-deep amber-orange colour; lifted, delicate candied peel aromas, fresh apricots too, a touch of coffee, toffee and wood smoke emerging, very complex; fine, gentle and linear, delicate, verging on fragile, dried orange peel and smoked almonds, bitter-sweet finish. A near-perfect example of Sercial. 18.5
Blandy’s Bual 1863 (bottled 1913, recorked in 1986) *****
Deep, red-tinged mahogany, thin green rim; very powerful, dense, pungent aromas, rich candied peel, thick cut marmalade, rich, dense, big and still very powerful, expansive bitter-sweet length, full, fine and still fresh with a lovely texture. Just a touch of cask on the nose and on the finish which Francisco Albuquerque puts down to the oxidation of the alcohol. From an outstanding vintage for Boal, especially in Campanário where part of this wine may have originated. 19
Verdelho 1822 – part of the Grabham collection (Bottled 1900, re-corked 1986) **** / *****
Mid-mahogany, olive-green rim; fine, lifted, high-toned aromas, ethereal, delicate leafy, floral; fine, linear and sinewy on the palate, gentle but still wonderfully fresh with a tea leaf and candied peel character and a lovely, long linear finish. Supremely delicate but in no way fragile 18.5
Bual Solera 1811 (Bottled 1900, re-corked 1986) *****
Mid amber / mahogany, red tint, thin green rim; gentle, verging on fragile, lifted smoky-savoury aromas, nuts and wood smoke; gentle, dry, lovely linear style, citrus (lime) still fresh and kept alive on the finish by searing steely acidity. A beautiful, haunting wine from a solera laid down in 1811 that coincides with the foundation of Blandy. 19
Location: Andaz, Liverpool St, London
The Blandy family are celebrating their 200th anniversary on the island of Madeira this year, John Blandy having established his business there in 1811. My wife is a member of the Blandy family and used to work for the family firm. Her cousin Christopher now represents the 7th generation to be involved with the company. I have been privileged to take part in the preparations for the celebrations in London where I will be chairing a tasting of Madeira wines back to 1811 on 9th June.
The following wines are those that have already been shown by the family at commemorative tastings in San Francisco and New York. Due to the very limited stock of some of the older most historic wines, these wines will not be shown in London. I was tasted them with Francisco Albuquerque, Blandy’s wine maker, at the Madeira Wine Company's lodges in Funchal. Where the information is available I have including some notes on the background of the wines.
Part II of this tasting will be posted after the London tasting has taken place on 9th June. Having been given a preview of the wines I can say, without doubt, that it will the tasting of a lifetime!
Blandy’s Bual 1968 ****
Mid-mahogany, green tinge to the rim; lovely, lifted and expressive on the nose, figs and walnuts and wood smoke; very clean, piercing fruit, crystallised fruits, long and sinewy with good poise, length and concentration of flavour. 17.5
Leacock’s Sercial 1950 ****
Mid amber-orange, green rim; lovely lifted, floral aromas, green and leafy too, freshly crushed leaves, gunpowder tea; quite delicate; very clean yet gentle grassy character, off-dry with a powerful savoury finish (salted nuts) but not too punishing or austere. Very fine Sercial. 17.5
Blandy’s Bual 1948 ****
Mid-deep mahogany, thin green tinge to the rim; rich, savoury (almost cheesy - (apparently this wine didn’t show well at one of the US tastings due to a certain amount of bottle stink) with good depth and intensity; lovely rich, savoury-sweet flavours, big, full and concentrated with a lovely expansive finish, giving the impression of being savoury rather than sweet. 18
Cossart Gordon Verdelho 1934 (bottled March 2006) *****
Mid-mahogany, thin yellow rim; lovely smoky, nutty aromas, hazelnuts, gentle and delicate; similarly gentle toasty flavours, almonds, lemon and lime acidity, very fine balance and poise. Salted nuts on the finish. 19
Blandy’s Terrantez 1899 (Bottled into demi-john1921, re-bottled 1986) *****
Deep mahogany in colour, thin yellow-green rim; penetrating and concentrated on the nose, savoury, wood smoke and nuts; wonderfully rich in texture, thick, powerful and intense with a pronounced thick-cut marmalade and orange peel character balanced by beautiful zesty acidity, very powerful peacock’s tail of a finish that goes on and on. Not typical of Terrantez (perhaps due to its relatively early bottling) and therefore quite difficult to mark but a fabulous wine. 19
Blandy’s Bual 1874 *****
Produced at the height of phylloxera, possibly from grapes grown at the famous Leacock quinta (Quinta de São João) which was one of very few properties producing anything at the time; mid-deep mahogany, thin green rim; fine and scented, damp autumnal leaves and decaying woodland flowers, haunting and very expressive; lovely rich citrus peel tang, very powerful, rich and intense with a big, full, expressive finish. Very complex and long. 19
Blandy’s Terrantez 1870 (Bottled 1921 and re-corked in 1986) ****
Mid-deep amber –mahogany with a red glint and yellow green rim; very fine, lifted perfume, garden flowers with a touch of wood varnish; bitter-sweet candied peel, clean, med-dry in style, gentle but lithe, very fresh and alive. Delightful wine, just pre-phylloxera. 18
I was fortunate to spend a morning with Ricardo Diogo at Barbeito’s new adega above Câmara de Lobos. It was the day of the Big Fortified Tasting in London and some of these wines were on show there but it is even better to taste them in situ with the winemaker.
