The BFT (Big Fortified Tasting) is one of the big events in the tasting calendar. It is a showcase for fortified wines from all over the world. Due to the Covid 19 pandemic the event has been taking place ‘at home’ for the last few weeks with little bottles of wine sent very efficiently by the organisers on request. I am particularly grateful to Alex Bridgeman who has kept the BFT on the road through the pandemic.
Given the limitations this year I decided to focus on Madeira. There were two reasons for this, the primary one being that I am about to embark on a new edition of my book on Madeira wines which forms part of the Infinite Ideas Classic Wine Library. The second of course is that Madeira is so resilient as a wine that the samples were sure to arrive in good condition. And so it proved. The wines below are mostly recent releases from the four main shippers on the island, many of which I am tasting here for the first time. More samples also arrived to accompany as masterclass hosted by IVBAM and very well presented by Rubina Vieira. It came with some useful up-to-date facts (hard facts used to be very hard to come by in Madeira) which are presented here:
There are currently 493 ha of vineyard on the island split between 2084 growers. The average plot size is just 900 square meters. The grape varieties are divided up as follows:
54% Tinta Negra* (representing 85% of production)
1% Terrantez* (just 2.9ha)
16% others (inc. Complexa, Triunfo, Bastrado*, Listrão* and Moscatel)
*Any wine labelled with one of these varieties must be made from at least 85% of the grape stated on the bottle.
The island’s total production is 3.5 – 4 million kg of grapes a year.
The approved categories for Madeira are: 5, 10, 15, 20, 30 40 50 and over 50 Years Old and well as Colheita (a wine from a single harvest bottled with at least 5 years ageing in cask) and Frasqueira or Garrafeira (a wine from a single harvest or vintage with at least 20 years ageing in cask).
A total of 5.3 million bottles was certified by IVBAM in 2019.
The following wines are listed in increasing order of sweetness and age, roughly in the order that I tasted them (though I went back and retasted a couple more times before finalising my note and score). When the information was forthcoming I have included residual sugar levels and background information on the ageing of the wines prior to bottling.
This is a taste of things to come. I hope to be visiting the island later this year in preparation for a new edition of Madeira: The Islands and their Wines as well as a monograph on the state of the Madeira wine industry for the International Wine and Food Society.
Barbeito Ten Year Old Sercial ****
Pale golden colour; very appetising singed biscuity character on the nose with a touch of rancio; similarly savoury salted pretzel flavours with a touch of lime marmalade sweetness mid-palate (just 45g/l residual sugar) and a lithe but gentle grapefruit finish. Elegant and beautifully poised. 18
Barbeito, Tinta Negra 2008 ****
Half the grapes for this wine were picked a week before full maturation to preserve their natural acidity. Aged in seasoned French oak for ten years before bottling: pale, red-tinged amber in hue; pungent savoury – earthy aromas with just a hint of quince-like fruit character; soft and delicate in style, off dry (62g/l residual sugar) with zesty acidity, a touch biscuity with a hint of lemon and lime marmalade on the finish. Gentle, and very easy going, especially for a wine on the drier side. 17
Henriques & Henriques Single Harvest Sercial 2001 ****
Mid amber with lovely maritime aromas and a touch of citrus blossom and wood smoke; quite austere initially, saline with a hint of caramelised fig (45g/l residual sugar and rich in dry extract) mid-palate which cuts through the brisk acidity and leads to a long, fine searing finish that just stops short of being punishing. Very appetising: a wine to sip and savour. 17.5
Pereira d’Oliveira Sercial 1999 ****
Mid-deep amber / mahogany; lovely lifted spicy aromas, toasted almond with a hint of hickory smokehouse; rich and savoury initially on the palate, dried fig richness with racy acidity just underlying leading to a long, lithe finish with a touch of salinity.18
Barbeito Sercial 1993 *****
Mid-deep golden colour; complex aromas with lapsang tea and a hint of autumn leaves on the nose, forceful yet at the same time beguilingly delicate; similar puissance initially on the palate, seemingly very dry and angular with a streak of underripe greengage and jolt of salinity leading to a long, seamless whistle of a finish. This is not a Sercial for softies but it is truly magnificent. 19
