ARTICLE BY ROY HERSH and RICHARD JENNINGS © JANUARY 2011
After leaving Sandeman’s Quinta do Seixo in the Douro, two hours later we were back at our hotel in Porto with a few hours to relax before dinner. This was our last night in Northern Portugal, as the following morning we were heading to Madeira. But first we were going to have dinner with an esteemed guest; Francisco Javier de Olazabal the proprietor of Quinta do Vale Meão who joined us at restaurant Cafeina. This fine eatery had been a new discovery for us in 2009. With fantastic food, lively ambience and excellent customer service, this is a restaurant worth revisiting.
It was a perfect way to spend our last night in Porto and our guests took great pleasure in the various dishes and of course, the repartee with Mr. Olazabal. He is the former President of Ferreira, a descendent of Dona Antonia Adelaide Ferreira (great-great-grandson) and it was his property that supplied some of the grapes for Ferreira’s classic wine Barca Velha; the first “cult” table wine to emanate from Portugal dating back to the early 1950’s. Olazabal is one of the most charismatic raconteur’s in the Port trade, an original member of “The Douro Boys” and I should also mention that for many years, Francisco was the Chancellor of the Confraria do Vinho do Porto.
It was great to be able to pair Francisco’s wines with our dinner and they were really singing on this particular evening. I’ve tasted some of these in the past, so it was a great opportunity to see how they’ve evolved since our last visit to Meão and we’re planning to revisit there during our tour next month. I have to admit it was a lot of fun for me to watch the enthusiasm of our group, as they seemed to not only love the wines, but truly enjoyed Francisco’s genteel manner and sharp mind. I also believe it made a great impression that Francisco had thought to bring along his own olive oil from the Meão property, for us to dip our bread into. It was delicious!
As I’ve reported in the past, Francisco works closely with his son “Xito” (also Francisco) who is making the Meão wines these days. His son is also the consulting oenologist, assisting his cousin in producing exciting wines at Quinta do Vallado, which we visited during the 2010 Port Harvest Tour. Although Vito purchased remaining shares of Meão from other family members back in 1994, it was Xito who talked his father into “going it alone” and bottling under their own label. They produced their first DOC wine in 1999 and Port the following year.
Here are the wines that accompanied our dinner:
2007 Quinta do Vale Meão Meandro Douro Red Wine – Inky purple hue. Smelled like a cask sample it was still so young, actually a bit tanky. This could have used several hours in decanter, but having arrived with Francisco, he was able to decant it just prior to dinner. Fresh floral bouquet, spicy and showing the color purple. Meandro differs from the finer Meão bottling in that it’s aged in oak casks previously utilized for 2-4 years. It also uses a smaller percentage of Touriga Nacional which is the largest block of all planted in the vineyards. Meandro also comes from younger vines than what is used in the “Meão” bottlings. Bold flavors of raspberry and redcurrant with fine acidity, soft tannins and a beautifully smooth texture which leads to a finish of medium-long length. Currently, it is almost too ripe at the moment. Cellar this for another 1-2 years and then consume over the next fifteen. 92+ points ~ 5/19/10
2006 Quinta do Vale Meão Meandro Douro Red Wine – Given its very reasonable price point, the Meandro represents great value for money and is not hard to find in the USA. What a difference a year makes and although the 2007 vintage is better, I preferred this version to drink today, mostly for its extra bottle age. It was not as in-your-face and the fruit was less primary than its younger brother. This is a tasty and fleshy young red that has really evolved nicely since tasting it two years ago when it was a young fruit bomb (like the 2007 is at the moment). A nice blend of purple fruit and blackberry emerges with time in the glass and a sense of minerals, herbs and a distinct oak laden smokiness. It shows more earthy nuances and oak influence than the 2007, with a slightly shorter finish. Had it been decanted for say, four hours, it would have shown even better. There was only one third of the normal production of “Meão” bottled in 2006 so it’s highly likely that some declassified juice was added in, which makes this an even better bargain. Drink from late-2011 and though 2018. 90+ points ~ 5/19/10
2007 Quinta do Vale Meão Douro Red Wine – Taut and hard as nails initially, with a half hour in glass this really came around full circle. Densely packed with ripe fruit, it seemed in a different style than the likes of 2004 and 2005, both of which were gorgeous vintages for Meão. I mentioned to Francisco that the 2007 seemed more seductive than earlier vintages and he commented that Xito had really downplayed the Touriga Nacional in ‘07. Bright, intense and with abundant plum and blackcurrant flavors accented by a graphite note, soft and creamy texture and a really unctuous, flamboyant style with dominant oak that took some getting used to. Paying close attention to this, I believe in a few years the oak will become more restrained and the fruit will prevail. It’s already quite harmonious and multi-tiered, full-bodied yet seemingly light in the mouth, with powerful tannins and a crazy long, persistent aftertaste. This is one of the rock stars in the Meão lineup and along with 2004, it tops the charts. Cellar for 2-3 more years and all components will meld; then drink from 2013-2027. ~ 95+ points ~ 5/19/10
2004 Quinta do Vale Meão Douro Red Wine – Speaking of the 2004 Meão, at least for my palate this was the best wine of the night. I believe the 2007 may eventually flesh out to be in the same league, but the extra three years of bottle age at this point, show the 2004 to be extravagant. From the first time I tried it, there was a lust affair; which continues with this fine example. Francisco mentioned this contained 60% Touriga Nacional, 20% Franca, 15% Roriz and 5% Barroca. Suffice it to say there was a smorgasbord of aromas, with great purity and the palate was even more prolific. This profound 2004 has a seamless quality to it with ripe, concentrated red fruits and a wealth of mid-palate peripherals. The structure is impossible to ignore with generous acidity and supple tannins. Others at the table could not stop talking about this wine with all sorts of superlatives and descriptors flying. An opulent, immortal young Meão Tinto which should age beautifully for a full quarter century. ~ 96+ points ~ 5/19/10
2000 Quinta do Vale Meão Douro Red Wine – It was immediately apparent that this was an early building block for the likes of the 2004 and 2007 Meão DOC wines that followed in its footsteps. Burgundy like in its seductive charms, both aromatically and when sipping towards the latter part of dinner. Smoky and exuding a dark profile consisting of blackcurrant, tar, tobacco and black pepper. Interestingly this only had 35% Touriga Nacional, yet I sensed more Roriz, but it only made up 30%. A grand dame in the prime of life just before entering maturity, still exuding loads of black and purple fruit flavors accented by earth, black pepper and licorice while delivering a velvety seamless texture. An old-school classic, finesse-styled Douro wine. Drink any time you can find one, up through 2016. ~ 94+ points ~ 5/19/10
Dinner was over and what a remarkable lineup and fun evening. Francisco brought three excellent examples of his Vintage Ports with him. I skipped dessert so I could remain focused on these Ports:
2007 Quinta do Vale Meão Vintage Port (Magnum) – Oh how I wish I owned magnums of this Port! Talk about a difficult assessment, this did not have a lot of time to flesh out, yet it still managed to “wow” these jaded Port loving ladies and gents. Mr. Olazabal remained fairly quiet when we were sipping this one. He did mention the makeup of the blend in terms of grapes, but I was jotting down notes at that moment. It appeared the color of the most impenetrable black ink with a dark purple meniscus. The nose was mind blowing, with new descriptors popping into my head with every sniff. Raspberries, coffee beans, vanilla, licorice, spice and blackberry were amongst my list. There was an almost eerie silence at the table for the first time all night as our guests slowly tasted this VP. Waves of wild berry and plum flavors caressed the palate. But what struck me was the precision of the acidity, followed by the “take no prisoners” onslaught of the tannins which vied for attention with the primary and delicious fruit. What can I say, this is a superb young Port, charming in its concentration and mouthfeel with impressive length and promise of longevity. It’s fun to sip now, but will still drink well in the middle years of my daughter’s lifetime. ~ 95+ points ~ 5/19/10
2004 Quinta do Vale Meão Vintage Port – My notes on this Port were a bit sketchy, so this will be brief. Rockin’ aromas of chocolate-mint, tar and boysenberry. Concentrated and balanced with a rich, sumptuous mouthful of plum fruit. The structure supported by bold, chalky tannins. It had a super long finish. My score was lower than most around me. Two to three decades of aging potential. ~ 94+ points ~ 5/19/10
2000 Quinta do Vale Meão Vintage Port – Incredibly youthful and unlike any other bottle of 2000 Meão Vintage I’ve tried. Perfumed violets, black licorice, mocha and wild berries dominate the nose and portray a powerful profile slightly more engaging than the 2007 due to some years in bottle. Delicious boysenberry and blueberry fruit with licorice and minty characteristics added to the depth of flavors. Well balanced, both with ample acidity and refined tannins, the ultra-smooth texture made this even more enjoyable, barely showing any evolution. From start to very long finish, this was a rich and focused Vintage Port. Richard Jennings along on the tour anointed it “98 points” when I asked him and my brother who was also present (certainly no stranger to VP) said, “97” while most others at the table that kept score were in the same range. So I guess I am the stingy guy, however my own previous ratings of this Port were both sub-90 points. Tonight however, this remarkable ex-cellars magnum, was in perfect harmony, overtly young and almost painfully so. It dazzled us all. Unfortunately, at the time, I forgot to write down a drinking window. ~ 96+ points ~ 5/19/10
What an amazing night and the perfect way to end the Port half of our Fortification Tour. We couldn’t thank Francisco Olazabal enough for his generosity and for introducing most of the group to the fine wines and Ports of Quinta do Vale Meão. It was a long day into night and we still had to pack our bags, as we were slated to fly to Funchal right after breakfast to begin the second half of the tour.
