The island of Madeira is about 360 miles off the coast of Northwest Africa and sits in the Atlantic Ocean, spanning just over 60 miles in length and 35 miles at its widest point. The flight into Madeira’s Funchal International Airport is always an adventure, especially when you see how the landing runway is situated, but I don’t want to scare away those that are already tenuous when it comes to flying.
We met the group in the hotel lobby just before sun set and headed to our first appointment in downtown Funchal, the Capital city of Madeira. We were arriving at the adega of one of the historical producers on the island, H.M. Borges and our group was excited for their first Madeira experience.
Established rather late in the 19th century, 1877 to be exact, the adega we were in was quite old, yet the firm did not move in until after Isabel Borges’ grandfather had passed away in 1916. The company is now run by a couple of first cousins, (Isabel and Helena Borges) who are 4th generation descendents of the founder. Borges moved in shortly after WWI in 1924 and originally it had been a flour mill. The family controls 70% of the company and three other families own the remainder.
Their main export markets are Japan and Sweden, but they also ship to Italy, Norway and the UK. Hopefully if all goes well, Borges will become more popular in the USA as they are currently discussing an agreement with an importer. Typical of Madeira producers, they own no vineyards and buy their grapes from a wide swath of growers. They utilize all four traditional grapes and Tinta Negra Mole, (TNM) of course.
I found their building quaint with everything from the laboratory and bottling line to the cask storage upstairs and tasting room downstairs along with the office, all housed in this one old wooden building. Isabel and Helena are doing a great job and that is evidenced not only by the quality of the Madeira, which on a whole, is very solid indeed, but they are charming and unassuming women with no sense of airs whatsoever.
The pipas are truly old old barrels, which hold 600 liters apiece. One time per year, they top off their casks with 30 liters per cask. Much to their credit, Borges does not sell any Madeira in bulk. About 60% of their production is Canteiro and the rest Estufagem. Most of the grapes purchased are from the Cama da Lobos area, especially the TNM. But they also buy much of their Malmsey from North Coast producers and they use the grapes from two hundred distinct growers, which might sound like a lot, but not compared to some of the larger Madeira companies.
Here is a picture taken (sorry Helena!) upstairs of the rope and hook that were used to lower the barrels outside, when they needed to be repaired as they are too big to be taken down the stairs. I can only assume that they were brought upstairs the exact same way, many years ago. After touring the entire facility which is rather small, we went back downstairs to the tasting room and were led through most all of the wines still in possession of the family. Their older stocks have been long sold out and I have been fortunate to try a couple but never see them for sale anymore, except a rare older Solera on occasion at auction.
1995 H.M. Borges Colheita Boal Madeira – Bottled 2005. This Boal is dark caramel color with a greenish tinge to the edge. The nose showed a green streak initially, which blew off to show some beef bouillon, golden raisin and burnt sugar notes. Sweet in style and heading more towards the Malmsey end of the spectrum, excellent balance and a finely knit thread of acidity running through it. Delicious and the finish kept building and offered a luscious confected aftertaste that I found quite satisfying. 4,500 bottles produced and sold for 18 Euros. 93 points 5/17/07
1977 H.M. Borges Bual Vintage Madeira – Bottled in 2004. This was quite a step up in quality and although I enjoyed the ’95 Boal Colheita, this was even more to my liking. Cola colored with a greenish rim. Raisins and coffee come to the fore and a voluptuous texture ensued, propped up by zippy acidity and a touch of citrus on the exotic aftertaste. A smooth and balanced beauty, this would be fun to try in about 60 years or so. 65 Euros seems like a fine deal. 94+ points 5/17/07
H.M. Borges 15 Year Old Malvazia Madeira – Presented by Helena Borges we finally head towards the sweeter end of the Borges range. Dark coffee color with a golden tinged edge. Smooth rich and not too sweet, lots of figs and chestnut flavors here that together bode well and are shored up with vibrant acidity that really shines through and cuts the sweet edge. Silky and a lot of fun to play with in the mouth. Mouthcoating and complex layered finish. Why does this show so much better here than when at home? Wow, just 19 Euros! 94 points 5/17/07
