East Coast Report by Marco DeFreitas & West Coast Report by Richard Jennings © MARCH 2010

Homage to Mario Barbeito
A Tribute to Barbeito's Founder
in a Historic San Francisco Dinner


For several weeks, I've been working with Barbeito's managing director Ricardo Freitas, to prepare for a March dinner in his grandfather's honor in San Francisco. But once news reached us this weekend of Madeira's devastating floods, we thought that the event might have to be postponed.


Yet in the wake of this tragedy, Ricardo is determined more than ever to honor his grandfather's legacy in the United States. It's the kind of courage and resolve that marks not only this extraordinary young man but seems woven into the fabric of Madeira's proud culture.

Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co.

From 1946, when he founded his eponymous company, until his death in 1985, Mario Barbeito was a leading figure in the Madeira trade, with an unsurpassed library of old vintage wines. Today, his grandson Ricardo Freitas is continuing his tradition as one of the island's most dynamic young winemakers.

On Friday, March 19th, commemorating the 25th Anniversary of his grandfather's death, Ricardo will host a historic dinner at Quince in San Francisco, featuring Mario Barbeito's Madeiras.

Half of the wines will be from his grandfather's personal cellar, some drawn from demijohn just for this event. The other half will be old vintages with which Mario Barbeito launched his company 64 years ago.

The dinner will be in the private dining room at Quince, the beloved San Francisco restaurant that late last fall reopened in a spectacular new Financial District setting.

In its new residence--with Chef Tusk's cuisine and the wine program now run by David Lynch--Quince has become one of the towering culinary destinations of the West Coast.

The planned list of Madeiras is as follows:

From Mario Barbeito's personal cellar:

1860 Terrantez
1882 Terrantez
1900 Moscatel
1905 Malvasia
1907 Malvasia
1914 Bual

And Madeiras in Mario Barbeito's beginning 1946 inventory:

1834 Malvasia
1875 Malvasia
1885 Verdelho
1910 Sercial
1910 Bual
1926 Verdelho

Date: Friday, March 19 at 6:30 pm
Place: Quince, 470 Pacific Ave. at Montgomery, San Francisco, CA


But prior to the West Coast event, one was added the prior Sunday on the East Coast and fortunately FTLOP Madeira afficionado, Marco DeFreitas wrote up a really fine report on the tasting and presented his impressions of the Madeira and food too.  Marco has had his work published here in the past as Guest Corner articles and this latest offering was particularly appreciated.  Enjoy!

The Rare Wine Company's Mannie Berk and Vinhos Barbeito's Ricardo Freitas put together a special tasting of Barbeito Madeiras as an hommage to Mario Barbeito, who was Ricardo's grandfather and the founder of Vinhos Barbeito. It was 25 years ago that Mario died, and to honor him, two similar tastings were held on both coasts of the United States; one at The Modern, in New York City and the other at Quince, in San Francisco.

The cover of the tasting sheet exhibited a damaged caricature of Mario. Vinhos Barbeito sustained substantial damage during the recent floods and although this caricature hints at the destruction many of their documents sustained, it also took on an almost artistic, impressionistic quality.

About half of the wines came from Mario's personal collection, some drawn from demijohn for this event. The other half were wines that helped launch the business in 1946. There was also one wine not sourced by Mario -- the 1905 Malvazia. This wine was acquired by Ricardo, who had long been searching for a wine from this vintage -- the birth year of his grandfather.

Mario Barbeito was originally an accountant. He also worked at a wine company before starting his own company in 1946. Vinhos Barbeito was founded in uncertain times, just after World War II. Mario sourced many old wines from various families on the island and combined a mix of new ideas and traditionalism to his endeavor.

Ricardo started helping out in 1989, taking care of the old vintages; doing research and taking inventory.

Vinhos Barbeito has strong views on storing wines either in cask or demijohn rather than bottles -- they attempt to bottle only 1-2 years before a wine is sold. The main reason for doing this is a sense of honesty. As the wines can drop quite a bit of deposit, they want customers to get as much "wine" (rather than sediment) as possible.

The tasting started out with a Domaine Huet sparkling wine... then on with the Madeiras.

1910 Barbeito Madeira Sercial - Portugal, Madeira.
Bottled in 2000. My third chance to taste this wine and by far its best showing. This was the first wine in the tasting, so I am somewhat skeptical of my high praise, as I always seem to enjoy the first wine of most tastings... but continually revisiting it throughout the session confirmed my judgment. This was flat out beautiful. The grapes came from Caniço, where no vineyards currently grow -- in fact, it is one of the most densely built-up area on the island. Bottled from cask (as opposed to demi-john), it displayed a light tawny color with a slightly green rim. Powerful, pungent bouquet, one that really made the hairs in the nostrils stand on end. Very generous and rich (for a Sercial) on the palate. Lovely citrus tang and lime squirt acidity; cream soda, pressed dried flowers, dried yellow fruits and vanilla flavors. This seemed a bit more like a Verdelho in body. Endless, electric finish. Wow. (95 pts.)

