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
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