Patrick Grubb’s Annual Tasting

I always marvel at Patrick Grubb’s Madeira tastings for two reasons. Firstly they take place at Armoury House, with its historic rugby and cricket field besieged by the gawping modern office blocks of the City of London. Secondly, every year Patrick Grubb generously uncorks bottled history. There are usually one or two mysterious wines, often a single and almost certainly the last bottle in existence. This year was no exception with a bottle named  Madeira Velhissimo MFV (the initials are probably those a member of the  Madeiran Vasconcelos family). The wine was amber-gold in colour with a delicate, unusually pure high-toned honeyed aroma that sang straight from the glass. On the palate it was still beautifully fresh and pure with flavours of dried apricots, honey and a touch of bees wax. Lovely weight and texture indicating long cask age yet incredibly clean and pure: delicious, delicate and very fine (19). Another wine, a single bottle without a vintage proved to be a disappointment. Labelled Victoria Wine (presumably by the now defunct wine merchant), it has a detailed pedigree. The wine was imported to the UK in 1841 by March & Benson, bottled in 1843, transferred to demi-john in 1883 and rebottled in 1884. It appeared a pale green tinged amber in the glass but reeked like an old wardrobe. Dry and delicate with some richness of age it was marred by a musty mothball character which overwhelmed it on the finish. A curiosity. No mark.   

The other wines in the tasting were all (at the time of tasting) available for purchase from Patrick Grubb’s remarkable list. They are written up in the order they were tasted, from the driest to sweetest in style: 

Sercial 1891, Reverta, Prazeyres. José Gomes Henriques Araújo ***

Mid-deep amber; fine, floral, expressive high-toned aromas; caramelised, casky flavours, bone dry, rustic but quite powerful in style. The acidity is searing rather than steely and the finish rather coarse and woody.  15.5

Verdelho 1850, Companhia Vinicola da Madeira   ***

Mid-deep nut brown to amber, rich, signed and rather lacking in definition on the nose, autumnal aromas; rich, rather soupy caramelised flavours with a slightly cheesy undertone, crisp acidity and a rather treacle-like finish. 15

Verdelho 1915 Solera, H.M. Borges ***

Mid-amber hue, rather stewed on the nose, touch of bonfire; fine medium-rich, spicy flavours, quite sweet for Verdelho, lovely texture and a rich warming finish. 15.5

Bual 1954, Leacock ****

Deep amber-mahogany; fine and expressive, high toned, thick cut marmalade aromas and flavours, fine richness texture and weight with a lovely tang on the finish. Good balance and depth. 17

Boal 1930 Torre Bella Estate ***/**** 

Deep amber; powerful nose, high-toned, floral with just a hint of mothballs; fine rich concentration of flavour, lime marmalade with citrus-like acidity, slightly burnt on the finish but very fine nonetheless. 16.5

Boal 1895 Barbeito ***

Mid amber; unusual dusty smell, redolent of dog biscuits, meaty but not terribly expressive; much fresher on the palate, lovely medium rich quince marmalade flavours with nutty-savoury complexity, lovely length and purity despite the strange nose. 16

Malvazia 1950, Barbeito ***/****

Amber-mahogany, lovely rich raisins and dried figs on the nose; fine and concentrated, peppery, spicy and rich, quite spirity but with fine figgy length. 16.5

Malvazia 1865 Solera, Cossart Gordon ***

Amber centre, olive-green rim; high toned and varnishy on the nose, hint of boiled sweets (which would be a fault in any other wine!) and a caramelised tang; wonderfully soft, rich and figgy with a powerful tang. Sweetness and acidity in near perfect counterpoint. Fine but seemingly confected on the finish. 16

Malvazia 1875, Barbeito ****

Mid-deep amber; pungent, rich and expressive; prune and fig with a tawny marmalade tang, sweetness offset by fine, fresh zesty acidity. Good balance, and poise. Overall very fine indeed. 18 


19 - 20 An outstanding wine (*****)

17 – 18 An excellent wine in its class, highly recommended (****)

15 - 16 A good wine, with much to recommend it (***)

13 - 14 An enjoyable but simple, straightforward wine (**)

10 – 12 A very ordinary wine without faults but with no great merit (*)

8 - 10 Disagreeable (no stars)

Below 8 Faulty