A Pre-Sale Tasting of Madeira’s at Christie’s

I am very grateful to Edwin Vos, Head of Christie’s Wine Department in Amsterdam for inviting me to this enticing pre-sale tasting of old madeiras shipped from a number of private cellars on the island. This was an extraordinary tasting, followed by a rather extraordinary sale the next day with prices often fetching double or treble the estimates in the catalogue. As always the wines are written up in the order they were tasted and I have included background information where relevant. Breaking form habit, I have also included the hammer prices from the sale where the wines were sold as individual bottles and not part of a mixed lot. Talking to a vendor at the tasting he recalled buying one wine (from the late eighteenth century) for 700 escudos a bottle in the early 1970s (about £14 then by my calculation). It made over £4,000 in this sale. Such is the demand today for these now rare bottles of old madeira wine!    

J.S 1800 Terrantez ****

These wines were discovered by O.P. Brothers (Oleg and Pedro) in São Vicente on the north side of the Island.  The bottles were in poor condition so in 2015 the wines were decanted into demi-john, the bottles cleaned then rebottled, re-corked and re-waxed   No one is quite sure who J.S. was but they possibly came from Dr João Vicente da Silva from Estreito de Câmara de Lobos who was born around 1803 and worked for the local council. He died in 1895 leaving a large collection of madeira wine to his nephew.  Pale, slightly hazy amber in colour; delicate caramelised orange and blossom aromas and flavours, still very fresh and pure in style, clean delicate and very beautiful on the finish but with out much concentration.  Charmingly bitter-sweet.  This is a style which suggests that the wine has been mostly glass aged in demi-john. (£1,900/bottle) 18    

J.S. 1810 Terrantez  ****/*****

See above for background notes: very similar in colour, rather demure on the nose, lemon and lime marmalade character on the palate, light, delicate with a touch of candied peel, leading to a long, fine rapier like finish.   18.5  

Dr. Manuel José Vieira 1870 Sercial ****

A large number of the wines in this sale came from Manuel Jose Vieira, part owner of the firm of Favila-Goncalves & C.A. Lda. The Favilas left their vineyards to Dr. Vieira. All the wines in this extensive collection came from the old family home of a descendent, Ema Vieira Pereira. Judging by the labels they were bottled around the 1950s. Bright pale amber in colour; lifted and quite powerful with a touch of caramel and a fine leafy, pure Sercial character, beautiful focus with a long streak of acidity and a touch of cask on the finish. (£866 / bottle) 18 

 Jardim do Mar 1870 Sercial  ** 

A bottle re-corked and re-waxed by Francisco Albuquerque who is also the head wine maker at the Madeira Wine Company. There is no indication of any producer or collector on this bottle. Jardim do Mar is a village located on the south side of the island. Pale, bright amber; pungent, smoky charcuterie   character on the nose, similarly saline on the palate, rather like an over-seasoned beef consommé. Lean and rather rustic in style. Some may enjoy this but it was not a particularly pleasant wine in my opinion. (£666 / bottle).  14

Dr. Manuel José Vieira 1890 Malvasia *****    

Deep mahogany in hue; thick-cut Old English marmalade character, rich and pungent; similar on the palate with the richness and concentration of age beautifully offset by a fine streak of grapefruit-like acidity, leading to a long, powerful finish. Very fine.   (£700 / bottle) 19

Araújo de Barros, 1891 Sercial. ***

Labelled ‘José Henriques de Araujo, Referta, Prazeres’  Aged in cask for 58 years, bottled 1949, rebottled 1973 and again in 1998. Prazeres  (‘Pleasures’) is a  village on the south side of the island located above Jardim do Mar. Mid amber, quite dark for Sercial; fine, lifted floral character with a touch of candied peel; fine bitter-candied orange peel flavours, long with a characteristically powerful streak of acidity, let down by a rather course finish. This is the third occasion that I have tasted this wine and it is consistent with previous notes.  (£566/bottle).  15.5 

