The Velhissimo Verdelho Tasting

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. 

Flight 1

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

Flight 2 

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

Flight 3 

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

Flight 4

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.

Flight 5

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   

Flight 6

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


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