A Tasting of Rare, Old Madeira (and Ancient Rum)

I attended a magnificent tasting in Christie’s boardroom in advance of a major sale of Madeiras on Thursday 12th December 2013. Included in the sale are a number of wines from Blandy’s that have been bottled from demijohn especially for the event. These wines span the period 1954 – 1887. Sadly none of these wine were available for tasting. There were however eight wines from 1979 – 1865  (as well as rum from Harewood House cellar dating back to 1780.)  All the wines had been double decanted 24 hours before the tasting. My notes follow: 

H.M. Borges Sercial Dry ‘B’ 1979 ****

Bottled 2009: pale-to-mid amber, slightly dusty, spirity nose like an old Cognac with a touch of vanilla too; very clean and fresh on the palate, lemon and lime marmalade, long and quite sweet on the finish for Sercial (55g/l residual sugar), lingering candied peel flavours. A lovely wine, very pure in style.  17.5 

H.M. Borges Boal B 1977 ***

Slightly cloudy mid-deep amber; singed on the nose, not very expressive, a hint of consommé perhaps; much better on the palate, incisive tawny marmalade flavours with crisp acidity all the way through to the finish, quite delicate in style for Boal.  15

Malvasia 1879 ****

From a private collector on the island with no more information on the bottle than the above: mid-deep amber / mahogany; lovely high toned aromas, singing from the glass, gentle and floral, singed around the edges; lovely malty richness and texture,bolo de mel (‘honey cake’), offset by fine acidity, slightly singed again on the finish. Very fine. 18 

Borges Terrantez 1877 *****

Henrique Menezes Borges founded the eponymous company in 1877 (during the outbreak of phylloxera). This wine is believed to have been transferred from cask to 70 litre glass demijohns around 1900 and was bottled in May 2013 specially for the Christies sale: beautiful colour, really clear, bright mid-amber; very expressive, fragrant and complex on the nose, a wild, floral scent;  quite sweet initially, rich and toasty, savoury-sweet mid-palate leading to a much more  austere bitter-sweet finish. Very clean and pure: a ‘wow’ of a wine!  19    

Borges Verdelho (believed 1875)  ***

 Mid-deep amber; weird nose, heady, nutty, a touch casky, caramelized fruit in the background; rich and spicy, not quite dry, full, slightly savoury, with a dusty finish, long and linear.  Rather odd for a Verdelho. 15

Borges Boal 1875 ** / ***

Mid-deep amber, fragile, high-toned aromas, varnish with spirit showing though; dried apricots on the palate, spicy and spirit with good texture and feel, sweet and singed on the finish, seemingly quite dry in style for Boal. Fascinating if rather lean in style. 14.5    

Verdelho Dr Cannavial 1870 *****

Dr Cannavial was a medical doctor who is credited with co-inventing estufagem and amassed a great collection of Madeiras. This wine came from one of the descendents of Dr. Cannavial and was bottled from cask by the Madeira Wine Company in 2013: mid-deep amber orange hue; lovely toasted aromas, savoury and seductive; lovely toasted almond flavours with a fine streak of acidity cutting in mid-palate and lingering through a long semi-sweet finish. A lovely wine with great presence and poise.  19.5

Torre Bella Sercial 1865 ***

A pre-phylloxera Sercial from one of the largest and most prestigious estates on Madeira, this wine was bottled in the 1930s and recorked in 1974 and again in 2013. The Torre Bella wines are in Burgundy shaped bottles: pale mahogany, deep in colour for a Sercial; unusual peppery aromas, (I picked up a smell of gravy!) combined with floral fruit; dry and peppery on the palate, very austere in style (dry at 20 – 25g/l residual sugar) marred by a rather woody-soily finish. A wine to admire and respect but rather difficult to ward a mark. 16? 

I do not pretend to be a taster of old spirits but as these rums were presented at the same tasting I will comment on them briefly. They were found deep in the cellars of Harewood House, Yorkshire. Having been distilled in Barbados on the Lascelles family estate, they were shipped in barrel and bottled at Harewood. There are two styles: 

The Harewood Rum ‘Light’ 1780: mid-gold in colour; very forceful, heady and spirity on the nose with a piercing flavour, not surprising with an abv of 69.38%! 

The Harewood Rum Dark 1780: deep amber; amazing aroma, heady caraamlized oranges, forceful, spicy and warming, but when to drink...?  57.76% abv.   


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