Araújo de Barros, 1895 Verdelho  *****

Aged in cask for 54 years, bottled 1949, and rebottled in 1972 and 1998: mid-amber; lovely lifted, leafy aromas, green tea; very fine and pure on the palate with steely-racy acidity cutting all the way through, purity continuing all theway through the finish, classically Verdelho in style.  This is the second excellent note that I have on this wine.  (£ 666/bottle) 19    

JBF (José B. Fernandez) 1900 Verdelho  **/***

A wine from vineyards near the city of Funchal, next to the old family house. The vineyards no longer exist but a few demi-johns were found when the house was sold and bottled in 2015 by Francisco Albuquerque, head wine maker at the Madeira Wine Company: mid-deep amber; rather coarse, rancio character on the nose, something which may improve with longer decanting; good texture in the mouth, quite rich in style for Verdelho with a bitter-sweet orange marmalade character but, to my mind, rather coarse on the finish. (£1300 / bottle) 14.5   

JBF (Jose B. Fernandez) 1900 Bual ****
See above for more background information:  mid-deep amber; rich smoky aromas, touch of autumn bonfire; similarly rich and full on the palate, quince marmalade with a tang to it, the richness of age offset by fine acidity leading to a full, satisfying, integrated finish. (£1200 / bottle) 17 

Dr. Manuel José Vieira 1910 Verdelho, São Martinho ****

São Martinho was a village west of Funchal which is now part of the city: deep amber, unusualy deep for a Verdelho of this age; lovely lifted dried apricot aromas with a touch of old furniture, fine and expressive; powerfully rich thick cut orange marmalade, a touch burnt around the edges leading to a rich, powerful tangy finish. (£433 / bottle) 17.5

AGR 1920 Sercial ***

A wine not included in the sale, bottled recently by Alfred Guilherme Rodrigues (AGR): pale-to-mid, rather hazy amber; toasted, smoked, nutty-aperitif character, savoury on the palate, quite light in style with an austere, dry, slightly casky  finish.  16                 

JBA 1995 Boal *

A youngster, rather out of context here and not included in the sale, JBA stands for Joaquim Batista Rodrigues from Estreito de Calheta: mid amber with distinctly funky mothball aromas; very sweet barley sugar character, unusually lacking in acidity such that it cloys. Hollow finish. 10

Favila Gonçalves & Ca. Lda. Boal, Campanário ****

An n/v wine in bottles with original capsules and corks, probably bottled in the 1950s. Campanário is a grape-growing village on the south coast, west of Funchal still producing excellent wines:  mid-deep mahogany; fine lifted bolo de mel  (honey cake) character with a touch of rancio; rich and generous in style with a lovely pure quince marmalade character showing the texture and concentration of cask age.  (£200 / bottle) 17.5   

 Old Sercial n/v (from the Vieira family)  ***

Bottled in the 1950s (as above); deep red-tinged amber; pungent, caramelised, toffeed character; fine, long linear Sercial character on the palate if a bit coarse and astringent on the finish. Something of an oddball: both concentrated and still austere.  (£500/ bottle) 15

Old Verdelho n/v (from the Vieira Family) ***

Believed bottled in the 1950s:  deep mahogany; very powerful and pungent on the nose for a Verdelho, burnt sugar; rich, intense and very powerful in style, caraamelised marmalade flavours, intense and concentrated by generally lacks finesse. (£166 / bottle) 15

Ema Vieira Pereira, ‘M.’ Vinho Velho  n/v ****

Sra. Vieira Pereira was the daughter of Dr. Manuel Jose Viera. This wine almost certainly dates form the late 19th century: mid-amber in colour; lovely leathery aromas, smells of a well-kept tack room; rich, tangy Old English marmalade character, plenty of charisma here, with a nicely singed finish. (£137.50 / bottle) 17.5

João Romão Teixiera 1860 Terrantez  ***             

Sold as part of a mixed lot of wines from Campanario: mid-amber; rather demure and dull on the nose, candied peel, needs longer decanting; much more expressive on the palate, candied peel again with a bitter-sweet twist but let down by a rath


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