Patrick Grubb's Tasting of Old Madeiras

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


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