We set off for the airport in Porto and made our way to the plane and before we knew it, we were landing in Funchal, the capital city of Madeira. It was a warm and sunny day and it was time to relax. Arrival day in Madeira is always appreciated because we get there just before lunch time and check in to our rooms. Our guests are given the afternoon off to explore downtown Funchal, go shopping or hang out at one of the hotel’s many pools, enjoy lunch, go for a massage or visit the spa. Some prefer to nap for a few hours. Either way, used to a faster tempo during the Port half of the excursion, Madeira seems far more laid back and the warm subtropical atmosphere, most inviting to our guests.
One thing I was acutely aware of during our entire visit to Madeira in 2010 was that we arrived only a few short months after the February 20th flash flood responsible for killing dozens of residents and devastating large swaths of the island’s interior and capital city. Within the city’s perimeter, there were barely any signs of the recent destructive force. But on our excursions heading from Funchal to the north shore, from the Ribeira Brava area to Serra de Agua most of this landscape was still broken; badly in fact. Much credit goes to the local officials and mainland Portuguese government for their quick response and coordination of rescue, reconstruction, and relief efforts immediately following the violent storm.
The deadly torrent of water that brought a sea of mud and rocks cascading down towards the ocean from the mountainous and volcanic interior of the island, littered miles of roadway with massive boulders (see photo on right from our minivan’s window). It was not immediately apparent to the first-timers, but a few guests had visited Madeira in the past and realized that we were on what used to be a thriving thoroughfare connecting the two sides of the island. Badly damaged bridges and homes were visible for miles along the entire route and one could not help but empathize with what residents had been through. It will take years for some to recover, having been left homeless or with significant damage, along with vehicles and businesses that had been destroyed.
For those that missed this chapter in the island’s recent past, here’s a quick video (different from what I’ve posted before) that shows the power of the storm.
Onto a brighter topic, but suffice it to say it was impossible to ignore what we observed during our travels around the island. Our group reconvened a few hours before dinner, refreshed and eager to get a glimpse into the historic section of downtown Funchal, where several of the few remaining Madeira producers maintain their Adegas (lodges).
ROY’S NOTE: Although our guests on this specific tour enjoy drinking Port, and have plenty in their wine cellars at home, the group was comprised of some serious Madeira fanatics from across the USA. With only a couple of exceptions, this would be their virgin exploration of the island. To say that they were eager to visit some of the most legendary producers and taste an incredible array of wines, is an understatement.
FTLOP’s Stewart Todd, who had explored Port with us on a handful of occasions, was joining us in Madeira for the first time. My brother Mitch, who is a Port and Madeira lover, (when he’s not drinking bottles of old Burgundy) came along to see Portugal for the very first time in celebration of his 50th birthday. I was very happy to be able to share this experience with them and all of our guests. I knew nearly all of them from previous Port and Madeira tastings on both coasts of America, some of which you’ve read about here in the newsletter.
As I’ve been to all of these specific Madeira destinations several times in the past, I had hoped to be able to present a totally fresh view of this half of the tour. Fortunately, one guest is a well-known and highly respected wine blogger, (he tasted and documented nearly 5,000 wines from around the globe in 2010). He agreed to share his impressions of our Madeira visits, which he’d previously posted to his blog.
Richard Jennings has had several of his Madeira-related Guest Corner features published in FTLOP in the past. His extensive knowledge of wine is admirable, and Richard possesses a fine palate and ability to convey his experiences. His wine writing is detailed, fact-checked, educational and a pleasure to read. You can find Richard’s informative blog here: http://www.rjonwine.com/
I’ve chosen to utilize his insights for the remainder of the tour, as this was his very first visit to the island of Madeira and his deep passion for the subject shines brightly. Please note that I have incorporated my own tasting notes into Richard’s detailed descriptions below. For comparative views on the wines; you can view Richard’s TN’s on his blog, by doing a search by producer name.
BARROS E SOUSA - ABSL
Roy Hersh’s FTLOP 2010 Fortification Tour group visited ABSL in Funchal, just down the street from D’Oliveiras’ tasting room, in the late afternoon after our arrival in Madeira. The two brothers, the fourth generation to run this small company, are Edmundo and Arturo Olim. Arturo, the older brother, is the winemaker, who learned the business from his father and grandfather, and who took over after his father passed away in 1971. Edmundo joined him in the business in 1974, and he helps with production and handles the sales end of things.
Edmundo gave us a tour of the very old warehouse building, right next to their tasting and sales room, where the canteiro casks of vintage Madeira are stored on three floors. The youngest wines, still with their government issued sealing wax seals, to prevent them from being opened for five years after they are sealed, are stored on the top floor, where it gets the warmest on sunny days. I counted close to 60 barrels on the top floor.
After the wines have aged for three or more years, the casks are brought down to the next floor to continue aging. The oldest still maturing casks are on the ground floor of this warehouse. The barrels are all old, neutral barrels, most of which have been in the family for decades. (Some are stamped “PJL,” which were the initials of his grandfather’s company, Artur de Barros e Sousa’s predecessor, Pedro Jose Lomelino.) Armando said the youngest barrels were about 50 years old. They do not top off the barrels as the wine evaporates, although government regulations do allow a vintage wine to contain up to 10% of wine from other vintages, but they do switch to smaller barrels after a substantial amount of evaporation.
They also no longer add caramel or molasses, which used to be a common practice to help make younger, run-of-the-mill Madeiras taste more like vintage Madeiras. Forty years ago they used to add molasses from sugar cane, Edmundo told us, but the practice was stopped about 30 years ago.
Their “house style” aims for drier Madeiras. Edmundo said the British producers tend to make them much sweeter. Their dry wines, the Sercials and Verdelhos, have virtually no residual sugar, while the sweeter styles, the Boals and Malvazias, can go up to 4.5 grams residual sugar. They produce a mere 8 to 10,000 litres of Madeira per year. The oldest wine they still have in cask is a 1976. Edmundo told us they couldn’t buy any decent Malvazia last year, only Sercial, Verdelho and Boal. They buy from growers in the areas of Jardim da Serra (Sercial), Campanario (Malvasia and Boal) and Sao Vicente (Verdelho).
Edmundo estimated that the traditional “noble varieties”–Sercial, Verdelho, Boal and Malvazia–now make up about 20% of Madeira plantings and production on the island, with much of the rest being Tinta Negra Mole. Edmundo claimed that Madeira’s version of Tinta Negra Mole is much like Pinot Noir. There is very little Terrantez or Bastardo. Good vineyard sites continue to be turned into apartments and shopping centers, as Madeira devotes greater and greater resources to the primary source of income on the island–tourism.
The Olim brothers buy from about eight producers each year, and pay them more than they would receive from the bigger Madeira companies. 1994 was the first year that Madeira law permitted Colheitas to be produced. To be sold as a vintage wine, however, it has to be in cask for a minimum of 20 years.
This was a very impressive set of fairly recent vintage Madeiras–some of the best of this age I’ve ever tasted. They were as complex and balanced as vintage Madeiras with many more decades of age. My hopes were certainly raised by this tasting that terrific vintage Madeiras are continuing to be made by dedicated producers, and will be enjoyable for decades and generations to come like the wonderful vintage Madeiras of the past.
The reality of these hopes was further confirmed by the tastings we did at two other very small producers two days later. The sad thing, for those of us who don’t happen to live on or visit Madeira frequently is that these wines are only available on the island. Another reason for me to plan additional visits to this spectacularly scenic spot.