Ricardo explained his philosophy to me during the tasting which goes some way to explaining the character of his wines. He told me how he had been bowled over by a tasting from cask at Chateau d’Yquem (who wouldn’t be) and that he came to love late-harvest wines, especially Riesling which share the high natural levels of acidity encountered on Madeira (in fact for many years Sercial was reputed to be related to Riesling). Consequently Barbeito have recently been making a much more restrained delicate style of madeira with less power and pungency which marks them out from other houses on the island. They also have a purity and honesty about them. Ricardo Diogo is emphatic about eschewing the caramel that other shippers use to colour their sweeter wines.
Barbeito’s wines can be over-powered by others in comparative tastings (and I fear that they are marked down for not tasting like madeira) so they need to be seen on their own, hence the beauty of this flight (below). They are versatile wines and can indeed be drunk like late harvest wines with dessert at the end of a meal.
Since 2007 Ricardo has been experimenting with making wine in lagar and in 2010 he installed a purpose-built stainless steel lagar at his new winery equipped with robotic plungers. This is being used for experimental quantities of Malvasia grapes to give a maceração pelicular extreme(!) with five or six days of slow, cool maceration before the fermentation is arrested The results were on show in a vertical tasting of Malvasias (below).
Malvasia 2010 (lagar): deep golden colour, lovely depth showing already, fresh apricots and pears. Concentrated and delicious.
Malvasia 2009: mid-deep amber, smoky aromas, dusty but beautiful already, clean, sweet, lemon drops.
Malvasia 2008: slightly turbid, closed but fresh, toasty-nutty character beginning to show with a smoky bonfire finish
Malvasia 2007: deeper amber, smoky, casky nose, still very fresh, lovely acidity and clean, steely length, crystallised fruits and dried apricots, the true Madeira character just beginning to emerge.
Malvasia 2004: green tinged, old gold; dried apricots, savoury sweet, very pure, lemon and lime marmalade finish.