1940 H.M. Borges Malmsey Reserva Solera Madeira – This Solera is the oldest vintage dated Madeira still in Borges hands. A rather small bottling of 800 took place in 2006 and is unquestionably Malvasia! You could see the pride in Isabel as she poured this and talked a little about how this Solera got started. Saline and a bit grapey at first, the nose took a 180 and provided cherry pipe tobacco, cedar and butterscotch which was delightful to smell together. This Malmsey shows a dry style and it’s imbued with such potent acidity that it captivates the palate. In fact the acidity is dominating and the nutty, caramel flavors take a back seat. The strong point was the great velvety texture that translated well on the creamy and lingering finish. It was clear that the group loved this wine and at just 60 Euros, lots of this nectar was sold. One has to wonder what this would taste like with another half century in wood! 95+ points 5/17/07
H.M. Borges 10 Year Old Sercial Madeira – This was our initial foray into Madeira and it was a great way to start off this half of the Fortification Tour. Medium amber color with a clear edge. Yummy, this was much richer than most Sercial that I am accustomed to, nonetheless, it is able to provide a very light impression. Waxy texturally, quite citric and lemony, this Sercial is fermented w/out skins, which is extremely rare. Fabulous acidity and a fine, lingering finish. Just 16 Euros, what a bargain! 91 points 5/17/07
1995 H.M. Borges Colheita Verdelho Madeira – Isabel poured this for us and it was a light maple color. Rich and mouthcoating, with a distinctly lighter level of acidity than the Sercial. Lots of saline here, with brown sugar and mahogany nuances. It finishes with medium longevity and a nice tang. Just 1,000 bottles of 500 ml, it retails for 18 Euros. 88 points 5/17/07
2005 Quinta da Aveleda Vinho Verde – After some incredibly tasty Madeira at HM Borges, this was certainly a head turning contrast. As pale in color as a white wine can get. But the nose and flavors are bold with bright Anjou pears and ripe grapefruit and a solid dose of acidity that paired perfectly with our salad course. I love the simplicity of Vinho Verde and although I drink it often in Portugal, I question why I own none at home. A fine opening salvo and in possession of a very cleansing finish. 87 points 5/17/07
2002 Cortes de Cima Vinho Tinto, Alentejo, Portugal – Syrah and Touriga Nacional? Say it ain’t so. That’s why I love the Douro, 99% indigenous grapes. Produced by Hans Christian Jorgensen … that doesn’t sound Portuguese. Rich, red fruit that is chewy and well-balanced. A highly nuanced and concentrated wine that is drinking beautifully today. Plenty of tannins to easily carry this another 5-8 years. This went exceptionally well with the Rodizio style beef. Solid mid-palate depth and a reasonably priced wine, worth cellaring too. 91 points 5/17/07
2003 Quinta da Bacalhoa Cabernet Sauvignon Setubal Portugal – Someday I have to get back to this area and visit this high profile property and wind up at Jose Maria da Fonseca for dessert. A mélange of Cab-Merlot, I was actually pretty impressed by the sexy style of this wine. I have had the 2000 vintage of this wine before and it is consistently a fine offering. I prefer the 2003 and feel that it shows a darker and more complex profile. Bright floral fragrances of rose petals, leather, smoky road tar and cherry fruit. I was a bit taken aback by how smooth and seamless this was on the palate with fine and very mild tannins. Sumptuous in the mouth, our guests loved this one and it was almost like a Portuguese wine trying to be a big bad Bordeaux. 93 points 5/17/07
This was a really relaxing evening and I felt that the group really started to bond well at this point, lots of laughs and comfortable conversation that had little to do with wine. The food was outstanding and we’ll be back here for sure on our next visit. It was late and we had a lot planned for tomorrow (Friday) so it was back to the hotel. I took a walk outside to get some fresh air before heading to bed. Ah, what a life!
Woke up and headed straight for a big breakfast as I knew what was coming and I wanted to fortify my stomach before I fortified my liver! Fortunately, I had consumed a lot of water on Thursday and was ready for our big day. Actually, I was really excited for our first appointment as for some reason, I had never visited Barbeito before.
In the USA marketplace, if you enjoy Madeira, Barbeito is one of the dominant players. There is a lot of it around (all considered) and The Rare Wine Company stocks an astounding array of vintages from this producer. In the UK, Barbeito is a fairly new player and compared to the US, they’re nowhere near as popular; as the Symingtons’ Madeira Wine Co. and Henriques & Henriques dominate the British market which is much smaller for Madeira. Not a big surprise, considering the history between Madeira and the US, similar to the tradition and relationship between Port, Portugal and the British. But back to Barbeito.