1979 Barros e Sousa Terrantez Vintage Madeira – Edmundo provided some fine details about the wines we were going to be tasting. All were produced using the Canteiro method, (natural extended heating in cask in the three levels of warm rooms called, “armazem de solar”. The Terrantez was 18% abv, with .7 grams/liter of residual sugar (gms./liter RS, for future reference), so there’s no secret it was fairly dry. Dark amber in color with a straw-yellow meniscus. Not so subtle overtones beginning with grapefruit pith, a distinctive roasted note, lime, mahogany and walnut skin. The flavors were vivid and dry, nutty at first sip and a gorgeous lemon tartness with just a hint of sweetness due to the tang of the sharp acidity. The texture was waxy and rich, the finish long and tart. A fine way to start off our tasting and as a “Terrantez fanatic” this made my whole day better! ~ 93 points ~ 5/20/10
1986 Barros e Sousa Sercial Vintage Madeira – Medium amber-burnt orange hue with golden edge. I thought the Terrantez was dry, so this could only be considered “bone dry” as there was literally 0 gms./liter RS. A musty aroma, not like TCA but more like the warm air that I smelled up in the top of the armazem de solar with all the old wood around; lime peel, ethyl acetate, marzipan and leather. This had an oily/waxy texture and as mentioned, ultra-dry presence in the mouth. I truly appreciate this wild dry style of Sercial, which delivered lip smacking lemon flavor, prominent acetic acid, along with crisp natural acidity. Overall, this seemed more intriguing than pleasing. I may have liked this more if it had been served prior to the Terrantez. That said, the aftertaste was particularly long, a melding of lemon zest, VA and walnut pith, which tasted quite a bit better than it reads here. ~ 89 points ~ 5/20/10
1983 Barros e Sousa Verdelho Vintage Madeira – Light golden/orange color with an amber rim. Of the first three wines, this was my favorite. Featuring a refined nose of hazelnut, mandarin orange and pipe tobacco. Mouthwatering and taut, with orange marmalade, dried apricot and coffee-toffee flavors. Smooth and symmetrical, this youthful wine has a sexy presence in the mouth, great acidity and admirable persistence. 2.5 gms./liter RS. A stand out Verdelho, given its intricate tension and seductive nature. Note to self: buy several bottles on our next visit. ~ 94+ points ~ 5/20/10
Barros e Sousa Boal Reserva Velha Madeira – Medium-dark amber with an apple green edge. Approximately twenty five years old. Notes of golden raisins, white peach, dried honey and orange blossom. Given the 3.5 gms./liter RS, this seemed slightly less sweet than touted, revealing dried apricot, VA, prunes, walnuts and ginger. A savory tasty and rather simple Boal personality that is well balanced by vibrant acidity and shows its age. Its significant strength: the length of its aftertaste. ~ 91 points ~ 5/20/10
1985 Barros e Sousa Malvazia Vintage Madeira – A dark coffee color with golden meniscus is accompanied by a striking bouquet of date ‘n nut bread, smoky, saline, peach preserves and crème brûlée. Really jazzy aromas here, yet bested by the panoply of intricately layered caramel, peach, confected praline and distinct Fig Newton flavors. A viscous vixen of a Malvazia, rich in the mouth with knife edge precision, racy acidity and an opulent aftertaste of creamy smooth butterscotch. An overachieving cerebral adolescent with prospects to be President someday. ~ 95++ points ~ 5/20/10
Barros e Sousa Extra Reserva Doce Madeira – Bottled in 2007, Edmundo mentioned this is more than forty five years old and the 5.4 gms./liter RS put this clearly in the Malvazia category. Its bouquet is seemingly more oxidative than its age, with lifted notes of Pekoe tea, dates, almond paste, maple and cashew. A stunning profile! Densely concentrated and sweet torrefacted flavors of toffee, liquid pecan pie, candied fruit and nectarine. The mid-section is imbued with complex waves of sweetness, counterbalanced by precise, cutting acidity and a silky smooth voluptuous consistency that leads to a stellar tick-tock lingering finish. Its exceptional QPR makes this even more impressive! ~ 94 points ~ 5/20/10
Barros e Sousa Extra Reserve Meio Doce Madeira – Dark amber-orange color with a golden-green tinged meniscus. The nose of this wine was the most unique of the tasting, singular in its heady essence with smoky burnt brown sugar, beeswax, tangerine and pistachio. It featured a viscous velvety mouthfeel and Bual-like silhouette. ABSL’s “Meio Doce” (medium sweet) Madeira is sustained by crisp underpinnings of acidity and a racy mix of nougat, peach preserves, lemon-lime and dried apricot flavors that tend towards the drier side of the Bual spectrum. Loads of VA vivacity that led to a dry, lingering tropical aftertaste of under-ripe nectarine. ~ 92 points ~ 5/20/10
Roy’s note: We’d like to thank Edmundo and Arturo who provided us with a great historical perspective of the production and aging of Madeira and the opportunity to experience the various grapes in their tasting room. But most of all for sharing their time with us.
It was now time to get something to eat! Dinner was at an authentic, slightly touristic but fun Churrascaria restaurant that we like because the food is very good and they treat us like family. To top things off there was a live classical Fado band playing and the owner, who also handled the BBQ duties outside, would occasionally pop in to join the band as a singer, bellowing in his deep tenor’s voice. Lots of fun! We headed back to the hotel, as Friday promised to be a day that nobody would ever forget!
I wanted my 300th post to RJonWine.com to be a special one, and I can’t think of a better topic for it than my most memorable tasting this year, on the island of Madeira last month: 17 D’Oliveiras vintage Madeiras back to 1850, tasted with the proprietor of D’Oliveiras himself, Luis D’Oliveira.
Great vintage Madeira is my peak vinous pleasure. I think of these caramelized, rich, lemony, medium to high acid wines– with their fascinating complexity and incredibly long finishes–as being like liquid sunshine. Their effect is certainly like a burst of sunlight out of an otherwise grey day: generating warming, soul nourishing pleasure and contemplation. Because they require so much time in cask (and sometimes demijohn or bottle) to be so complex, concentrated and balanced, they inevitably make me reflect on the generations and history involved in bringing this great pleasure down through the years to me. In other words, great vintage Madeira is a high unlike any other.
D’Oliveiras is, in my view, the greatest of the remaining Madeira houses, with unusually large stocks of vintage Madeira still in cask going back to the mid-1800s. They were established in 1850 by Joao Pereira d’Oliveira as a partidista, a maintainer of stocks which they aged and sold to shippers. They have since absorbed four other firms, the oldest of which, Adegas do Torreao Ltd., dates all the way back to 1820. (The other three companies were Joao Joaquim Camacho and Sons; Julio Augusto Cunha and Sons; and Vasco Luis Pereira and Sons.) Their stocks, then, are an inheritance from the five legacy companies. It wasn’t until 1974 that they started bottling and labeling their wines on their own, as D’Oliveiras. By then they had built up the largest stock of old Madeira in the world which today consists of around 1.5 million liters. The family also has incredible Verdelhos from their own São Martinho vineyards.
D’Oliveiras vintage Madeiras have always stood out in comparative vintage Madeira tastings for me as being the most complex, with remarkable balancing acidity, even in the sweetest Boals and Malvazias. It was therefore pretty much worth my whole recent trip to Portugal to be able to taste these beautiful wines in the cellars of D’Oliveiras, with commentary from Luis.
We tasted in a building that was built in 1949 by the Loges family–Adegas do Torreao–specifically designed for being able to put a lot of weight on the second floor. D’Oliveiras purchased it in 2000 as a new cellar facility. The flooding in February this year got to the basement of their original building, built in 1618 (shown in pictures below at the very end of this report), where the cubas (casks) were “floating like boats,” according to Luis. The new wines, in sealed tanks with governmentally issued wax seals that can’t be opened for five years, are kept on the second floor. They only use estufa, heat treatment, for younger wines, blends containing Tinta Negra Mole. Those wines are heated day and night for about three months in estufas located about seven miles away. Conteiro is the alternative to estufagem. Conteiro is the natural process of maturing in vat or cask that takes many years. Luis told us that D’Oliveras doesn’t buy a lot of grapes anymore as they already have a large stock in barrel from the 1950s and ’60s, as well as younger wines absorbed from the Adegas do Torreao firm.
When we asked about the annual evaporation from the casks (as much as 5% per year in the early years), Luis told us they don’t top off the barrels with newer wine. D’Oliveiras leaves wine in wood as long as possible, and only bottles at the last minute, when needed for a major order (i.e., when Mannie Berk buys 100 cases or so for Rare Wine Co.). They also have some bottles in stock that were bottled in the ’70s and ’80s, but they’re not for export–they have more of the same wines in vats and Luis told us they’re usually better from vat with the additional evaporation and concentration. If bottled 25 or 30 years or more ago, a vintage Madeira will have some bottle stink and needs to be opened a week or so for airing out, with some cheesecloth placed over the top to keep out insects. If bottled more recently, in the last two or three years, it doesn’t need to be opened in advance, as there won’t be a problem with bottle stink.
