There is no other fortified wine or table wine in the world that compares to Madeira. A ‘contemplative’ drink to be consumed not so much over supper, but depending on your taste and mood; perhaps a Verdelho at 11 am, a Bual at tea-time, sercial as an aperitif and a Malmsey to pontificate on at the end of the day with a bit of chocolate.
On Monday afternoon the BI office was graced not only by Chris Blandy, seventh generation to work in the trade and now CEO of Blandy’s Madeira Wine Company, but a plethora of bottles that would make even a non-drinker sit up and take notice!
We kicked off with two colheitas (‘baby vintages’ as Chris described them) which do not remain in barrel for the full 20 years as is the case for the vintage bottling – they’re a sort of ‘sneak preview’. These were the 1998 Colheita Sercial and 1998 Colheita Verdelho; the colheitas really are a great way of introducing yourself to the grape varieties and styles and the value to quality ratio is huge.
Then we moved onto the Vintages – 1985 back to 1863 (yes, 1863!) – the real show pieces of the tasting.
Pale onion skin. Clean and fresh ‘classic rancio’ aromas. Rich marmalade, smoky and with bright, youthful acidity. 94pts BI
Slightly darker colour. High toned and toasty. Lean, dried fruit spice, still youthful and vigorous. Dry with some honey notes. Gorgeous and fresh finish 95 Pts BI
Deep with green hues. Vibrant and electric! Cloves and toasted nuts aromas. Clove and spices shine though, hints of caramalised sugar and hugely complex. Beautiful and oh so long. 96 Pts BI
Amber, Very fresh aromas, bone dry with an almost saline ‘zing’. Hints of fruit and great freshness leading to a vibrant and electric finish. 95 Pts BI
Rich, toffee/coffee and clove. Think sticky toffee pudding, figs, raisins and marmalade. This has everything. Class, depth and concentration. 97 Pts BI
Mahogany colour. Clove, cinnamon, figgy with dried fruit and caramilsed orange peel. Long, complex, zingy and utterly delicious. 97.5 Pts BI
So clean, elegant and with multiple layers of freshness. There’s a nuttiness about it and it is utterly fantastic. A great example of Sercial. 96 Pts BI
Outstanding vintage for Bual (I expect you already knew that) with great concentration and pronounced aromas. There’s a real intensity and richness; lusciousness springs to mind. Really open and inviting. Beautiful. 97 Pts BI
Madeira has been my tipple of choice ever since I was first initiated several years ago; it is only through luck and the generosity of like minded drinkers that I have been able to access many bottles of this most wonderful of elixirs. My oldest bottle so far is a 1790 Sercial! These wines really can age… and unlike your prized bottles in the cellar that slowly reach maturity and then peter out, these boys keep on getting better and better and when finally bottled pretty much remain ‘in state’.
The freshness, depth of flavour, complexity, seductive integration and finish that goes on forever will leave you wondering why you haven’t been drinking Madeira religiously! Drinking old examples is like nothing else: its styles range from the very sweet to the searingly dry and cover a flavour spectrum which takes in fresh bread, toasted nuts and woodsmoke through to figs, caramalised orange and maple syrup - all bearing Madeira’s hallmark ‘rancio’ style.
‘Rancio’ is hard to define but whenever I am lucky enough to try old vintage Madeira I am always amazed by its intrinsic freshness and complexity. The aftertaste is as long as it is complex and there are few pleasures in daily life that beat a glass in the evening with some chocolate…
Sercial, Verdelho, Bual (Boal) and Malmsey (Malvazia) are the four major top-quality or ‘noble’ grape varieties, all white and planted in fairly small quantities. Each one makes a different style of Madeira, ranging from dry to sweet and for vintage madeiras, as above, varieties are not blended. Typically all have high, tangy acidity:
Sercial; dry with high toned acidity that can develop almost rapier like precision over time, THE perfect aperitif.
Verdelho; a versatile medium-dry style than can develop smokey notes over time – tends to be a good place to start for the beginner Madeira drinker – excellent with liver pâté!
Bual; richer and medium sweet, lovely with chocolate
Malmsey; makes a very sweet dark, rich dessert wine
Terrantez; dry,think Christmas pudding with the intensity of Pedro Ximenezand Bastardo; think dry amontillado. Both almost long gone on the island save a few dedicated growers, these are shy-bearing vines prone to disease. They only narrowly missed extinction following phylloxera and bottles are becoming rarer and rarer.
It goes without saying that this was one of the stand-out tastings of the year, and we were humbled to try such legendary wines. Thank you Chris.