With an opportunity to spend a full day with Ricardo De Freitas, who is the Managing Director and grandson of the founder, (Mario Barbeito) we realized how fortunate we were. Ricardo is the 3rd generation of De Freitas to run Barbeito, which was established in 1946. I had no idea it was that young, as I have had their bottlings that date back to 1795 (the exalted Terrantez). Simply to clear up any confusion, the De Freitas family made a name for themselves by going out and buying up as much old stocks in pipas that they could afford (which was a lot!). They also were in the right place at the right time when Oscar Acciaioly’s company folded and they sold the majority of their old stocks, both in bottle and pipas to Barbeito. That is why so much Acciaioly made it to the USA.
Ricardo is just the first De Freitas to actually vinify the wine as his father and grandfather ran the business, but hired others to do the winemaking. As a 14 year old boy, Ricardo began working for his father during school holidays. Later, he attended the University of Lisbon and studied history and by September 1989, he began his full-time career in the family business. Just four years later, with the 1993 harvest, Ricardo made his mark by producing his very first Madeira on his own.
Like Borges and the others I have been to, Barbeito owns not a single vineyard (the only Madeira company that I’m aware of that does, is H&H but it would not surprise me if MWC does too). Barbeito’s primary market is Japan, but they export to a number of European countries and of course a key market being America. There was a very cool wine shop that was owned by Barbeito called Diogo’s which offers many old vintages at some compelling price points and we were able to spend some time there at the end of our visit. It was clear that the only thing that stopped our group from wiping out their old stocks was our inability to carry more back home with us. In all seriousness, Madeira is a fairly limited resource when it comes to old bottlings and to be in such a shop with that kind of depth, was fantastic. Fortunately we had just finished our tasting, so nobody was standing in awe, drooling.
We went to see Ricardo’s family home and Vila Afonso, a 200 year old estate situated in Estreito de Câmara de Lobos that was refurbished in 1999. Adjacent to the main house is a warehouse that was built in the 1940s and is now used by Barbeito today. It was originally created for their Canteiro storage of casks 2 to 3 rows high. Ricardo prefers Canteiro method to Estufagem and makes 100% of his wines this way with “no additives” (caramel coloring agents -- an inexpensive but taboo “practice”). The Alfonso family has lots of old casks and demijohns. Many of these have gone to Mannie Berk at RWC, as well as Patrick Grubb who is the UK’s most prolific dealer in rare, high end Madeira. According to Ricardo, there are 12 demijohns of 1870 Sercial and 8 of the 1870 Boal still in existence. Hmmmm!
Both Borges and Barbeito buy grapes from vineyards which are “certified organic” by the Madeira Department of Agriculture. We visited some cool latada trellised vineyards (planted Pergola style) not to be confused with the island’s lavadas, which are the interconnected aqueducts carrying water all over the island.
We learned about the price of grapes and how much they vary by variety. For example, the least expensive TNM grapes cost just .90 Euro/kilo, while the highest quality TNM grapes cost 1.20 Euros/kilo. To put that in perspective, fine Verdelho grapes cost 2.10 Euros/kilo!
We visited Cabo Girao which is the highest point of land, directly over water on the island at just under 2,000’ of elevation (580 meters to be exact). Mario and I got a kick out of this remembering a very funny conversation we had at this exact spot, with John Cossart (head of H&H) back in 2005.
Next on the vineyard tour we drove to Campanario, which until1755 was controlled by the Jesuit priests (who were exiled by the Marques de Pombal … if you remember your Port history). This area is well-known for its excellent Boal grown here and to a lesser extent, Malvasia. We checked out some very young plantings of a 7 year old Boal vineyard and a 4 year old vineyard planted to Sercial. In this specific area, Sercial is planted at a lower altitude (350 meters) than is typical. Fascinating to see the concrete posts on the end of the rows of trellises.
Our gang was fascinated to learn that TNM grapes are believed to have originate from a Pinot Noir cultivar that was transported to Madeira back in the early 1900s. Eventually the Tinta Negra Mole grape evolved into another type of grape. Ricardo the great raconteur, told of days of yore (17th & 18th centuries) when Madeirean men would carry goat skin bags on their backs that contained 50 liters of wine … all the way from the Northern coast of the island, over to the South coast which was a distance of 20-25 miles! Another factoid, Barbeito purchases grapes from 135 growers.
