I have been in purdah, writing a book on Madeira, the Islands and their Wines. This is a labour of love which began over a decade ago then faltered with the financial crisis and the collapse of a publisher in Portugal. Late last year I dusted down the manuscript for my UK publisher, Infinite Ideas in Oxford. They liked the concept and, wanting me to get on and finish it before the end of the year, I have spent the last three months collating nearly thirty years of tasting notes on vintage madeiras (as well as uncorking some venerable bottles over Christmas) for a new chapter on historic madeira wines. I am currently en route to Madeira to finish off the book, filling in gaps and updating information, some of which dates back over a decade. Which brings me to the vineyard on a bitterly cold January morning to taste last year’s wines. They have mostly finished malo-latic now but still need a bit more time to settle down. It is an instructive tasting with some excellent wines from among the first grapes to be picked in mid-September. From then on it goes steadily downhill with increasingly stretched and dilute wines being made towards the end of vintage when we were drenched in rain. The Alicante Bouschet has been the greatest disapointment. It is the last grape to ripen and was the most affected by last year’s torrential rain. I leave the adega chilled to the bone – the building seems to store up the winter damp and cold. The winter pruning is almost complete and, at the end of the day, I retreat to the relative warmth of Lisbon before leaving for balmy Madeira.
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