Sercial with the Madeira Club, Bristol

I was invited many years ago by the late Bill Baker to attend one of the Madeira Club’s tastings but I was sadly unable to accept. Another invitation followed from member David Courtney-Clack and this time I was able to attend a tasting and lunch at the Clifton Club in Bristol. The theme of the tasting was Sercial, perhaps the least popular and certainly most under-appreciated of Madeira’s traditional ‘noble’ varieties but with a drier, incisive style that I adore.  There were one or two disappointing wines but it was a worthwhile tasting. 

Henriques & Henriques 15 Year Old Bual ***

Mid-amber colour, lifted and rather raisiny and caramelised on the nose with a slightly dusty undertone; toffee-apple style with savoury nuttiness underlying, very gentle for a Sercial and rather too soft in style but quite expressive overall with lovely citrus acidity on the finish. My feeling is that the H&H Verdelho and Bual, regular winners at the Decanater World Wine Awards, are better at this level. 15     

Henriques & Henriques 2001 Single Harvest Sercial ***/**** 

Pale-to-mid amber; attractive, lightly smoked aromas, toasted almonds and brazil nuts; rich and quite sweet in style initially with lovely purity and good weight mid-palate with a well defined streak of acidity on the finish. 16.5   

D’Oliveira 1989 Single Harvest Sercial **

Deep amber in colour; a wild, floral woody perfume on the nose, quite rustic; gentle and lacking in definition sweet and honeyed towards the finish, disjointed and lacking in incision overall.  13   

Blandy 1974 Sercial (bottled 2004) ***/****

Lovely golden-amber colour; distinct rancio character on the nose, savoury, nutty but verging on cheesy; much better on the palate with crisp, well defined appley flavours with a touch of toffee and archetypal steely acidity running all that way through to the finish. Long and lithe but let down by the nose. 16.5  

Borges 1979 ****

A wine form my own stock, purchased at Christie’s in 2013: mid-amber gold; gentle, lifted leafy aromas; very pure, quite sweet in style but with the purity of the grape showing through, crisp appley acidity with lovely definition all the way through. Long and all together. 17.5    

Rutherford & Miles 1954 Sercial ****

Mid-amber; fine and lifted if slightly rustic on the nose, a touch leathery in character; fine, crisp, clean and well-defined, delicate grapefruit marmalade character with good weight mid-palate but slightly marred by a hint of earth on the finish. 17 

Blandy 1940 Sercial (no bottling date but a recent back label)  ****

I have tasted this wine on a number of occasions and it has always impressed: mid-deep amber; rich but slightly smelly, savoury, toasted aromas (a longer decanting time would surely have helped);  much better on the palate, quite rich and toasty in style, assertive tawny marmalade offset by a savoury character, rich and emphatic on the finish with grapefruit acidity to offset the richness. This was the star of the tasting. 18 

D’Oliveira 1937 Sercial (bottled 2007) **/***

Very deep amber-mahogany in colour; cooked, caramelised aromas, rich, a touch of molasses, lifted but not really Sercial in character; toffee and butterscotch on the palate, a wonderful streak of racy acidity underlying but rather unbalanced with a caramelised finish. 14.5  

Leacock 1910 Sercial (bottled 1931)

Mid-amber in colour; very odd smell, redolent of chamomile and mothballs; stewed flavours, tannic with a flavour of over-macerated tea. Rich but rustic. Disappointing and hard to award a mark.  Apparently it is not just this bottle that is at fault. At a previous Madeira Club tasting in 2011 the wine was described rather tersely as ‘light, strange nose, dead woody mouth – very sad’.


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