On the 12th of July, Peter Reutter, creator of The Madeira Wine Guide website came with his family to the USA to visit his brother Hans, who just so happens to live about 15 minutes away from my home. We planned a lavish dinner around Peter's visit and a fun night of drinking Madeira. I invited two friends who also enjoy Madeira and waited for Peter's arrival. Peter had met them both during his last visit here. Between the four of us, we put a serious dent in six bottles of Madeira and finished off another four bottles of wine with dinner.
I will have more formal tasting notes on the Madeira in the upcoming FTLOP newsletter, but here are some impressions from that fine Sunday evening. Peter very generously brought a few bottles all the way from Germany for us to try, things he was quite curious about as well and some which he had tried previously. We took several hours evaluating the six bottles prior to dinner and then again after dinner, we made our way through another glass of each one.
It was great to see Peter again, as he was last here in the Seattle area back in January 2007, for a great Madeira tasting and of course, to visit his brother. On this day, the six bottles of Madeira averaged 144 years of age and a few of the bottles presented an opportunity to try these wines for the very first time.
We began with the 1830 Justino and Henriques "Solera of the Vintage" - which was bought by the previous owner about 50-60 years ago and was found when cleaning out his cellar. There had been considerable leakage and Peter paid a very small sum to take a chance that this might deliver some pleasure. It was very cloudy and had a ton of bottle funk even though he had decanted this a day ahead of time. This was bottle #178 out of an original bottling of 700. Nicely spiced and nutty but lacking acidity beyond the VA on the nose and a touch on the palate. Still it was an interesting bottle and we were all pleased to have tried it.
The next bottle was one I had brought to the party, a 1905 D'Oliveiras Verdelho. Glenn was here when I had decanted this the day before (just prior to tasting some 2007 VP cask samples) and we were both a bit surprised by it's cloudy appearance. I figured it would just clear up as it settled. I've had this Madeira on several occasions and it is one of my all-time favorite Verdelhos. This bottle was inexplicably lighter in color and was nothing like what I am used to in aromatically or the flavor profile. I'm not sure if it was defective in some way, but it certainly was atypical and seemingly flawed. VA, lemon-lime, candied nuts and a ton of acidity were present. It was also a bit hot, citrusy and seemingly out of synch but had a nice long finish. Very few of the gorgeous dark nutty nuances and rich, viscous mouthfeel that I love about this wine were showing. Very odd to say the least. I re-tasted it again the next day and it was no better.
Our third bottle was a 1839 Terrantez (producer unknown), this had a beautiful roasted essence and burnt sugar and toffee, with crazy acidity. Rich and concentrated with intensity and precision, it showed beautifully and finally we had something positive to talk about. Although this was one of the more stunning bottles of Terrantez and in fact Madeira I've tasted, it was even a notch better the following day as Peter had left me a glass which I put in my cellar. I wish there was some way to figure out which producer this was from but according to Peter, there were no markings on the cork or identifying marks and if he had no idea … who would? I had this one rated 98 points and will put the formal note in the newsletter. A very memorable Terrantez experience.
A tough act to follow, but a valiant effort was made by the 1900 Manuel de Sousa Herdeiros Bual - which was bottled in 1978. I am not familiar with this particular producer but this was a really fine bottle. Peter had "stolen" two bottles for a ridiculously great price. I saved a glass for the following day, but surprisingly this showed at its best the first time we tasted it prior to dinner. Dark coffee color with delicate VA and a fantastic nose of dates, dried apricots and mahogany. Searing acidity levels were quite the jolt to the palate, but otherwise, this was a very harmonious bottle with great depth and length.
Continuing on our quest from dry to sweeter, our next entry was a bottle of the 1903 D'Oliveiras Bual which had been brought by my friend Chuck and this was open for six to eight months at this point. It was still in very fine shape, exhibiting a dark brown hue and providing a great nose too. Toffee, caramel and a nutty nuance. Silky smooth, with a touch of lime zest and a solid finish. This is one I have enjoyed before and it showed really well and certainly showed no signs of being open for over a half year or more. Luscious Bual!
Chuck outdid himself and his other bottle was the 1827 Quinta do Serrado Bual - This is a legendary bottle of which the remaining quantities are already in collector's cellars with very little left for sale through regular channels. This probably would have been even better with more time open, but that's splitting hairs as this had some gorgeous aromas of coffee, graphite, caramel and a roasted nutty nuance. Light bodied and sensuous in the mouth, the acidity was piercing and exactly as I remember this Madeira. The finish is extremely long and the textural pleasure showed what a fantastic bottle of Madeira this is.
Thanks again to Chuck and Peter for their generosity. My friend Justin also joined us and he brought most of the dinner wines to accompany the various course of food. We started off with Mezzaluna, my version of Caprese salad meets Quesadilla with an extra layer of delicious prosciutto.
Justin brought a 1999 Dauvissat "Les Clos" Chablis - a fine vintage, great producer and top vineyard site made for a really fine drink. This showed some advanced coloration and some would say premature oxidation. But on the palate, although more mature than it should have been, it was still a very sound and tasty bottle for sure. Some parafin, beeswax and honey on the nose led to dried peach and melon flavors. A ripe profile of tropical fruits with a superb mouthfeel and lush minerality … this was nicely stuffed and paired beautifully with the dish too.
Knowing that Peter is a serious German Riesling fan, I opened one of my few remaining older bottles from Germany for him and paired it with a spicy rendition of scallops. 1976 Schloss Eltz Eltviller Sonnenberg Auslese Riesling - was fully mature but still had enough acidity, albeit on the lighter side, to carry the diesel and botrytised nuances. It probably would have been better 5 years ago, but as was mentioned by one of my guests, the Rhinegau does not usually produce Rieslings that age as nicely as those from the M-S-R region. The good news is that it contained enough sweet peach and apricot flavor and gentle acidity to cut through some of the spicy red chili paste combined with Pedro Ximenez used to quickly sauté the scallops.
Justin also brought two fine red entries to pair with the grilled sirloin steaks topped with portabella mushrooms that were sautéed in days-old leftover 2007 Vesuvio VP. The first was a 1996 Vosne-Romanee from Emmanuel Rouget, actually a fine rendition of Bourgogne Rouge made by the Burg-master, Henri Jayer. Earthy and with a stew of minerals and raspberry fruit, this was a bit reticent at first but opened nicely with time and along came the fine grained, gentle tannins which will allow this to age for at least another five years or more. I really liked the mouthfeel of this wine and it continued to improve in the glass. Delicious with the steak too!
Our last wine for the evening before returning to Madeira and a homemade dessert that Dorene had dreamed up to pair with dessert wine, was a 1983 Chateau Gruaud Larose from Saint-Julien. An enticing nose of black cherries, cedar, saddle leather and cassis. Nice and meaty with waves of flavor, there was a faint licorice/eucalyptus undertone which I really liked. I opened one of these in March and this bottle was every bit as good, I really have a soft spot for the 1983 even though the 1982 GL gets all the praise. Thanks Justin, this paired very nicely indeed!
Peter's brother and his brother's girlfriend were on their way to pick him up, so we went back for round two to enjoy each of the Madeiras one more time. Not much had changed but it was a pleasure to get another impression of each. Thank you Peter for taking one night away from your family during your vacation, to join us for a wonderful evening of companionship and lots of delicious food and wine as well. We are all looking forward to your next visit to Seattle!