In our tasting of the 15 vintage Madeiras we were scheduled to taste as a group, we proceeded in the traditional order from dryest style (Sercial) to sweetest (usually Malvazia, also known as Malvasia and Malmsey). The complete progression is Sercial, Verdelho, Terrantez (if you’re lucky enough to have a sample of this rarer varietal, which we were), Boal, and ending with Malvazia.
This first flight was a knockout bunch of Sercials. The 1875 is, along with the 1885 Blandy, the greatest Sercial I’ve ever tasted, very complex and possessing an unusually long finish. The 1862 was also quite impressive. The 1937, while very good, is a baby yet by comparison. What a great way to start the morning (at about 10:45 am).
1862 D’Oliveiras Sercial Vintage Madeira – Honey colored with greenish rim. Although I don’t drink coffee, on this particular morning … the 1862 was my wake up call. The perfect way to begin a Madeira tasting with a nearly 150 year old bottling that had me thinking back to my old stomping grounds in Manassas, Virginia where the 2nd Battle of Bull Run (Civil War) took place around the time these grapes were nearing full ripeness. The bouquet was scintillating and elicited smiles around the room along with hushed tones and lots of writing. Sensuous scents of nectarine, lemon peel, roasted nuts and antique wood shop, followed by a distinctive high-toned VA note. Light and tart with flavors of Key lime, espresso, roasted chestnut adorned with sharp citrus acidity providing edginess. The aftertaste is impressive in its length and fresh squeezed grapefruit juice intensity. A delicious Sercial! ~ 94+ points ~ 5/21/10
1875 D’Oliveiras Sercial Vintage Madeira – Dark coffee colored and with a golden edge. Although I’ve been fortunate to have had a bunch of different Madeira bottlings from 1875, (including the Barbeito Sercial) I believe this is the first time that I’ve tried this particular bottling by D’Oliveiras. A remarkable wine to say the least and the equal of D’Oliveiras’ awe inspiring 1875 Malvasia. My Madeira-loving brother was sitting next to me and was blown away by this one, even though he typically is not a big fan of the dry style of Sercial; but there was no denying the extraordinary quality of this one. The nose immediately rivets attention with robust fragrances of sea salt, mahogany, smoke, lemon-lime juice, and hazelnut … quite the heady elixir. Sercial is typically light to medium bodied and delicate which is not the case here. As great as it is, there were several people in our group who did not enjoy this wine. First of all, the acidity is so sharp that it is mind-bending and you really have to like this style. More viscous than expected, the flavors were nothing short of profound juxtaposed amidst the ethereal aromas: Mandarin orange, green tea, fresh ginger and almond paste, dense for a Sercial with great precision and complexity. The finish literally lasts for minutes and I didn’t want to sip my next wine and sully my impression of this one. An outstanding bottle of Madeira! ~ 98+ points ~ 5/21/10
1937 D’Oliveiras Sercial Vintage Madeira – Light tawny-tea color with an amber meniscus. Another first time experience for me and I was pleased to have a second new Sercial to taste today. Subtle aromas of beeswax, lemon bar, almond toffee and genteel VA. Vibrant, fresh medium-bodied palate and rich in the mouth, offering dried dates, apricot and warm, dry nutty flavors and searing, sharp acidity. It ends in a citrus laden finish, not as long as either of the other two bottles in this flight. ~ 91+ points ~ 5/21/10
Verdelho is usually my favorite varietal/style for Madeira, as they typically don’t have the searing, high acidity of the Sercial, but are still quite dry compared to the sweeter styles. These three were stunning, which may be partly attributable to the fact that some or all may have derived from the family’s Verdelho vineyards in São Martinho, a suburb in the western portion of the City of Funchal. The 1850, which was elegant and complex, was our oldest wine of the tasting. All three of the wines had a family resemblance, including walnut notes and a roasted quality.
1850 D’Oliveiras Verdelho Vintage Madeira – Can one ever have this particular bottling too many times? Not me! Dark coffee color with a lime-green meniscus. I never took my nose out of this glass for at least 5 minutes, continuing to sniff and write. Gorgeous bouquet of roasted espresso bean, salty sea breeze, beef bouillon, molasses, and figs. Intoxicating! Concentrated citrus, figs, toffee and semi-sweet tangerine marmalade flavors tantalize the senses along with a core of crisp but seemingly less angular acidity. The finish can only be described as decadent elegance in its taste and persistence. It is one of the all-time great Verdelho and it’s a candidate for my “desert island” wine. ~ 97+ points ~ 5/21/10
1890 D’Oliveiras Verdelho Vintage Madeira – Dark as molasses with a greenish-gold tinged edging. Fragrant accents of toffee, roasted espresso, vanilla extract, clove and dried apricot. Lush sexy, mouthfilling soft and thick, syrupy smooth texture with gentle acidity which would have been even better with a touch more sharpness to the cut. Full throttle favors of citrus, coffee and praline provide a pleasurable palate presence leading to the lingering aftertaste. ~ 93+ points ~ 5/21/10
1905 D’Oliveiras Verdelho Vintage Madeira – This is always one of my favorites and a Verdelho I’ve enjoyed so many times. I had a bottle with Dr. Peter Reutter not long ago that was really off, but otherwise this is normally an excellent wine with great typicity of what I love most about Verdelho. Dark maple color with a tawny-golden rim. Compelling scents of saline, iodine, balsamic reduction, maple and caramelized sugar deliver an exotic silhouette. The velvety texture, delicacy and layered middle provide the requisite sex-appeal but the flavors of figs, caramel, praline and honey roasted almonds are sublime and bring it full circle. The roasted quality that is evidenced on the long finish provides for a marvelous aftertaste. This is a classy Verdelho! ~ 95+ points ~ 5/21/10
Terrantez is typically Roy’s favorite varietal/style of Madeira. It was a fairly rare varietal even before phylloxera, when the island was planted much more to the “noble” varietals–Sercial, Verdleho, Terrantez, Boal and Malvazia–than it is today.
These were fairly high in acidity compared to other Terrantezes I’ve tried. The 1880 had some intriguing, unusual flavors, like beef bouillon. The 1988, the baby of our tasting, is a real value at only 45 Euros, and gives me a lot of hope for the quality of younger vintage Madeiras in the hands of great firms like D’Oliveiras.
1880 D’Oliveiras Terrantez Vintage Madeira – Dark maple color with a greenish-gold rim. As a Terrantez lover, this is in the middle tier of great old bottles. The bouquet is always a highlight, the bouillon cube essence is strong, along with a modicum of lifted VA, lemon peel, and golden raisins. Umm, love that smell. The palate is a perfect match exhibiting a nice counterpoint of dry vs. sweet with apricot, crème caramel, Clementine, lemon and nut skin and a beefy nuance mingling with crisp, searing acidity which provided deeply complex Madeira of excellent length. ~ 94 points ~ 5/21/10
1977 D’Oliveiras Terrantez Vintage Madeira – Dark in appearance from such a youngster and it was intriguing going from 19th century to almost exactly one century later to contrast the difference reflected by cask aging for another hundred years. Some bottle stink along with toffee, saline, green tea leaves, mahogany and light hints of VA. Dry and tart just the way I like my Terrantez, smooth and rich across the tongue in a really sensuous style. While to this point the 1977 contradicts its youth with more evolved nuances, the palate seemed to show its true age. The backdrop exposed some lingering tart citrus flavors late on the swallow and the middle was rather simple compared to the 1888 which came before it, and here the acidity was not as prominent. ~ 90+ points ~ 5/21/10
1988 D’Oliveiras Terrantez Vintage Madeira – This youngster is barely out of wood long enough to be considered a Frasqueira, the color of which is light tawny with greenish-gold tinged rim. A polished and potent bouquet of VA, bouillon, lemon wax, toasted almond and nectarine notes. It lacks some depth at this stages, but is forgiven as it remains rather elegant for such a young toddler; offering a clearly delineated mid-palate with a light and lithe, smooth mouthfeel. Spicy, Granny Smith apple tartness, a dry hazelnut presence, and purity of Terrantez. Impressive for its age but this needs to continue in cask for years to come. The ‘88 finishes long and delivers great promise for longevity. ~ 93+ points ~ 5/21/10
These Boals were all very tasty, but the 1908 was truly stunning, with everything one could wish for in a mature Boal, including zingy acidity. The 1968 is another fine example of how good young vintage Madeira can still be in the right hands.