While visiting vineyards we stopped at one which Ricardo wanted to show us some specific vines and how they were supported and also introduce us to the grower. When we arrived he was outdoors in the vineyard with his wife. She was fairly clean and orderly, but the gentleman was laying down some (if I have this correctly) sulfur powder in his vineyard and our group was initially aghast at his appearance and then thinking what it must be like to be him. I wandered in an open meadow thick with undergrowth to take some fine pictures when all of a sudden I noticed a not so happy bull walking towards me. I did not look forward to the Portuguese version of running with the bulls so I carefully departed and was fortunate to have escaped in one piece. Here is a picture of said bull.
We were having lots of fun and as lunch approached, we took a respite. We were in the town of Prazeres and it was Espatada time and Tosco was the right place to go. In addition to the traditional Rodizio style of cooking meat, poultry and fish served on Espatada stands, Tosco had some of the best batada fritas I have ever tasted and that is saying a mouthful. Although the meat was barely medium-rare (fine by me!) it was absolutely incredible. A great choice! With lunch we enjoyed:
Barbeito 20 Year Old Malvasia Madeira – Lotte 6072, bottle # 935 of 1,290. 4.2 Baume. Lighter body, lean and much drier than any Malvasia I can think of. Interesting and full flavored. A fun wine to try and with a most memorable finish. Admittedly at the moment, I was more into lunch as I knew what was going to take place AFTER lunch! 88 points 5/18/07
During lunch Ricardo talked about the Barbeito stocks and said that there were about 600 casks in their inventory with 950,000 liters as well. Their annual sales equate to 170,000 liters/year. We chatted about the infamous 1834 Barbeito Malvasia which they have a solid stock of. Also I wondered what happened during bottling when the cask gets too low and they have just a small amount left over. Ricardo explained that this quantity of Madeira would be moved to demijohns for storage until bottling in 750s at a later time.
After lunch we headed back to the Barbeito Lodge, which was built in the 19th century and had originally been utilized as a sugar cane distillery. I was very interested in a very small facet of Madeira and that was how evaporation played into the bigger picture, both qualitatively and financially. I thought it would be a great topic to focus on and learn a great deal from the master. Ricardo mentioned that their annual rate of evaporation equaled 3.7% which when you look at what is in inventory (above) and multiply that by nearly 4 percent … WHOA!!! We discussed how different areas in storage affected the evaporation rate of casks and so many other facets of the topic.
We then went past a room, where there was a pair of men hand stenciling bottles of Barbeito. I had never seen this process before, so hung out and took a handful of pictures.
It was finally … that very special time and we were led downstairs to participate in a remarkable tasting with a deep selection of Madeira bottlings and cask samples too! Let the games begin:
2006 Barbeito Tinta Negra Mole Vintage Madeira (cask sample) – No wood yet. Very light pink color. Strawberry and minerality, sweet and sour with plenty of acidity and even more Aguardente protruding, which is no surprise. Educational and especially to see the “seasoning” of the Aguardente. n/r 5/18/07
2005 Barbeito Tinta Negra Mole Vintage Madeira (cask sample) – Recreated the “manual” robotic lagar which extracts skin color. 1 year in wood so far. Not really noticeable yet. Light bodied, a ton of spirit stands out but it still allows for a gentle and smooth mouthfeel overall. n/r 5/18/07
2004 Barbeito Tinta Negra Mole Vintage Madeira (cask sample) – 2 years in cask and I can sense a difference between this and the 2005 and 2006. This also went through the manual robotic lagar. This is the only one of the three so far, that is starting to provide sensorial indications that it is a Madeira. Penetrating acidity, Smooth and long on the finish but still quite hot. n/r 5/18/07
Barbeito 3 Year Old Tinta Negra Mole Madeira – Blended from wines coming from the Estufa. Estufa forces oxidation. Light golden color. Notes of lemon and mahogany with a touch of Cognac. Spicy mandarin orange on the finish. Very good actually with a solid core of acidity and refined aftertaste, at least compared to the other younger ones. 80 points 5/18/07
1997 Barbeito Colheita Tinta Negra Mole Madeira – Finally to the point where the Madeira is drinkable. Medium-dry and from a single harvest and this was aged in Canteiro. Single vineyard source of grapes. A medium-bodied and somewhat enjoyable off-dry style. The components are all in place with fine acidity and a solid finish. Give it five more years before opening one. 83 points 5/18/07