The following wines have been recently released by Barbeito, many of them single cask bottlings
Single Harvest 2000, Meio Seco (bottled June 2010) ***
One hundred percent Tinta Negra from a single vineyard at Estreito, 50% / 50% picked a week apart to safeguard the natural acidity in the grapes: mid deep, lemon-gold; very clean pure aromas, dried apricots, slightly smoky; soft, gentle, clean lime marmalade character, lovely crisp acidity on the finish. 15.5
VB Lote , Casks 7, 136, & 272 *** / ****
A blend of Verdelho (60%) and Boal (40%), hence the name from the 2003 harvest: pale amber – gold; honeyed aromas and flavours, very clean and pure, soft, medium-sweet in style with a lovely late harvest feel to it. 16.5
Boal 1996 Colheita Cask 307 ****
Green tinged amber; gentle lifted aromas, naturally caramelised smoky aromas; full butterscotch and tawny marmalade flavours offset by lovely acidity, long and very beautiful with great poise for a young wine. Very fine expression of Boal. Just 404 litres of this wine will be bottled in 2011 from a cask of 620 litres set aside 13 years ago. The rest has been lost to evaporation. 17.5
Dôce, Colheita, 2002, Cask 110 (bottled June 2010) ** / ***
100% Tinta Negra: pale amber colour, smoky, rubbery aromas rather off-putting, cleaner on the palate, honeyed sweetness and a good clean finish. 14.5
Colheita 1995 Cask 24 (bottled November 2010) *** / ****
The first Colheita from Barbeito made from Tinta Negra: green tinged mid-amber; delicate citrus aromas, a touch synthetic on the nose perhaps, floral, violets; lovely depth and concentration of age, intense, clean crystallised fruits (Elvas plums), fine thread of acidity to offset the sweetness (not quite 3 baumé). Who says Tinta Negra can’t make really good wine? 16.5
Madeira Collection Lote 1 ****
The first of a new range of wines from Barbeito bottled as ‘The Madeira Collection. This is a complex blend of Tinta Negra, Verdelho (dry) and Malvasia (sweet) from 2000 (29%), 2002 (30%) 2003 (40%) with 1% of the blend made form wine that is 60 years old. Mid-amber colour; lovely gentle orange peel aromas, spring flowers; very fresh, very pure, delicious citrus flavours, lime and orange, complex yet clean as a whistle. Elegant. 17.5
Malvasia 2000 Casks 39 a & e (bottled November 2010) ****
Mid-amber; quite powerful on the nose, perfumed too, lifted and expressive aromas; figs and apricots, sweet, intensely so, gentle and very pure with fine sinewy acidity on the finish. 17.5
Malvasia 20 Anos Lote 10292 (bottled November 2010) **** / *****
Mid-deep green tinged amber; lovely smoky perfume, touch of autumn bonfire and decaying flowers; lovely depth (extract) and mouth feel, butterscotch, vanilla and quince, very complex but with a lightness of touch and so, so fresh for a 20 year old blend. 18.5
Sercial 1988 (bottled January 2011) *** + ?
A recently bottled vintage or frasqueira madeira: mid-orange amber; high toned, slightly rubbery on the nose, porridge and honey, not that expressive as yet, the rubberiness goes after an hour in the glass; steely fresh, dry but not austere, caramelised orange offset by typically grassy acidity, lovely clean finish. 1.4 baumé so not quite dry. 15.5 +
Sercial 1978 (bottled January 2011) ****
Pale-mid amber, slight green tinge; very expressive on the nose, aromatic, fine, meadow flowers and grassy, lifted and slightly smoky; deliciously pure and delicate, not austere at all, a touch savour-smoky with great poise and expression. 1.2 baumé 17
Bual 1978 (bottled January 2011) ****
Pale mahogany; apple, toffee and bonfire, lovely concentration and depth, rich and quite powerful, savoury-sweetness offset acidity on an explosive finish which is just a touch casky. 17.5
Savannah Verdelho, Special Reserve **** / *****
A wine bottled specially for The Rare Wine Company in the USA (www.rarewineco.com) which includes some very old wines in the blend: mid-pale mahogany, green tinge; lovely aromatic quality, floral, leafy hedgerow character on the nose; very fine and expressive with lovely concentration and depth, touch of butterscotch offset by leafy acidity. Peacock’s tail of a finish. Not expensive: I love this wine. 18.5
Benjamin Franklin Special Reserve **** / *****
A blend of all the main madeira varieties made to a medium sweet Bual-style wine for The Rare Wine Company and bottled in September 2010. Wines back to 1920 in the blend: deep, green-tinged mahogany; touch of treacle (molasses) on the nose but lifted, elevated and slightly singed; lovely, intense, rich wine with beautiful texture and feel, liquorice, tobacco too, essence of madeira yet fine and delicate too like an old Terrantez. 18.5
Malvasia 1920 *****
From a magnificent madeira vintage: very deep mahogany; beautifully perfumed, lifted, leafy, expressive – stunning aroma; rich, sweet, intensely so (6.3 baumé), quite powerful and concentrated as a result but the richness but offset by oh so fine, steely acidity, this has everything going for it – so beautiful on the finish that it makes my eyes water! 19