Tasting of Old Madeira 1940 - 1780

I have written before that I would travel the earth to attend one of Patrick Grubb’s tastings. This was billed as his last so I made an extra special effort to attend, moving commitments at the Decanter World Wine Awards in the process. I am very grateful to Stephen Spurrier and Christelle Guibert for making this possible for me as this is a tasting never to be missed. As always Patrick uncorked history: a dozen bottles of madeira dating from 1940 – 1780. The tasting included a number of old bottles from Barros e Sousa, a tiny producer still in existence though not registered as a shipper. Although I have tasted a number of their younger wines at their lodges in Funchal, I know that the company has no older vintages left to sell. These wines came from a family member. 

The wines below were all decanted over the weekend before the tasting (held on a Tuesday) and Patrick noted those bottles where there was a heavy sediment. They are presented her in the order they were tasted, from dry to sweet though one or two were arguably in the wrong place. 

Blandy 1940 Sercial ****

Pale amber colour; singed on the nose, leafy fruit underneath; a touch savoury with fine, rapier like acidity, bitter-sweet lemon peel twist, seemingly bone dry and quite austere on the finish, prototype Sercial.   17.5

Torre Bella 1865 Sercial (recorked before shipment this year). ****

Mid-amber with a green tinge; perfumed, floral aromas, orange blossom; a touch of sweetness initially, bitter-sweet marmalade character, lovely texture, a touch of soily – casky complexity on the finish, long and bone dry. A lovely old wine. 17

H.M. Borges 1810 Sercial (labelled ‘Family Reserve, Henrique Menezes Borges, established 1877’) **

Pale-mid amber; very strange vegetal aromas, garden lillys with a touch of cat’s pee; tastes much better then it smells, quite rich for a Sercial, dry astringency with an austere finish. Not a very pleasant drink to my mind though others thought differently.  14

V.M.V.  1877 (grower unknown, recoked and rewaxed prior to shipment. Heavy sediment.)  *****    

 Mid-amber orange with a green tinge; lovely thick-cut tawny marmalade character with a touch of blossom on the nose; medium-rich, lovely spicy, citrus character with good weight mid palate, retaining purity of fruit. A lovely wine in near perfect condition that goes on and on!   19

Campanário 1846 (labeled Herdado do Dr Tarquino T.C. Lomelino, Eugenio de B. Henriques. Metal capsule embossed ‘Camara de Lobos. F. Eduardo Henriques Succr) *****

Lovely orange-amber colour, green rim; open expressive crystalised fruit, apricots and a hint of spring flowers; lovely texture, fine, quite delicate with dried apricots on the palate, long and lithe, a very beautiful wine with the merest touch of cask on the finish, fine focused and linear.  19 

Barros e Sousa, Verdelho, Porto Santo n/v (with a label that looks as though it designed in the 1930s or 1940s) **

Before the airport was built, Porto Santo had plenty of vineyard and the Barros family owned most of them. This is the only Verdelho that I have ever seen from the island, the most commonly planted grape being Listrão. This wine is notable for its comparable lack of acidity: mid-amber with a touch of mahogany; a rather coarse, meaty nose, a touch of Bovril; savoury, rich and full with good weight and texture but without much finesse. Beef stock flavours right the way through to the finish. Difficult to award a mark as there is not much to compare this wine against. 14  

 ABS Barros e Sousa 1880 Madeira Velho ***

Slightly cloudy, pale to mid amber, subdued savoury aromas with pruney fruit underneath; rich and spicy initially, tawny marmalade character, slightly burnt and bitter sweet and astringent on the on the finish, not especially long, falls away on the finish. 15

PJL Barros e Sousa 1880 Boal **** 

Mid-amber; lovely expressive aromas, pungent, dried figs and apricots, lifted and rich with a touch of marmalade; long, rich dried apricot fruit with a citrusy streak of acidity running all the way through, very sweet yet gentle with an almost mellifluous finish.  18

Barros e Sousa 1890 Boal  **** / *****

Mid-deep orange amber; not quite so expressive, singed leaves, autumnal nose; medium-rich tawny marmalade character with a bitter sweet twist of orange peel towards the finish, long and pure. Very fine.  18.5

Barros e Sousa 1860 Old Reserve  ***

Mid-deep amber; rather a soggy, soupy nose, musty and not terribly attractive; tastes much better with a marmalade tang, pure and lean mid-palate, orange peel, extending on to the finish. Let down by the nose. 15

Malvazia, Fajã dos Padres n/v (Recorked prior to shipment last year Heavy sediment) ****

Fajã dos Padres at the foot of Cabo Girão is the source of some of Madeira’s best Malvasia:  cloudy amber mahogany colour; savoury, rather cheese-like aromas; rich figgy fruit, pungent and powerful with dried figs and spice on an expansive finish, lovely breadth and depth, just let down by the aromas on the nose.  17

HMB 1780 Bual  (presumably Borges, heavy sediment) ****

Mid-amber, green rim; wonderful aromas, lifted and very expressive, a touch vegetal, herbal, crushed leaves; herbs and spice on the palate, quite dry in style initially, long with great persistence and poise. 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