Barbeito 10 Year Old Verdelho Madeira – Darker golden color. Brown sugar and golden raisins. Pure Verdelho character with an off-dry profile. Pretty aromatics but better in the mouth and medium length to the finish but nice and round. I’d drink this in a pinch. 85 points 5/18/07
1999 Barbeito Colheita Boal Madeira – Aged 2 months so far. Medium gold coloration. Now we’re talking. This is the first in the lineup that I would actually buy … if I was 30 years old. Lemony, floral, and mahogany notes. The strong suit here is the textural approach which is round and sumptuous. Sweeter and more in line with a Boal/Malmsey. Enjoyable flavors and a good finish that is clean and tasty. 91 points 5/18/07
2000 Barbeito Colheita Malmsey Madeira (40A) – Medium gold in color. Medium bodied with a touch of biting acidity. Herbal with faint notes of tobacco and walnuts. A rather short and disappointing finish takes away some of the love. 85 points 5/18/07
Barbeito 10 Year Old Malmsey Madeira – Medium amber color. Rich and chewy, dense fruit and plenty of acidity to keep this interesting given the sweeter profile. Voluptuous and this is my favorite of all wines we’ve tasted to this point. Light praline and caramel here that show towards the richer and sweeter style of Malmsey that I like. More length on the finish would help. 91 points 5/18/07
Barbeito “RWC Historic Series” NY Malmsey Madeira – It has been since visiting Mannie’s home that I’ve tasted this one. Dark amber with a yellow rim. Smoky, orange peel and antique furniture aromatics. Could use some acid support as it is a bit short, but I do get a more significant edge on the finish. Somewhat simple and straight forward with a mid-palate that does not show the depth of others in this category. Medium finish with purity of flavors. Solid but mostly unexciting. 88 points 5/18/07
Barbeito 30 Year Old Malvasia Madeira – Generous aromas of beef bouillon, saline, caramel and VA. Yeah, this is well stuffed. Mouthwatering acidity, full bodied and rich with a lovely long finish and the acidity jumps out on the aftertaste as well. Taking advantage of a 1950s legislation, this is the very first 30 year old produced in Madeira. 93 points 5/18/07
1982 Barbeito Boal Vintage Madeira – Dark amber, my notes are weak on this wine. Good Boal typicity. Concentrated and structurally sound. Well-balance and a sweet lingering finish. 92 points 5/18/07
1978 Barbeito Boal Vintage Madeira (cask sample) – Rich marzipan, Medium-full bodied with intense acidity that is not only crisp but stands out in a good way. Toffee, hazelnut and lime/citrus profile. Yummy long finish with a touch of nutty caramel and its clean and smooth. 94 points 5/18/07
1914 Barbeito Boal Vintage Madeira – Cask sample. Lots going on historically speaking in 1914. Coffee color with a greenish edge. Espresso bean, mahogany note. Full and rich, almost seamless in its approach. Smooth landing and a very fine Boal that leans towards the Verdelho range. I take issue with the very light acidity which doesn’t carry the sweetness on the finish and this quickly loses focus. Nice aftertaste which is very Verdelho-like and only medium in length. Had this shown a more structured attack when it comes to the acidity, I’d have gone up at least two, possibly three points. 91 points 5/18/07
I typically am the last one to ever bring up quotes that are made during one of our trips, but I am sure that Alan Chalfant won’t mind … if he is reading this recount. Alan said and I quote, “I broke my record the first day of the trip, (meaning having enjoyed very old Ports) six times since then and 2 more times while at Barbeito. And now I am going to break it again with my next glass and then again with the one after that.”
1897 Barbeito Boal Vintage Madeira – Cola color with a yellow edge. A typical and enjoyable Boal that offers up pralines and caramel with a hint at citrus. Sweet and with enough acidity to carry it. A worth effort with some decent mid-palate layers of butterscotch and nuggat. Medium bodied, and a more elegant than powerful style. The finish is just ok and falls a bit short which is my only complaint if I am being critical. 92 points 5/18/07
1875 Barbeito Sercial Vintage Madeira – Cask sample. Dark coffee color. Full bodied and sumptuous in the mouth. Great texture actually, silky smooth. Bracing acidity which is exactly at the level I enjoy for a Sercial. There is a lemony/citrus nuance that drives the length of the finish and adds and extra layer to the wine’s intricate nature. Best wine in the tasting. Ricardo saved the best for last. 95 points 5/18/07
FAJÃ DOS PADRES
I gave a lot of thought as to how I was going to present our last official visit on the trip. Considering that the owner of this vineyard told me that our guests were only the second American visitors ever to come to his property; it was hard for me to wrap my head around at the time. So given the remote location of this property and the wonderful family who treated us like their relatives, my mere words can’t possibly begin to do justice in describing my feelings when visiting there. The only way to do so is by providing an analogy of a similar visit.