1903 D’Oliveiras Boal Vintage Madeira – Dark chocolate color with greenish-yellow edge. Some serious bottle stink going on here, along with bouillon cube, saline, espresso, crème brûlée and a faint whiff of VA. Lots of mouthwatering acidity and an off-dry, focused flavor profile of grapefruit, apricot, nut skin, toffee and figs. Rich and waxy texturally, I’ve had better examples of this Boal; over the last six bottles I’ve had, this was the lowest score I have given since 2003. It was still very good, just not a great one. 92+ points ~ 5/21/10
1908 D’Oliveiras Boal Vintage Madeira – This is a Madeira I know well and had only three months prior to this bottle. It is always welcome and is a brilliant Boal, seemingly overlooked by many Madeira fanatics. Not sure why? Very dark coffee-chocolate color with ruby glints at the core and greenish-gold edge. Expressive scents of praline, maple, lemon, toffee and other caramelized notes. It’s dark in appearance, nose and on the palate as well featuring concentrated prune, crème caramel, Triple Sec, and roasted walnut flavors. I liked the way this enveloped the mouth in a viscous yet light, satin-like texture, more akin to a Terrantez; while the VA and sharp natural acidity provided a lifted sense to the whole package. A brilliant, complex finish had me licking my lips while writing my notes. ~ 96+ points ~ 5/21/10
1968 D’Oliveiras Boal Vintage Madeira – My third TN on this Boal during the first five months of 2010. I suspect there will be others too. I’ll avoid the descriptors and simply say D’Oliveiras’ 1968 has limitless potential and beauty, like Natalie Portman. One can never have enough of these bottles in their cellar. At home it is my go to Bual for regular drinking. At $135 from Rare Wine Co. today, it is still a fine bargain and drinks like an older wine. I have yet to find a greater young Madeira, period. ~ 93+ points ~ 5/21/10
In some comparative tastings, by the time one gets to the sweetest flight, the Malvazias, they are often something of a letdown, without the necessary acidity to balance the intense sweetness. That was not a problem with these D’Oliveiras Malvazias, which all showed well. All of them had substantial acidity, much more so than most vintage Malvazias. The 1875 was truly great and complex. Toffee was a descriptor in common for all four.
Our planned tasting concluded with the 1907 Malvazia Reserva. Luis then generously offered that they would open anything else in the room (which included pretty much their full line up of vintage Madeiras) that we were interested in trying. Keep in mind that we had just sampled 15 stunning vintage Madeiras, and that we knew we were heading over to Barbeito that afternoon for yet another intensive comparative tasting of these powerful, fortified wines. Nonetheless, Luis’s wonderful offer was one that I couldn’t possibly refuse, so I asked to taste their two 1900s, since that’s a vintage I’ve very much enjoyed from other producers. The 1900 Malvazia, from the year my beloved Irish grandmother was born, was nearly as great as the 1895 we’d just tried. Thank you again Luis!
1875 D’Oliveiras Malvazia Vintage Madeira – Just seeing the label got my attention, as it is one of my all-time faves. Here is where Madeira lovers come to enjoy VA at its finest, in lifted ethereal sensory overload, along with other impressions of caramel, honey, fresh ginger, date n’ nut bread and clove. Sheer intensity and a diabetic’s worst nightmare, this Malvazia literally requires three swallows before you can take the next sip. Dense with torrefacted flavors and crème brûlée with silky butterscotch as the last note … until the cutting acidity joined the party in my mouth. The use of the word “finish” in context here, is an oxymoron. Sublime soft mink-like mouthfeel and one of the most purely hedonistic wine experiences I had in 2010. From a historic standpoint, don’t overlook that the 1875 was vinified during the scourge of Phylloxera on the island. If I was asked to create a Hall of Fame for Madeira bottlings, this Malvazia would surely be in my Top 5. ~ 98+ points ~ 5/21/10
1895 D’Oliveiras Malvazia Vintage Madeira – The 1875 is a tough act to follow, but to be fair, this admirably held its own. Expansive essence of eucalyptus, espresso, apricot, maple and a nutty roasted note, providing an elusive profile, each new sniff different than the last. Unctuous from the first sip, it was every bit as complex as the 1875 but lacked its sheer intensity. An infused beauty with flavors of figs, tart lemon sorbet, burnt sugar and candied hazelnuts. The richness and density cannot be ignored as this is a sweet n’ sour Madeira with tension, and a remarkably long aftertaste. ~ 96 points ~ 5/21/10
1907 D’Oliveiras Malvazia Vintage Madeira – Dark amber-orange color with a golden-greenish tinge. If the 1895 had a tough act to follow, this coming on the heels of 1875/1895 Malvazia … ouch! Aromatically, it was impossible to ignore the searing VA emanating from the glass, along with apricot jam, Sultana, roasted walnuts, a sultry smokiness and tangerine. I preferred the nose to the palate in this case, as the flavors were slightly simple by comparison. Lots of caramel and nuts but not much else discernible beyond the tropical flavors that underscored the sweetness. The acid was ample, but I’d have liked more cut, especially after the two previous bottlings. The ‘07’s strength debuted late in the game, with an exotic aftertaste and a sumptuous, smooth lingering caramel finish. ~ 94+ points ~ 5/21/10
1900 D’Oliveiras Malvazia Vintage Madeira – Dark cocoa color with a greenish meniscus. A couple of years ago I had this bottling and wrote at the time that I had never had this before. In fact, I was wrong and I was able to find an old note on, prior to that mistaken one. It was during one of the Great Wine Seminar weekends down in Florida when Maliner was still running the show. So this the third time in the past decade tasting this wine and it showed very nicely. It was the perfect bottle to taste beside the 1907 Malvazia as there was some similarities, although some unique characteristics here too. Skunky on first whiff, fortunately some of that blew off, but there was also a major hit of VA, root beer and bouillon, as this had an earthier and less appealing nose than its younger brother. Lots of butterscotch on the palate, with some golden raisin, apricot preserves and an intriguing salty-sweet interplay which I thoroughly enjoyed. I preferred the flavors here which showed greater range than the bouquet, reinforced by sharp saliva-provoking acidity leading to a simple persistent finish of fine length. Overall a good Malvazia, positioned in a flight containing two legendary D’Oliveiras bottlings. ~ 94+ points ~ 5/21/10
The final wine I tried, taking advantage of Luis’s offer to open anything we liked, was the very rare Moscatel, from that turn of the century vintage that I’ve so enjoyed in past tastings. This turned out to be a truly exceptional and unique tasting wine, with lots of ginger showing. This wine showed at least as well as the stunning and memorable 1900 Moscatel of Barbeito that I tasted when Barbeito’s Ricardo Freitas came to San Francisco for a special tasting in honor of his grandfather earlier this year. I would have been totally happy to end the day with this glorious wine. It was delightful too when paired with a slice of Madeira’s famous traditional treat, the Bola de Mel, or sugar cane cake, that Luis served to us at the end of our tasting.
1900 D’Oliveiras Moscatel Vintage Madeira – This was the end of our formal tasting and then Luis generously asked us what else we’d like to try … as if we needed to taste anymore bottles. I did not take notes on those quick sips. Back to the 1900, I must admit that I don’t necessarily appreciate the style of Moscatel from Madeira. I’ve yet to try one that blew me away, but I know plenty of people who love ‘em. This was a smooth, sumptuous version and actually one of the better Moscatel’s I’ve tried. Smooth and rich in the mouth, with mid-palate layers providing a really nutty quality and a solid spine of acidity. Brown sugar, figs, molasses and caramel were at the core of this rich, sweet and evocative wine, with a sublime smooth texture and long finish. ~ 94+ points ~ 5/21/10
Following our morning visit and tasting at D’Oliveras in Funchal, we headed over to Camara de Lobos for a delicious lunch at Espada Preta, which Barbeito’s Ricardo Freitas had recommended. The food was terrific, with lots of great seafood–limpets, mussels, scabbard fish and octopus. Lots of garlic too, but all good. That fortified us again for our FTLOP 2010 Fortification tour and tasting at Vinhos Barbeitos’s new cellars and winemaking facility.
Ricardo Freitas couldn’t be with us–he was in London–but I’d had a chance to meet him a couple months before in San Francisco at a retrospective of Barbeito vintage Madeiras in honor of his grandfather, who founded the company in 1946. His presence was very much in evidence during our visit, however, as he has strong views about how to make Madeiras, which are embedded in this sparkling facility, finished in November 2008. (Barbeito obtained a large infusion of capital by selling half of the company shares in 1991 to a major Japanese wine distributor, Kinoshita Shoji, that takes the bulk of export production for distribution in Japan.)