1926 Barbeito Madeira Verdelho - Portugal, Madeira
Bottled in 2000. Probably sourced from vineyards in the North coast (Seixal or Ribeira da Janela). This wine was purchased by Barbeito around 1944-1946, just before the company's founding. Medium amber with a slight greenish rim. Oily texture on entry, but good cleansing sensation on the finish. Medium acidity with brownish flavors of caramel and nuts. Medium sweetness with a medium to medium-short finish. Quite good, but my preference would be for a bit more bite. (91 pts.)

FLIGHT 2: Chorizo Crusted Cod with White Coco Bean Puree and Harissa Oil

1885 Barbeito Madeira Verdelho - Portugal, Madeira
Bottled in 1990. Probably sourced from the North coast (Ribeira da Janela). Purchased by Mario Barbeito during the founding of the company. Medium tawny in color with a garnet/greenish rim. Brown spice nose, spice cake flavors on the palate. Soft, pillowy texture, yet not flat or dull -- quite a bit of energy and drive in this wine. An elegant, svelte wine. Very good. (92 pts.)

1910 Barbeito Madeira Boal - Portugal, Madeira
Bottled approximately in 1995. Sourced from the same location as the 1910 Sercial, that is, Caniço. This wine was purchased by Mario Barbeito a few years after the company was founded. It is one of Ricardo Freitas' favorite wines, and he mentioned that he almost didn't want to sell it. Dark tawny in color, garnet rim. Piercing nose and noticeable volatile acidity, but not disagreeable. Loads of torrefaction here, almost roasted flavors. Picked up some root beer flavors as well. Very masculine; gritty. A very different style than what I am used to and this may take time to acquire a better appreciation for, but there is no denying the quality. (92 pts.)

1914 Barbeito Madeira Boal - Portugal, Madeira
Dark in color, almost mahogany. A mouth filling, intense initial attack; expands well, with the caramel flavors slowly coating the mouth. Nice hang time as well; really lingers on the back end. While I enjoyed this, it did seem as if more acids would better "define" and frame the richness. (90 pts.)

FLIGHT 3: Grand Marnier Baba with Roasted mango and Lime Sabayon

1907 Barbeito Madeira Malvazia - Portugal, Madeira
Medium tawny in color with a watery light green rim. The first Malvasia of the tasting and it was stellar. The nose was a bit muted at first, but the palate was rich, sweet, unctuous and lively. Dried apricots, burnt sugar and orange peel. For all the richness present, there is an overall zen-like balance and elegance here. Superb, lengthy finish. (95 pts.)

1905 Barbeito Madeira Malvazia - Portugal, Madeira
Probably sourced from Jardin do Mar, from the de Barros family. This was the one wine in the tasting that was NOT purchased by Mario Barbeito, but by his grandson Ricardo Freitas who was always searching for a wine from 1905 -- Mario's birth year. Dark tawny with a tan rim. A delicate, soft wine. Nice nutskin and treacle flavors; lovely lip-smacking bitterness. Delicious, but a bit thin compared to its peers in the flight. (91 pts.)

1875 Barbeito Madeira Malvazia - Portugal, Madeira
Bottled in 2003. Probably sourced from Ribeira Brava. Certainly one of the darkest wines of the tasting; almost cola colored. Luscious and flavorful. Not as intense as the other wines in the flight. Classic flavors of treacle and caramel. A bit softer and rounder than I remember this wine in the past. (92 pts.)

1834 Barbeito Madeira Malvazia - Portugal, Madeira
Bottled approx in 1995. Sourced from Campanario. Another dark colored Madeira with a distinct greenish rim. Loads of sultana raisins and brown sugar and spice. Luscious and complex and it kept getting better with air. This really coated and warmed the palate in a soothing manner. (93 pts.)

FLIGHT 4: Individual Artisanal Cheeses
The Grand Finale:

1860 Barbeito Madeira Terrantez - Portugal, Madeira
Quite a bit of sediment. Glorious nose; an almost painful bitterness on the nose, but a pleasurable sensation... intoxicating. Complex, cognac-like flavors. Elegant, refined, sleek and chiseled, yet bursting with energy. I seemed to pick up a new dimension to the wine almost every time I brought it up to my nose. The wine of the tasting for me. A privilege to taste this historical relic. Profound. (96 pts.)