The first time I ever stepped foot in the Quinta do Noval Nacional vineyard, it was truly a spiritual experience for me. Just a total sense of inner happiness. I had looked forward to our visit to Fajã dos Padres more than any other part of the 2007 Fortification Tour. Amazingly, it lived up to the enormous expectations I had built up for this visit.
Having consumed only one bottle of the 1950 Fajã dos Padres Terrantez, my reverence has come from reading and not from actual drinking experience (you can read more about that in this FTLOP Forum thread). However, the 2006 release of that wine was so limited, after being bottled by Ricardo at Barbeito, that the owner of the property, Mário Jardim Fernandes has never even tried it. This seemed even stranger when I learned that Ricardo and Mário are actually cousins.
We visited the North coast town of Seixal where the Fernandes family business is located and had the opportunity to tour some vineyards there too. Four of Mario's eleven brothers came down to meet with our group which was such a generous gesture and very much appreciated by all of us. We enjoyed tasting four Madeiras together that they had waiting for us, which are detailed below.
We toured some vineyards leading to the legendary South coast property that is known for producing the finest Malvasia grown anywhere in Madeira. However, although many believe that there are no Terrantez vines there, this is a myth. Even the release of the 1950 by the Rare Wine Company mentioned that the vines were now extinct on the island. The fact is that there are actually 6 of these Terrantez vines at Fajã dos Padres. Call me crazy, but here is a picture of me kissing one of them in reverence.
From what I have been told, this is not the only place on the island where Terrantez grapes are grown, but I have no proof of that “claim.” Supposedly there is 180-200 liters of it produced in any given vintage. What is done with it? That is a good question.
Once we arrived at the entrance to the property, the real challenge began. In order to access the vineyards and other facets of this gem, there is a nice hike down a couple of hundred steep stairs that leads you to the edge of the cliff. On this particular visit, none of our guests knew what we were about to face. “No wheelchair access” is the understatement, because there are only three ways to get down to Fajã dos Padres. From where we stood, a boat was no longer an option … but we might just have to try that on one of our next visits. Secondly, you can risk life and limb as past employees did when climbing down the 1200’ sheer rock face that leads to the sea level property, but for me that was not an option either. Last but not least there is an elevator that glides down a few taut cables. It was quite a thrill ride, in that narrow little box you ride in, and our guest joked that it “isn’t much bigger than a coffin.” Nice!
Requiring a couple of trips for our group, we finally arrived at Fajã. We were met by Mário and he was a warm and humble man and a class act. He let us know that there was nothing to worry about in the elevator and even if the power went out, he has connections. As an engineer and now as the CEO of Madeira’s electric company, there is no reason to be concerned. We were taken on a brief tour and then led to meet his family and taste some Madeira.
The property dates back to the 16th century and grapes have always been grown there. While the final preparations were being made and the wine poured, I learned that their father had only sold wines 2 or 3 times in his lifetime. From what Mário knows, there was one time where his father unloaded 65,000 liters of Sercial and another in which 85,000 liters of Verdelho was sold. Neither time was the Madeira sold in bottles. Mr. Fernandes explained that legally, they are not permitted to bottle their own Madeira and therefore his relative, Ricardo De Freitas at Barbeito has done all bottling of Fajã dos Padres wines.
Island trivia: Although indigenous dessert wine is a very significant component of the local economy, it is the sale of flowers abroad that remains the island’s number one export.
By the late 1970s, the vineyard was almost extinct. Although the property was originally owned by Mario's inlaws, he took on the laborious chore of revitalizing the property. He sent samples of Malvasia Candida clones to a lab in Lisbon, which propagated them for his use. Malvasia is what the property does best and some legendary wines have come from the Fajã dos Padres vineyard site. Although I have never seen it, there is supposed to be a legendary Malvasia from 1934. Mario’s first wine was released in 1980. Prior to that time, only 50-60 liters had been harvested by Mr. Fernandes.