Our guide Vanessa also made frequent reference to Ricardo. She explained that he decided to build the facility in Camara de Lobos because it was situated roughly half way between their major grape sources, near Funchal and then on the western side of the island, making it equally convenient a trip for both. She also described the process by which grapes are delivered and placed on the conveyor for sorting, with always two inspectors from the Madeira Institute on hand to ensure that the Institute’s regulations are followed. She also showed us a robotic lugar with paddles Ricardo is experimenting with–using it for the best grapes. The estufajo, the set of tanks in which grapes intended for the younger, non-vintage Madeiras are heated over a period of a few months, is controlled by a little room that looks like it could be the control room of a nuclear plant. The tanks for the estufajo all have two sleeves, through which hot water is pumped.
I was particularly impressed with a piping system Ricardo had designed to safely carry wine from the large fermentation tanks to the cask room on the other side of the parking area. It is the shiniest, most state-of-the-art winemaking facility on Madeira, and I expect big things from it in years to come, recognizing that the most important feature in making long-lasting, complex, vintage Madeira is time, and lots and lots of it.
Ricardo’s presence was also with us during our tasting, as he had selected the wines, including some cask samples, that we would be tasting. Many of these were the same as Jancis Robinson and Neal Martin had tasted a few weeks earlier, at a special tasting including all of the major Madeira houses. Barbeito is at a real disadvantage compared to a house like D’Oliveiras in that they were only founded in 1946, and have much smaller stocks of older wines, and a lot of what they were cellaring in Funchal was lost to the February flood that devastated much of the island. So we were tasting a much higher proportion of young Madeiras, made in a vintage Madeira style (like what Ricardo makes for Rare Wine Company’s Historic Series) and other canteiro experiments he’s undertaken.
I think Ricardo is a very talented winemaker, passionate about Madeira wines and their history, and that he is aiming for very high quality in what Barbeito produces. My concern about him is that I fear he does too much, sometimes, trying to compensate for the lack of older stocks by producing a lot of different (and increasingly confusing) bottlings that are in imitation of the style of older wines, but that lack the natural age and slow development really needed to make truly mellow and balanced vintage Madeira.
As such, I found much of what we tasted very interesting in helping to understand the components of Madeira, especially what the younger wines taste like before the decades of cask aging that turn them into the “bottled sunshine” that I so adore, but that ultimately this was nowhere near as satisfying a tasting as we had at D’Oliveiras, or even some of the much smaller producers, that focus exclusively on canteiro aged Madeiras, without all the bravura blending and experimentation that is going on at Barbeito.
Samples of young Tinta Negra and Malvasia - We started this tasting with a rare opportunity of sampling very young proto-Madeiras–samples of ’08 vintage Tinta Negra and Malvasia, to see what these base wines are like before the evaporation and concentration that occurs with long neutral barrel aging. I understood from these samples that the base wine that needs to go into a long aging, unique wine like vintage Madeira has to be a vibrant, complex and high acid wine to begin with. Both of these samples, the red Tinta Negra (the widely planted grape, supposedly crossed at some point with Pinot Noir, that makes up 80 to 85% of the potential grapes for Madeira wines grown on the island) and the white Malvasia, were certainly that. They’re too intense and sharp to be enjoyable as table wines, but they have the stuffing and complexity to survive and become even more complex with long, long aging in neutral barrels.
Verdelho/Boal Blend - This is the second edition of a rather unusual blend Ricardo has made of Verdelho and Boal. I didn’t find it very successful, more probably because the two component wines are so darn young (’03 and ’01) than because it’s a blend of two of the traditional noble varieties. I think it has some potential for aging, but I’m skeptical. Ricardo claims the structure comes from the full bodied Boal, while the Verdelho brings style and exuberance.
Younger Vintage Madeiras - We then moved on to some young vintage Madeiras. The best of these was the oldest, the ’82 Boal, but the ’00 Colheita was also surprisingly good, and has aging potential. The ’82 was moved to 60 litre demijohns in 2002, to control its evaporation, so didn’t reach the maxiumum sugar level for Boal, and I appreciated its relative acidity. The ’95 Tinta Negra Mole cask sample was interesting to taste, and I know Ricardo thinks there are Tinta Negras that are worthy of highlighting as vintage Madeiras, but this sample didn’t convince me.
Older Vintage Madeiras - These were our oldest Barbeito Madeiras in this tasting, and the medium-plus acidity levels were all impressive, even on the Malvazias. There was good complexity and depth, and were strong for their relative age. I’ve had the 1910 before, and this was another good showing for it.
Favilla Viera Flight - I don’t know the history on these wines. Apparently either Ricardo or his grandfather purchased them. An ’03 Rare Wine Company newsletter indicates that Rare Wine “found a pair of remarkable” 1920 Favilla Viera family wines in 1997. The 1920 has been on the market and I’ve seen a number of tasting notes for it and a few also for the 1950, so there have been some bottlings. These were supposed to be from cask. Both were quite good, especially the 1920, with good acidity for Malvazia.
2008 Barbeito Negra Mole Madeira (cask sample) – This is to show what a young Negra Mole Vintage Madeira was like as an infant crushed in a robotic lagar. Educational yes, but not something I’d want to drink for another 10 years and it is not meant to be. This was purely put into the tasting to provide a glimpse of what’s to come and how things are evolving in the Madeira trade; with Ricardo leading the charge as an important visionary and innovator. Dark ruby color with pink edge, could have passed for a Port in terms of the complexion. This spent one year in wood after being vinified with the juice in contact with the skins for 1-2 weeks. Tart, taut and vinous. Slightly harsh, very acidic, with a distinct profile of watermelon candy. I will say it had a long and pleasant finish. To score this now is an exercise in futility, (as with other of the young bottlings to follow) and is SOLELY meant as a current data point. ~ 84 points ~ 5/21/10
2008 Barbeito Malvasia Madeira (cask sample) – Another nubile youngster, that is slated to become a Vintage Madeira when it grows up and goes through the canteiro process. This exhibits a golden orange color, as unlike Negra Mole, Malvasia is a white grape and had no skin contact during production. Someone in our group mentioned it smelled like canned string beans and I’d have to agree, but it also offered (fortunately) hazelnut, orange marmalade and a really spicy essence, and I can see that down the road a few decades, this will come together to deliver a much finer flavor profile. Light to medium bodied, punishing acidity and medium sweetness. Ignore the points for now. ~ 82 points ~ 5/21/10
Barbeito VB “Lote 2” Madeira – This was before it was released again; for the USA (and I assume the UK too). The first batch was available through Rare Wine Co. (RWC) was delicious and offered amazing QPR @ $25 per 500 ml bottle. The base wines for this second effort came from seven and nine year old lotes and the Verdelho and Bual blend that make up this cuvée are with lemon-lime citrus intensity but at this point, not showing the delineation which the original blend did. A Ricardo quote repeated to us: “Verdelho is the foundation, and Bual is the walls.” I’d have to spend more time with this wine to fairly assess it; nonetheless it delivered a very dry almost Sercial-like profile with a distinct grapefruit pith essence, and a finish of lime juice. This was very simple today, but showed good length and I hope that more time in bottle will help round out the sharp edges we all experienced. Overall it was pleasant, but rather austere at the moment. I am confident that it will turn out better than this when it’s had time to evolve and calm down with several more months of bottle age. For now: ~ 87 points ~ 5/21/10
Barbeito Historic Series, “Savannah” Verdelho Madeira – This wine was just shipped to the USA during the week we were in Madeira. The Barbeito “Historic Series” is a collaboration between Barbeito’s Ricardo Freitas and RWC’s Mannie Berk, developing this idea which has introduced Madeira to the next generation of wine lovers. Strawberry iced tea color with a golden edge. My notes are sparse, but I wrote that “all guests seem very critical of this wine.” Scents of smoke, earth, minerals, almonds and orange blossom. Flashing walnut and lemon-lime citrus flavors, simple and supple, the acidity was so angular and powerful that any pleasure from the other flavors was overshadowed. Again the finish was the best part of this wine and I believe we were just catching these bottlings at the wrong time. The natives were getting restless. ~ 84 points ~ 5/21/10