1882 Barbeito Madeira Terrantez - Portugal, Madeira
Without trying to sound poetic, this tasted like sunshine... like the warm sun on a field of citrus and nut trees. At times this seemed plush and friendly and at other times it showed a nervous tension. A lovely wine, but the 1860 Terrantez was a tough act to follow. (92 pts.)

FLIGHT 5: Petite Fours

1900 Barbeito Madeira Moscatel - Portugal, Madeira
Initial impression of soft orange/cream flavors, but there is good acidity here. Citrus skin and a hint of herbal earthiness. Finishes with good grip. A lot of interesting character for a Moscatel... not as sugary as other examples. Lingering and tactile in the mouth. I have personally grown to like Moscatel less than other varietals over the years, so the fact I loved this is high praise; I am sure others would rate this higher. Impressive stuff. (92 pts.)

The West Coast event was originally planned as the only tasting that Ricardo Freitas was going to be attending, alongside his friend and importer/distributor, Mannie Berk the “Madeira Man” and proprietor of The Rare Wine Co.  On Friday, March 19th 2010, the dinner was held as promoted at Quince Restaurant in SF.  Richard Jennings another serious Madeira aficionado who is coming along on this year’s Fortification Tour, and a regular on the “Madeira Roadshow” circuit, put pen to paper and the article which follows this intro was all written and the photographs included were Richard’s work.

Barbeito Vintage Madeira Tasting Dinner: 1834 - 1926
3/19/2010 (Quince Restaurant, San Francisco, California)

The Rare Wine Company's Mannie Berk, the leading expert on (and importer of) vintage Madeiras in the United States, organized this dinner as a tribute to Mario Barbeito de Vasconcelos, the founder of Vinhos Barbeito, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Mario's death in 1985. On hand with us was Mario's grandson, currently Barbeito's managing director, Ricardo de Freitas.

Vinhos Barbeito, one of the youngest Madeira firms, having been founded only in 1946, is also currently one of the most prominent, thanks both to shrewd decisions Mario made early on, as well as to recent innovations and leadership on the part of Ricardo. This was the second of two hommage dinners featuring virtually the same set of wines, all but one of which was either part of Mario's beginning inventory for Vinhos Barbeito in 1946, or from Mario's personal cellar. The one exception, a Malvasia from 1905, Mario's birth year, had been purchased after Mario's death by Ricardo, who was delighted to be able to buy a Madeira from that vintage (a prize that had eluded his grandfather). The first dinner was held in New York City the previous Sunday, March 14th.

It was a treat to meet Ricardo Freitas, who not only took over as managing director of Barbeito in 1991, replacing his mother in that role, but has also been its primary winemaker since 1993. Ricardo's grandfather, Mario, was foresighted for having bought up significant stocks of older Madeiras, largely in cask, in the mid-'40s and '50s. Ricardo has been the one to bottle many of the wines that his grandfather purchased back then. In what other field of winemaking, besides Madeira, does it take three (or more) generations to shepherd a wine from vinification to bottling? And Ricardo was clearly very influenced by what he had learned about winemaking from his grandfather -- especially the importance of keeping vintage Madeiras in cask for as many years as possible, and bottling them only a year or two before they are ready to be sold.

Ricardo seemed like a relatively shy and soft spoken person, so it is impressive that he's already done so much to keep Barbeito in the forefront of modern Madeira winemaking, including ending the practice of adding caramel to the wine (as so many other Madeira producers do), producing single cask bottlings, and entering high profile partnerships both with Rare Wine Co. (their Historical Series) and Fortnum & Mason (their Christmas Pudding Madeira, among other special blends). And he clearly venerates his grandfather. It was particularly moving to hear him talk of fond memories of spending afternoons sitting in the library with his grandfather, when Ricardo was 7 or 8 years old. His grandfather's library, which is now a tourist attraction on the island, holds one of the world's largest collections of books and memorabilia related to Christopher Columbus.

I very much enjoyed all of the wines in this tasting, with the exception of the volatile and hard edged 1914 Boal MBV. My WOTN was a stunning, and extremely rare, 1900 Moscatel. We presumably tasted the very last of this wine in existence, as Ricardo was only able to obtain not quite two bottles from what was left of a demijohn of the wine from his grandfather's private collection. I appreciated the complexity and unique nose and palate of this wine. The dish that was served with this wine, a delicious pasta with clam, orange, espresso dust and oil of Albenga, was also my favorite course of the night, and I thought it was the best pairing of wine and food. The other wines that most impressed me out of this memorable tasting were the elegant 1885 Verdelho and an 1882 Terrantez, which was also taken from the last of a demijohn that had been part of Mario Barbeito's private collection. Our wines for the tasting were decanted the previous Monday, for two days, and then splash decanted one more time prior to this Friday evening tasting.