I asked him about his Terrantez and he mentioned that there are indeed six of those vines and he mentioned that it was a hike, but we would do it after lunch. Those six vines are producing a total of 5 liters of Terrantez each year. So although not actually extinct, on his property at least, Terrantez is no longer commercially viable.
We started off the day with a tasting of four Madeiras, all from the Fernandes family or their Fajã property:
1983 Fajã dos Padres Verdelho Vintage Madeira (cask sample) – A Vintage Madeira must age in cask for at least 20 years, but there is no limit to how long it can stay in wood thereafter. Produced by Manuel Eugenio Fernandes Limitada (Lda.). Tawny in color with some initial cask stink that blew off quickly. Light bouillon note with a medium body. Off dry and with loads of crisp acidity. Fresh, pure and very long. I enjoyed that this wine captures the essence of Verdelho and would love to see how this evolves in another 20 years. The entire group felt the finish was the strong point. Long and luscious. 94+ points 5/19/07
2000 Fajã dos Padres Sercial Vintage Madeira (cask sample) – Amber color. Intensity jumps from the glass and even blind I could tell this was very young. A blast of acidity that is focused and boisterous. Some caramelization already, a touch of citrus and lemon. Very dry and with a fine aftertaste of Christmas fruit cake that hints at sweetness but remains true to Sercial. Still quite simple. 91 points 5/19/07
n/v Manuel Eugenio Fernandes “More than 40 years of age” Verdelho Madeira – We were having two versions of this side by side. This one was a blend of Verdelho from wine held in cask between 48-51 years of age. Bottled in 2002 by the Madeira Wine company for the commemoration of the 96th birthday of Manuel Eugenio Fernandes. This is darker than the older version (which is an average of 52 years old). Locally grown grapes from Seixal. This rates as one of the finest Verdelhos I’ve ever tried. There is a lot going on here with dried peach, apricots, spice, roasted chestnuts. But it is not overtly nutty or caramelized. It delivers a knockout punch of a finish too, deeply complex and delicious. The texture had me smiling! 96 points 5/19/07
n/v Manuel Eugenio Fernandes “More than 40 years of age” Verdelho Madeira – We were having two versions of this side by side. This one was a blend of Verdelho from wine held in cask between 52-55 years. Bottled in 2002 by the Madeira Wine Company for the commemoration of the 96th birthday of Manuel Eugenio Fernandes. I preferred the younger one. This showed slightly more acidity, but the youngster had greater balance and a richer finish and gave the impression of “seamlessness.” This is a bit drier and shows a longer finish with a touch of saline protruding on the aftertaste. 93 points 5/19/07
Lunch at Fajã dos Padres, what an experience! The restaurant was an outdoor grouping of tables, right on the beachfront with the water close at hand. Mario’s wife’s (Isabel) grandfather purchased the land back in 1919. All kinds of produce grows here and I won’t list all of it, but in addition to an extraordinary splay of exotic flowers and bananas there are avocados and mangoes growing too … but much more. This is clearly, very fertile land and almost has a Caribbean feel. The restaurant opened in 1996 and most access it by boat. Once the newer elevator opened up in 1997, making Fajã much more approachable (250 meters high and the old one is even taller at 300 meters). In the 1600s the Quinta and vineyards were bought by the Jesuits. Electric was installed in 1935 or ’36. Television arrived in 1965.
