I have a vivid memory of the 'Acciaioly' Madeira sale hald at Christies on 15th June 1989. It was the pre-sale tasting that was a revelation as it was the first time that I had tasted these amazing 19th century wines. I was taken aback at just how fresh and alive the wines were after spending so long in cask and glass demijohns. I scribbled notes on the catalogue without realising just how important the sale was. Most of the wines were from a private cellar in Funchal belonging to the late Oscar Gil Borges Acciaioli and inherited by his sons, Michael and David on his death in January 1979.
Both these wines came from Quinta do Serrado in Camara de Lobos, a property that still exists. The once extensive vineyards were planted with Malmsey, Bual, Verdelho and Sercial. From 1812 the grapes were pressed on the quinta and the wines stored in oak casks at a lodge on the property. One of the heirs of the estate, Antonio Eduardo Henriques, also known as the Menino de Belem founded the Madeira firm of Henriques & Henriques and these wines were sold by the heirs of the family at the 'Acciaioly' sale in 1989. There was an enormous quantity of wine. For example the 1827 Bual (below) ran to nearly 80 dozen bottles divided into 33 lots. The estimated price for one of the ten dozen lots was £600 / dozen. Now two of these wines have come back on the market through Bonhams in London and I had an opportunity to re-taste them (with the benefit of 21 years experience) thanks to Anthony Barne and Richard Harvey who are jointly responsible for the wine auctions at Bonhams.
Bual 1827 *****
Matured in cask until 1935 then put into demijohns and bottled in 1988 just before being shipped to England: deep mahogany colour, olive green rim; slightly rustic, lifted coffee bean aromas with a lovely leafy quality and a touch of toffee; quite rich for a Bual initially with penetrating acidity to offset the sweetness, very pure and fine, nothing rustic about this, lovely freshness, quite powerful yet very fine and elegant with a touch of roasted coffee on the finish. Long and clean, supremely elegant with very little residual sweetness on the finish. Exquisite. 19.5
Malmsey 1830 **** / *****
Also in cask until put into demijohns in 1935 and bottled in 1988: very deep mahogany, amber-green rim; very fine, rich think-cut maramalde aromas, pungent, slightly smoked; very rich and intense with wonderful texture and intensity, fig and dried apricot with candied fruit peel, offset by a wonderful streak of acidity, quite sweet, rounded, almost fat, full yet beautifully clean. 18.5
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