Barbeito Historic Series, “New Orleans” Terrantez Madeira – A new blend – the original version of this was fantastic and although highly allocated, I bought all that I could get my hands on. This version varies from the original “recipe” and is dominated by Negra Mole. Coffee color with a yellow edge. It lacked the typicity of Terrantez, the hallmark of the previous bottling. Flavors of toasted almonds, apricot preserves and mandarin orange, the acidity was so searing that it came off as a bit out of balance and I am typically a lover of VA in Madeira. Bottled recently, so it was probably in a weird phase shortly thereafter and none of this had been shipped to the USA at the time of our tasting. I’m confident it will show even better a few months down the road, as again, the 1st version was really terrific. I look forward to trying this again next year. ~ 87 points ~ 5/21/10
2000 Barbeito Malvasia “Cask 40a” Colheita Madeira – A small release of a new blend slated to be released by RWC later in 2010, in 500 ml. Palish amber color. Our group was split, some really liked this quite a bit while others deemed it, “vegetal and unpleasant.” I did note some bottle funk in the aromatics, but definitely not vegetal or unpleasant. I asked one of the folks helping us and they were not sure how recently this had been bottled. Regardless, the bouquet also included some marzipan, honey, caramel and chestnut edginess. Beyond the initial funk, I thoroughly enjoyed the fragrance. It was cleaner on the palate, with distinctive rich nutty flavors, imbued with a mix of citrus and tropical fruit, ending with a smooth mouthfilling and creamy aftertaste of slightly overheated caramel. ~ 89 points ~ 5/21/10
1995 Barbeito Negra Mole Colheita Madeira (cask sample) – Another new blend -- and in historical terms, it should be noted the very first Colheita Madeira used grapes harvested in 1993 (Madeira Wine Company); but this is the first time Negra Mole has been bottled as a standalone Colheita. Ricardo continues to “stretch the envelope.” It’s expected to be bottled before the summertime. This was the best wine of the tasting so far, and that was clearly due to its 15 years of aging in wood compared to the younger wines before it. Medium amber in color with a transparent meniscus. Accented aromas of perfumed honeysuckle, high toned VA, and an infusion of orange liqueur with hints of hazelnut. Off dry in style, between a Verdelho and Bual, light and transient across the palate, with great precision. The best is yet to come and hopefully there’s plenty left in cask to continue aging so it can eventually dazzle consumers when it grows up to be a Frasqueira. ~ 90 points ~ 5/21/10
1988 Barbeito Sercial Vintage Madeira – Bottled 2009. Labeled as “Frasqueira” which means the same thing as Vintage Madeira, which it achieves after the wine ages in cask for a minimum of twenty years. My note on this 1988 Sercial was Spartan having been caught up in discussion with our hosts: Iced tea color with broad orange optic and clear rim. Tart, dried tropical fruit that is very dry with only a hint of sweetness on the finish, ending long, with a slightly bitter nut skin characteristic. ~ 89 points ~ 5/21/10
1982 Barbeito Boal Vintage Madeira – Also labeled Frasqueira. Another tale of two wines, I felt that this one was definitely flawed, with distinct funky scents of burnt rubber and a vegetal fragrance. Several other guests commented on this too, while others really seemed to like it!?!? Something was clearly wrong, at least I thought so. The palate was slightly better, but still some inexplicably off flavors and very dry too, with zippy acidity and good length, but unpleasant overall. ~ not rated ~ 5/21/10
Barbeito 20 Year Old Malvasia “Lote 7199” Special Reserve Madeira – Bottled in 2007. Medium amber color with golden rim. Lovely delicate nose of lemon, honey, praline and pumpkin spices. This elicited a sense of dueling blends of young and old juice that was fascinating to experience and as distinct as two sides of a coin. There was an initial wave of distinctly dry lemon-lime citrus flavor, precise and edgy; juxtaposed against layers of creamy almond and sweet caramel that came later, ending in a finish of medium length. I really liked this unique, delicious 20 Year Old. ~ 91 points ~ 5/21/10
Barbeito 30 Year Old Malvasia “Lote Especial” - Madeira – A tiny production, bottled in 2006 to celebrate Barbeito’s 60th anniversary. We were told this won “Best Fortified Wine of the Year” at London’s International Wine & Spirits Competition. Possessing a full arsenal of intense aromas including: salty sea mist, pecan pie, dried apricots, roasted coffee and honey. This seemed considerably older than the twenty year old that came before it. The mid-palate is deeply layered and the cutting edge acidity emerges to take control. Fine flavors of walnuts, espresso and sweet marmalade lead to a lingering complex finish that literally lasts for minutes. ~ 94+ points ~ 5/21/10
1910 Barbeito Sercial Vintage Madeira – Mario Barbeito bottled this back in 1983 and this was one of the last two bottles from that particular lot. Dark tea color with a greenish-golden optic. A wild profile for a Sercial with a hint of mint, beef bouillon, nectarine, an intricate salty essence and a faint sense of nut shell earthy character that was revealed on the second wave. The expressive palate was surprisingly voluminous and filled with Verdelho-like off dry flavors of dates, hazelnuts and mandarin orange. Sharp, racy acidity focuses some of the slightly sweet nectar of this 1910 and it all ends brilliantly, with a lingering aftertaste like the ending of a great movie … it manages to stay with you long after the last frame. ~ 94 points ~ 5/21/10
1950 Favila Viera Malvasia Vintage Madeira – Dark chocolate-tawny tone with a greenish-golden rim. Spicy, high-toned and harmonious nose of nutmeg and pecan, infused with lime and linoleum … the latter of which, resulted in the first time I’ve ever described that smell in a wine, no less Madeira. A generous Malvasia, elegant and smooth in the mouth, demonstrating a refreshing citrus touch, a nutty nuance complemented by a tangy burnt caramelized sugar spooned-off-the-top of orange flavored crème brûlée, with penetrating acidity and a delicate, lingering sweet aftertaste. ~ 93+ points ~ 5/21/10
1920 Favila Viera Malvasia Vintage Madeira – Oddly identical in appearance to the 1950, strange given the 30 year differential, but equally as dark and the same hue in the meniscus. The 1920 delivers an explosive yet ethereal bouquet of mahogany, saline, blood orange and toffee. A profoundly acidic and focused Malvasia, with a complex mid-palate, flashing a sweet vs. tart duality. Silky smooth in texture with flavors of fleshy fresh fig, tangerine and a spicy date n’ nut bread taste, all ending on a sweet, medium-long and unctuous note. ~ 93 points ~ 5/21/10
After two diverse tastings at D’Oliveiras and Barbeito, we took some time to smell the coffee, or in this case enjoy the scenery. We stopped off at Cabo Girão, which is an amazing overlook area at a breathtaking 580 meters directly above the Atlantic (about 2,000 feet). It is a sheer vertical drop, has spectacular views and especially when looking back at the entire panorama of Funchal which you have to see, to believe.
That evening, we went to one of our favorite al fresco dining spots, which resides next to the main dining room of the restaurant, in a very private courtyard setting. Here we relaxed, laughed and had an enjoyable dinner with a nice selection of wines. The following day would be our last together and it was going to be pretty spectacular!
On Saturday morning the adventure continued. We took a boat ride in the Atlantic to look for whales, but none were around, however we had a pod of dolphins accompany us and some were cruising within 2-3 feet of our craft. Afterwards, we took the scenic route to Fajã dos Padres by boat, to see one of the most legendary vineyards, and most difficult to access, on planet earth.
FAJÃ DOS PADRES
On our last full day in Madeira on the FTLOP 2010 Fortification Tour, we visited two very small traditional Madeira producers who are still making fantastic vintage Madeira the old fashioned way, from older plantings of the traditional noble varietals.
Our first stop, via boat from the Funchal marina, was Fajã dos Padres. This isolated vineyard, reachable only by sea or, since 1998, a funicular elevator from the precipitous Cabo Girão, is one of the oldest on the island of Madeira. A “fajã” is a uniquely Madeiran term for a landfall at the base of a volcanic cliff, formerly a part of the volcanic mountain that crashed and fell at some point, forming a beach-like landing. They are typically full of nutrients and are a rich spot for crops. Once we disembarked from the boat we collected ourselves at the little restaurant near the boat landing, and then went off in search of the owner and winemaker, Mário Jardim Fernandes. Along the way, we were impressed by the lushness of the landscape and abundant crops of bananas, guavas and other fruits and vegetables lining the way to the small winery/cellar.
Mário told us that Jesuit priests farmed and owned the property starting in the 1600s until they were banned from the island in 1758. The Malvazia they produced was said to be the finest of all Madeira wines, which is not surprising given the very special south facing vineyard, with its sheer cliff helping to reflect the sun onto this fertile, well placed spot. The government eventually nationalized the property, and offered it for sale at a high price, resulting in a lack of bids and no private owner for 30 years. A Madeira family eventually did buy and farm the property until 1921, when the grandfather of Mário’s wife, Isabel, bought it.