We kicked off the lunch festivities with a light white to pair with our seafood dish which was freshly caught tuna, a delicacy that the restaurant is known for:
2005 Adega de Sao Vicente Latadas Vinho Branco (VQPRD) Madeirense – 100% Verdelho, that is grown in Seixal. Light and lively pear notes with a freshness that appealed to me. However it was a bit light in the acid department, which is something I crave in my wine. Peach and citrus flavors and a gentle aftertaste. A touch more acidity and this would have been a very fine wine, but I am probably the only one taking it seriously at lunch here at Fajã. 85 points 5/19/07
1990 Fajã dos Padres Malvasia Vintage Madeira (cask sample) – From the Malvasia Candida grape that Mário saved at his property. You know that life is good when the least great Madeira of the day is a 92 pointer! Only 220 liters of this 1990 were made. Maple color. Unreal nose presenting an ample array of lightly toasted almond, mahogany, herbs and lime zest. Gorgeous! Medium weight to this youngster but not for long, but maybe circa 2090 this will be a full-bodied beauty and ready to drink. Fine intensity of acid that delivers precision and the finish of this wine is remarkably long and silky without being overly sweet. I really like this style! 94+ points 5/19/07
2000 Fajã dos Padres Malvasia Vintage Madeira (cask sample) – Also from the Malvasia Candida. Orange amber in color. Initially some herbal and pine scents come to the fore. Imbued with some smoky notes too and roasted nuts. On the palate there is a spicy component and a gentle hint of toffee. Full-bodied and dense, this is just beginning to gain some complexity as it is an infant in all sense of the word. A clean and smooth aftertaste with a touch of cocoa and crème brulee. This really lingers on the palate and should be better with another 20 years. 93+ points 5/19/07
1993 Fajã dos Padres Malvasia Vintage Madeira (cask sample) – You guessed it, another Malvasia Candida. This is my least favorite wine I have tried here today at Fajã. Light amber in color with a yellow edge. Apricots and golden raisins entice the nose and show promise. This is a light-medium bodied wine and far more elegant than primary. It is the polar opposite of most of the sweeter Madeira here. First and foremost the acidity is lacking verve and the peach and almond flavors are tasty but a bit thin in the mid-section. The finish is medium in length and although smooth and tasty, it is simple and straight forward. 87 points 5/19/07
n/v Fajã dos Padres 20 Year Old Madeira (cask sample) – I am not sure what the grape is here and must have missed it on the label too. This is a Madeira that will be bottled and released by Barbeito. There are 550 liters produced and the juice comes from lottes vinified between 1983-1986 from the most famous vineyard site in the island. It shows a bright maple color with an amber-golden rim. Mahogany, pralines and minerals play with my nose and a solid dose of VA which has not been all that apparent in other Fajã bottlings. Razor sharp acidity here that keep the nectarine and gentle nutty nuances with a backdrop of herb flavors, in line. A fine non-vintage Madeira and the medium body suits it well and delivers a warming and citrus-edged aftertaste. 92 points 5/19/07
After saying our goodbyes to Mrs. Fernandes, it was time to walk over to THE VINEYARD. It took awhile to get over to it and the mid-afternoon sun was quite warm and even with a sea breeze as we walked just a couple of dozen yards from the ocean, it was not pretty hot. I understand the terroir here, as the huge cliff protects the (backside of the vineyard) North side of the island and focuses the heat directly down on the vineyard, blasting off the ocean and rock that surround both sides. You have the ocean influence and a nice breeze and some moisture too. It seems like the perfect place to grow grapes for Madeira and this spit of land could easily be underwater in a huge storm of any consequence. This is a rugged vineyard and not what I am used to seeing anywhere. Actually it is indescribable. But in reality, it is a bit rustic and nothing like I had expected of the island’s greatest vineyard site. It truly is more about the micro-climate as clearly there is little human intervention in the way the grapes are grown!
What a stunning morning and afternoon. Rather remarkable, meeting such a laid back and charismatic Fernandes family, getting to try some spectacular young Madeira with a smattering of older offerings as well. Lunch served in the great outdoors with the best view money can’t buy and just a perfectly warm and sunny day. One of my most memorable visits to a wine producer in some time and there have been many excellent ones. We thanked Mario and took our last look of Fajã dos Padres, at least for this visit. You never forget your first time, but I am sure it won’t be the last. The elevator ride was wild as it was receiving lots of sun and by the time we got to the top, we could not wait to get out and cool off. I was ready to go back down and jump into the ocean.
It was our group’s last evening together and we were going to head back to the U.S. in the morning, leaving some new friends with lots of fine memories, made while on this unforgettable trip. We went to one of my favorite restaurants on the island and had a long and relaxing dinner with a fine selection of white, red and Madeira to accompany the food. It is hard to believe that it took me three reports to complete just one week of visits but there are so many places to go and people to meet, with an abundance of delicious wines and meals along the way. Just ten weeks away from our next Fortification Tour, I am very excited to return and visit some new properties in the Douro and Madeira. As you can see, we have a pretty enjoyable time.
The story of the 2007 Fortification Tour is told in 3 parts:
Part One - Porto & Gaia, featuring Sandeman, Taylor Fladgate, Vinologia Port wine bar, Sogevinus, Avepod Wine Shop and Presuntisco restaurant.
Part Two - In the Douro at Quinta do Infantado, Wine & Soul, Niepoort and Warre's Quinta da Cavadinha
Part Three - In Madeira, at HM Borges, Vinhos Barbeito and Fajã dos Padres