Blandy’s Sercial 1980 ****/*****
Mid-amber with an olive-green tinge to the rim; lovely pungent, lifted aromas, almond husk, lime blossom and a hint of rancio on the nose; fresh apple and greengage fruit (55g/l residual sugar) with a toasty -savoury-saline edge and steely acidity running all the way through: these divergent flavours come together on the finish which is dry without being austere. 18.5
Barbeito Ten Year Old Verdelho Reserva Velha *****
Lovely golden amber colour; fresh springtime aromas, blossom and rain on dry ground; savoury-sweet and wonderfully moreish with crystalline purity and a delicate, mouth-watering greengage finish. Perfectly poised with great finesse. Outstanding in its class. 19
Blandy’s Colheita Verdelho 2008 ****
Mid amber-mahogany with an olive-green tinge on the rim; still driven by primary fruit with smoky-savoury undertones; honey and fig richness on the palate offset by steely acidity, medium sweet (65 g/l residual sugar) with a touch of curry-spice, not the most complex of wines but a very easy and delicious drink. Just 3,000 50cl bottles in total. 17
Henriques & Henriques Single Harvest Verdelho 2007 ****
Mid-deep amber-mahogany; singed baked Alaska nose not as overt as some in this line up and quite rich in style (75g/l residual sugar); spicy candied fruit with a lovely balance between sweet and savoury leading to a long, lithe lemon and lime marmalade finish. 18
Pereira d’Oliveira Verdelho 1994 *** /****
Mid-deep mahogany with a slightly rustic peaty / malt whisky aromas; rich and malty with considerable raisiny/figgy sweetness mid-palate and a powerful leathery-spicy finish. Contrastingly dry length. 16.5
Pereira d’Oliveira Verdelho 1981 (bottled 2020) ****
Deep nut brown with pungent, high toned aromas redolent of dried figs and a hint of tobacco; rich and figgy in style (74 g/l residual sugar), powerfully spicy and peaty with considerable astringency on the finish. Rich and satisfying with a good orange marmalade tang on the finish. 17.5
Barbeito, Três Pipas Bastardo Reserva Velha ****
Old gold; savoury dusty aromas redolent of dried apricots and a sack of almonds; gentle on the palate, dried apricots sprinkled with salt and black pepper, lovely apricot richness mid-palate but elegant, long and zesty. 17.5
Blandy’s Ten Year Old Bual ****
Mid-deep nut brown; heady, floral with a touch of rancio on the nose; caramelised fruit (100g/l residual sugar), honey, toffee and spice, rather charming with the richness offset by pronounced acidity leading to a long, focused slightly saline sweet and sour finish. Lovely wine. 18
Blandy’s Colheita Bual 2003 (bottled 2016) ****/*****
Deep amber in hue with a green glint to the rim; pronounced autumnal aromas, a bonfire of singed leaves with a touch of quince, really rather gorgeous; quince marmalade richness (92 g/l residual sugar) with a wholemeal backdrop, lovely texture and weight offset by racy acidty and a delightful savoury-sweet tang on the finish. 18.5
Pereira d’Oliveira Boal 2001 ***
Deep amber-mahogany; rich, slightly smoky tropical fruit aromas; savoury sweet and quite rich in style with toffee and spice offset by brisk acidity and a certain saline astringency which leads to a rich but rather rustic finish. Satisfying over all. 16
Blandy’s Colheita Malmsey 2004 ****
Mid deep amber with a reddish glint; fragrant tea leaf nose with raisins and figs; rich and malty, quite luscious, tropical sweetness (110 g/l) offset by racy, steely acidity (7 g/l total acidity) and a lovely mouth-watering finish akin to fresh pineapple 18
Henriques & Henriques Rich Single Harvest 1998 ****
Deep amber / nut brown; high toned honeyed aromas with a beguiling smoky undertone; salted caramel richness offset by pronounced acidity leaving a long, toothsome bitter-sweet finish. 17.5
Pereira d’Oliveira Tinta Negra 1997 (Medium Sweet) ***
Deep mahogany colour; torrefaction, blue mountain tea on the nose with a hint of coffee bean, an unusual combination; quite rich in style with peach-like fruit and texture offset by zesty acidity leading to a gentle bitter sweet finish. A little rustic in style and lacking finesse. 16
Pereira d’Oliveira Malvasia 1991 ****
Mid deep mahogany with a distinct olive-green rim; rich rather ‘antique’ nose (old wood and polished antique furniture); honey and molasses (true ‘bolo de mel’ character), demerara richness (129 g/l residual sugar) and complexity leading to a spicy astringent finish with a touch of balsamic. Long thick cut marmalade tang. 17.5
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