The caricature of Mario Barbeito that appeared on the cover of our program for the evening was drawn in 1944. It had hung in Mario's library until it, and other treasures of the library, were damaged by recent flooding there--it had been under water for 48 hours. Ricardo is planning to have the picture restored.

First Flight

Our course for this first Madeira flight was an Octopus Salad with topary bean, cauliflower and almonds. Our first two wines represented the drier side of Madeira, which ranges from Sercial--usually the driest style--to Verdelho, to Bual, to the sweetest style, Malvasia or Malmsey. Both of these wines had been purchased by Mario Barbeito in the mid-1940s, and were bottled by Ricardo in 2004. I preferred the intense 1910 Sercial, even though it was a bit less dry than a typical Sercial. The finish on the 1926 Verdelho was one of the shorter finishes in this tasting, but the wine had lovely flavors and excellent acidity.

1910 Barbeito Madeira Sercial Reserva Velha - Portugal, Madeira
Medium brown color with pale, slightly greenish, meniscus; VA, tart lemon, caramel, coffee, smoke nose; tasty, tart lemon, smoky palate with intensity and coffee edges, medium-plus acidity, but less acidity than a more typical Sercial; long finish 93+ pts. (Barbeito's Ricardo Freitas, who bottled this wine from cask in 2004, says that the wine was from the south coast, Caniço, where there are currently no vines.) (93 pts.)

1926 Barbeito Madeira Verdelho - Portugal, Madeira
Light medium brown color with pale green meniscus; deep coffee, roasted nut, baked peach with brown sugar nose; tasty, tangy, roast coffee, marzipan, smoke palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish (Barbeito's Ricardo Freitas thinks this wine, which he bottled in 2004, is from the island's north coast, Seixal or Ribeira da Janela. The wine was purchased by Mario Barbeito shortly before the company's founding in 1946.) (92 pts.)

Moscatel Flight

Our dish with the haunting Moscatel was a delicious Senatore Capelli Selezione Spaghetti with clam, orange, espresso dust and oil of Albenga, a great pairing of flavors for Madeira. As mentioned above, this was my favorite Madeira of the tasting, and I am still haunted by the memory of its ethereal, and highly unusual, for Madeira, lime, green almond and jasmine tea nose. It was youthful, complex and fascinating. I only wish there was more of it in this world.

1900 Barbeito Madeira Moscatel - Portugal, Madeira
Medium brown color with pale yellow meniscus; VA, ethereal, surprisingly high pitched, lime cream, lime hard candy, green melon, green almond, jasmine tea nose; tightly coiled, tart green orange, smoke, tart tangerine, vanilla bean palate with earthy notes, a most unusual and memorable Madeira; long finish (Barbeito's managing director, Ricardo Freitas, was able to obtain one and two-thirds of a bottle of this rare wine from a demijohn that had been in his grandfather's private collection. He pulled it specially for the dinners in NYC and San Francisco this week, and no more is known to exist.) (96 pts.)

Younger Malvazia Flight

The pasta dish with this flight was Maccaroncello with salsa di fiore and Madeira gelee. The 1907 was by far the stronger wine, for me, in this flight, with rather unusual chocolate and Chambord-like flavors. The 1905, which Ricardo had purchased because it was from Mario's birth year, also had some good flavors, but it was the wine that most showed its high alcohol of any in the tasting.

1907 Barbeito Madeira Malvazia - Portugal, Madeira
Light medium brown color with nearly clear, slightly greenish meniscus; cherry, chocolate, framboise, black raspberry, dried apricot nose; rich, poised, Chambord, raspberry, milk chocolate palate with depth; long finish (bottled from demijohn) (94 pts.)

1905 Barbeito Madeira Malvazia - Portugal, Madeira
Medium brown color with ruby lights and pale, slightly greenish, meniscus; VA, orange, cherry, faint coffee nose; rich, tart cherry liqueur, tart cherry, tart blood orange palate with medium acidity, and hottest of our 12 Madeiras; long finish 91+ pts. (Only bottle of the dozen in our tasting that wasn't owned by Mario Barbeito; his grandson, Ricardo Freitas, purchased it because it was Mario's birth year, and Mario had always wanted to own a Madeira from that year. Wine is from Jardim do Mar, purchased from the de Barros family.) (91 pts.)