When Mário began working the property in about 1975, he found a particular old Malvazia vine in a hard to reach area. He called the Madeira Wine Institute, IVBAM, in to look at it, and they identified it as an original Malvazia Candida planting from the Greek Island of Crete, also once known as Candia. They cloned it and Mário used the clone for replantings in the 1980s.The tiny production at Fajã dos Padres, exclusively of Malvazia, ranges from 1500 litres to a maximum of 3,000 litres in particularly productive years.
These were two terrific young vintage Madeiras, with great acidity for Malvazias. The ’90 is already drinking surprisingly well, with great balance. We also tasted cask samples of the 1996, a blend of 2001-2004 (low producing years), and the 2009. The 1996 was gorgeous and honeyed; the ’09 was a light medium yellow and smelled like Muscat. We also tasted some aged aguardente–the kind of grape spirit used to stop fermentation and fortify Madeiras. This one, a dark orange brown color, was about 15 years old, and smelled and tasted like a nice older Brandy. The only way to sample these wines, unfortunately, is to make an appointment and find your way to this remote spot, but it’s well worth it, and gives me hope for a continuing trickle of fine vintage Madeiras still being made the old fashioned way, from ideally placed grapes slow aged canteiro style, in small barrels or “pipes.”
1993 Fajã dos Padres Malvasia Candida Madeira (cask sample) – Smooth, silky symmetry, gorgeous, one of the finest young Madeira we tasted during the entire tour. Without a doubt, I would drink this any time I had the chance. Citrus, honey, toffee, smooth and long. ~ 94+ points ~ 5/22/10
2006 Fajã dos Padres Malvasia Candida Madeira (cask sample) – Given the proximity to the ocean, the vineyard was easily accessible by boat and was discovered early on. With great exposure to the sun on this southern side of the island, the surrounding grounds grow an amazing array of fruits, vegetables and plenty of grapes too. In fact, Fajã is one of the very few areas on the entire island where Terrantez grows today. The 2006 Malvasia is intense and massively fruited, an elegant wine with a bit of honey and caramel, supported by vibrant acidity. Decadently mouthfilling, rich and smooth it delivered layers of flavor with superb structure. The finish was not as long as the 1993 which I preferred, but it’s a very well made Malvasia and will outlast anyone alive on the planet today. ~ 92+ points ~ 5/22/10
2009 Fajã dos Padres Malvasia Candida Madeira (cask sample) – This just might be the youngest Madeira I’ve sampled on the island. I was talking with Mario Fernandes and only had a sip or two before the next wine was being poured. I don’t feel my notes are adequate to even provide a fair impression or score. ~ not rated ~ 5/22/10
1990 Fajã dos Padres Malvasia Candida Madeira (cask sample) – If only you could have seen the smiles and raised eye brows when our group had a chance to sip on this youngster which was only a few months away from becoming an “official Vintage Madeira.” Simply put, this is a natural beauty with richer caramel and just slightly less acidity than the 1993. Round and sublime, it provided a more hedonistic pleasure and stunning mouthfeel than the younger version (’93) but I’ve little doubt that the other bottling will have the longer life as the acidity is incredible. The finish on this particular Malvasia was as long as some of the 19th century bottlings we’ve tasted at other properties. Note to self, see if you can convince Mario to sell a couple of bottles. ~ 95+ points ~ 5/22/10
After we took the funicular elevator up the sheer cliff to Cabo Girão – at 1932 feet, the third highest cliff in Europe–a bus took us up to the north side of the island, to the beautiful old town of Seixo. Our destination was the home of the late Manuel Eugenio Fernandes whose large extended family continue to use the home as a weekend gathering place for his children and grandchildren. The basement cellar contains casks Manuel Fernandes vinified, as well as newer barrels of Verdelho grown on the property and nearby that his sons have vinified and are aging canteiro style.
The family only sells to their neighbors and the very occasional visitor, and these are excellent younger Madeiras, that definitely stood on a par with the best we had from the larger producers during this trip. The Fernandes family reminded me of the Kennedys, and this home is something like the Kennedy compound, where the family all gather regularly. One or two of the family members have also been active in local and European politics.
Manuel Eugenio Fernandes, Lda.
These were excellent Madeiras, among the best younger vintage Madeiras I’ve tasted. It was especially interesting to try both the ’02 and ’06 bottlings of the “more than 40 years” old Verdelho, showing the additional complexity and balance achieved in the same wine by simply another four years of cask aging. The family was totally charming, and their love and admiration for their departed father couldn’t have been more evident. They clearly preserve the cellar and very small family enterprise of Madeira making in his honor. Once again, these are Madeiras that do not get exported off the island, but are only sold to the lucky few who visit here. Nonetheless, having visited a few producers of young, fine, vintage Madeiras on this trip, I came away much more confident that there will remain at least a small amount of these profound wines for many years yet to come.
1983 Fernandes Brothers Verdelho Vintage Madeira (cask sample) – Nose of lemon, beeswax, bouillon, great tension and focus, incredibly acidic with citrus laden grapefruit pith and an ultra-long finish. A wonderful young, light bodied but decadent Verdelho that is enjoyable today but will of course continue to improve with every year it remains in cask. ~ 93+ points ~ 5/22/10
Fernandes Brothers 40 Year Old Verdelho Madeira (48 years in cask) – I have enjoyed over two dozen bottles of this Madeira over the years and continue to purchase on every trip. It is very dry, with apricot and marmalade nuances, intense and complex, enough residual sugar to maintain the balance with the dry essence of this wine. Excellent balance overall, but this Verdelho is not for everybody. It is bone dry and although I love this particular style, I have seen Madeira enthusiasts snub this after a couple of sips due to the ultra-sharp enamel peeling acidity. It is laser-like and there’s a hint of VA and cooked onions which is intriguing. ~ 94+ points ~ 5/22/10
Fernandes Brothers 40 Year Old Verdelho Madeira (52 years in cask) Madeira – It’s very similar to the “48 years in cask” but I prefer the intensity of that specific bottling. The one is even older but seemingly not as precise, although the difference is not dramatic, it is a personal preference. One of the more enjoyable dynamics during our visit is to see which of these two bottlings our guests enjoy most. “This batch of Verdelho, after 52 years of maturing in oak casks was bottled in April 2002 to commemorate my birthday (96th).” Manuel Eugenio Fernandes, Seixal, 4 April 2002 ~ 93+ points ~ 5/22/10
1986 Fernandes Brothers Verdelho Madeira – New blend – A much drier style than the 1983 Verdelho, although it is rounder but seeming possesses a lower level of acidity too. The nose offered grapefruit, which I’ve found is common on this part of the North coast of the island (Seixal) as well as dried apricot notes and brown sugar. The finest attribute was a penetrating, smooth and delicious finish. ~ 91+ points ~ 5/22/10
1949 Fernandes Brothers Verdelho Madeira – This is by far and away one of the two driest Madeiras I’ve ever tasted and unquestionably the most bone-dry version of any Madeira we tasted on this entire trip. Far more Sercial like than Verdelho as there’s not a speck of RS whatsoever and it makes Fino Sherry seem like an Eiswein (in sweetness) by comparison. This challenges me to put a score to it. It is more akin to drinking a well aged Cognac, although the acidity here can only be described as searing and penetrating. It is very well made, with no flaws, but honestly, I derive almost no pleasure tasting it. Only two or three of our guests enjoyed this and after hearing other’s experience with tasting it, several people would not even put it in their mouth. ~ 84 points ~ 5/22/10
ROY’s NOTE: After our great visits to the Fernandes’ family members at Fajã dos Padres and Mario’s brothers in Seixal, we drove to a natural water park which is unlike any other I’ve seen. Walking around in the tide pools and watching fisherman and those swimming or lounging in the water, made for a fun and relaxing time in the late afternoon at this beautiful sun drenched area of the North coast. As the sun slipped below the horizon, it was time to head for dinner. We always end the Madeira portion of our Fortification Tour at one of two restaurants. They’re polar opposites of one another. One is a formal affair in Funchal. The other is a casual dining spot in the middle of a remote wooded preserve outside of Seixal, where the family that owns it takes amazing care of us, have nice wines and beers to offer and spoil our guests with their delectable meats grilled over Madeira (wood). This was our last night together, having become a very close knit group by the end of the week -- after exploring both Port and Madeira regions. Nearly 200 wines later, we were all sated and leaving the island the next day was bittersweet. We’ll return in May 2011 for the next Fortification Tour and look forward to sharing some similar experiences; although most of the producers we visit will be different.