Verdelho/Bual Flight

Our dish for this flight was the one food disappointment -- a dry and overcooked Wild Boar with celeriac, black trumpet mushroom and dolce forte sauce. The wines in this flight ranged from the very elegant 1885, to the tasty and youthful 1910, to the volatile and charmless 1914. I'd tasted the 1885 once before, a few years back, and this bottle was significantly better.

1885 Barbeito Madeira Verdelho - Portugal, Madeira
Light medium red brown color with red lights and pale meniscus; complex, ethereal, coffee, baked plum, VA, baked orange, vanilla nose; elegant, lighter bodied than most, tart citrus, tart plum, espresso, vanilla, walnut palate; long finish 94+ pts. (Purchased by Mario Barbeito around the time of the company's founding in 1946, bottled in 1990; presumably sourced from the north coast, Ribeira da Janela.) (94 pts.)

1910 Barbeito Madeira Boal Reserva Velha - Portugal, Madeira
Medium red brown color with pale meniscus; reticent, root beer, sassafras, stewed plum and prune, walnut nose; tasty, youthful, tart plum, tart prune palate with medium acidity and good balance; long finish (Sourced from the same location as the 1910 Sercial, Caniço, by Mario Barbeito a few years after he founded the company in 1946; bottled in about 1995; one of managing director Ricardo Freitas's favorite wines.) (92 pts.)

1914 Barbeito Madeira Boal MBV - Portugal, Madeira
Medium brown color with pale meniscus; major VA, tart apple butter, very tart apricot nose; tart apple butter, tart apricot, young and solid, but hard edged and lacking charm, with medium acidity for a Bual; very long finish (from a demijohn that Mario Barbeito purchased near the time of the founding of his company; weakest of our dozen Barbeito Madeiras at this tasting, in my view, with higher volatility than normal even for vintage Madeira) (88 pts.)

Terrantez Flight

We tasted our rare Terrantezes with the artisanal cheese course. The cheese was good, but the Terrantezes (a relatively rare varietal for Madeira, but one of my favorites whenever I get to try them) were both superb. The 1882, taken from the remnants of a demijohn that had been in Mario Barbeito's collection, was presumably a once in a lifetime treat.

1860 Barbeito Madeira Terrantez - Portugal, Madeira
Light medium reddish brown color with pale meniscus; complex, apricot puree or paste, smoke, lemon, lemon tea, nutshell, herbs nose; tasty, tart lemon, smoke, quince, orange, roasted nuts palate with medium-plus acidity and sweetness; long finish (only a few bottles known to exist) (94 pts.)

1882 Barbeito Madeira Terrantez - Portugal, Madeira
Light, slightly cloudy, orange red color with clear meniscus; VA, enticing lime cream pie, cream, lemon cream, floral, vaguely minty nose; softer, silky textured, mature, lemon cream, lime cream, tart tangerine, lime honey, mint palate with medium acidity; long finish 94+ pts. (Barbeito's managing director, Ricardo Freitas, was able to obtain one and three-quarters of a bottle of this rare wine from a demijohn that had been in his grandfather's private collection. He pulled it specially for the dinners in NYC and San Francisco this week, and no more is known to exist.) (94 pts.)

Final Older Malvazia Flight

Our final course was a Cremoso al Cioccolato, with banana-citrus sorbet and sesame tuile. The 1834 was not as good as a bottle I'd had before, but it did have an intriguing, savory nose. It was fascinating to hear Ricardo's reaction to the wine, as he was clearly disappointed too with how it was showing, and attributed its dark color and concentration to having been from the end of the cask (with a suggestion, to my ears, that it should perhaps have been bottled earlier than 2005). The 1875 showed much better, with greater structure and delicacy than the 1834. This bottle of 1875, on a par with one I'd tasted several years earlier, suggested to me that this wine is at its drinking peak.

1834 Barbeito Madeira Malvazia Reserva Velha - Portugal, Madeira
Medium red brown color with pale meniscus; smoky, pork simmered in wine reduction, tart orange preserves nose; very tart, plum preserve, tart coffee, smoke palate with medium acidity; long finish (According to Barbeito managing director Ricardo Freitas, this was darker and more concentrated than usual, indicating to him that it was from the "end of the cask." It was bottled in 2005.) (92 pts.)

1875 Barbeito Madeira Malvazia Reserva Velha - Portugal, Madeira
Light medium orange red color with pale yellow meniscus; intriguing, elusive, VA, charcoal, tart orange, coffee, roasted nut nose; tasty, resolved, creamy textured, coffee, tart orange marmalade, roasted nuts palate with medium acidity, and both more structure and delicacy than the 1834 Malvazia in our tasting; long finish (Bottled in 2003; presumably sourced from Ribeiro Brava) (94 pts.)