Following two fabulous Madeira tastings earlier in the year, it was time to take the 2007 Madeira Road Show, back on the road. We converged on the “other” Washington, our nation’s Capital.
It had been six years since my last visit to DC, as my wife and I were headed there on Sept. 11th 2001, but we wound up revisiting a month later. A half dozen years later it felt great to be back.
I had lived in a nearby Northern Virginia burb for half of the 1990s and worked in the VA-MD-DC metro area. I loved my time there and learned a lot more about wine, getting to fast track my Port collection before prices skyrocketed along with the cigar craze circa 1995. I also visited nearly 40 of the 50 wineries that were in Virginia at the time and thoroughly explored just about every single wine shop within a 30 mile radius of my residence in Reston. Although my Madeira collection was smaller back then, being a Civil War buff located in close proximity to so many historic battlefields, it was easy to enjoy evenings sipping Madeira while reading some great history books on the topic.
But back to the tasting at hand …
This was a long way to fly for one afternoon-into-evening of Madeira, but I knew there were lots of local people interested in experiencing a diverse and informative tasting such as this. Fortunately, some of the participants were extremely helpful in supplying suggestions for and direct contacts with restaurants that made the short list. My sincere thanks to both Kevin Shin and Don Thomas, for their wisdom and generous assistance in all regards! Back in January, Don had also flown cross country to participate in the very first leg of the troika of Madeira tastings here in Seattle, so it was great to have him join us again.
Madeira maestro, Mannie Burke of The Rare Wine Co. (http://www.rarewineco.com/) also rejoined us in DC, as our guest of honor. Although Mannie is extraordinarily blessed with a very fine palate and a vivid memory, (and has access to many of the world’s most sought after wines) his grasp of the history and lore of Madeira is virtually unmatched. As impressive as that is, his innate sense of taste and smell regarding Madeira and uncanny ability to simply describe what he perceives, makes him one of the most intellectually stimulating speakers at an event like this. We all felt very grateful that Mannie was able to attend.
After considering a handful of convenient, high end DC restaurant venues, I felt that the complement of very good food, a superb and flexible staff to work with and a perfectly sized private room made The Caucus Room, an easy decision. In hindsight, it was the right decision. There are actually a few private rooms within The Caucus Room, which is a highly regarded DC steakhouse. As you’ll see from Doug Humphrey’s photos, our room offered a classic semi-formal setting, provided enough space to spread out and have room to lineup the dinner wines and bottles of Madeira, while offering us total privacy. The steaks were solid and the service team was attentive and professional. What more can I say, except that I would go back there in a heartbeat should another DC event need planning in the future.
As for the tasting itself, we enjoyed five distinct flights. The first offered two fine Sercial and a rocking Terrantez which most of us had never had before. Moving away from the driest style to the second flight with just a slight bit more off-dry wines, the impressive lineup of four Verdelho spanned a fairly narrow range of only twenty three years. In round three we presented some of the big guns and a trio of zesty Boal bottlings came to strut their stuff. This was followed by one of the most unique flights of Madeira I have yet to experience, another trilogy, this time all Bastardo and I am pretty sure that I’ve never tasted more than two in the same evening. The final fifth flight followed with four examples of Malvasia flowing.
I’m sure you don’t want me to continue to drone on about the details, as I know you are dying to hear about the great old bottles of Madeira we explored on this very special evening. So have at it!
1903 Barbeito Sercial Vintage Madeira – Orange-medium amber with a greenish tinged rim. VA-a-plenty with a roasted coffee bean and brown sugar bouquet. Delivering a deeper mid-palate than the ’17 Barbeito that preceded it, with a rich, dry and very smooth entry. The acidity here is crazy and provides laser focus and deft balance while paving the way for a long and memorable silky finish. The aftertaste introduces intricate sweet nuances of caramel and mocha that leave a lasting impression. As I saw a few months later when visiting Madeira in May, Barbeito sources their Sercial fruit from vineyards situated at the highest altitudes possible. This will drink beautifully for many years to come and it has potential to improve from here. 93+ points 3/10/07
1870 Blandy’s Terrantez Vintage Madeira – Light cola color with a golden edge. Exotic notes of tangerine, golden raisins, maple syrup and Pekoe tea provided my proboscis with plenty of pleasure. Blandy’s Terrantez proffered a lively and lithe palate presence with a medium body weight, yet seemingly lighter stylistically due to the very soft and sumptuous texture. Sophisticated and concentrated flavors of figs, mocha and molasses provide all the punch that is necessary. Upon swallowing it seems to gain more richness although still velvety. This Terrantez is sexy and begins to slyly hint at a tiny bit more RS on the aftertaste which offers grand length and is really luxurious. An exemplary showing of Terrantez and for my palate the wine of the flight. Even at nearly 140 years old, it still seems to show a youthful if not playful side. There is no rush to drink ‘em if they are in your cellar, that is for sure. 95 points 3/10/07
1890 D’Oliveiras Verdelho Vintage Madeira – Extra dark coffee brown color with a golden/amber meniscus. And now for something completely different. Woohoo! Roasted coffee beans, balsamico, and a gorgeous clove nuance that was really delightful and added aromatic depth. Rich, mouth filling and dry early on, with dense chocolate, toffee and a hazelnut flavor that won me over immediately and added a backdrop that was a tad sweeter. The 1890 brings it with intensity, focus and zippy acidity that really tweaks the salivary glands which keeps this all in check. This is the first truly great bottle of the tasting and it is in another sphere right now. All of that said, the greatest strength of this D’Oliveiras may be the dream like finish sequence which takes forever. Imported in early 1990 by a California importer. It should drink well for decades and I’d love to have been able to taste this again with another 24 hours of decant time, although it did have more than a day already. 96+ points 3/10/07
1885 T.T.C. Lomelino Verdelho Vintage Madeira – Cola color with a tawny-yellowing edge. Yikes, after the 1890 Verdelho’s beauty, this left me a bit cold with a gentle medicinal note, distinct bouillon, blood and a slightly green characteristic which I found distracting. Don mentioned, “garlic bread” which wasn’t too far off and really cracked me up. Smooth and almost delicate if not voluptuous to roll around the mouth, but the finish left me wanting for more as it was medium length at best and lacked any sense of dynamism. Robert Lael is the shipper and new owner who took over at Lomelino, which is now part of the Madeira Wine Company. This bottle is from MWC’s stock and was bottled some time in the 1960s. 86 points 3/10/07
1882 Blandy’s Verdelho Vintage Madeira – Light coffee color with a glint of yellowish-green and it appears slightly cloudy. The bottle itself is a beauty and you can tell it has some age on it. Expansive nose with lots of VA and iodine and then it heads off in the direction of toffee and fresh cinnamon stick. Quite nice actually. I typically like most of what Blandy’s I’ve tried and this Verdelho puts forth a bright palate with flavors of lime, molasses, caramel and walnuts that provide a modicum of complexity. A big light in the acidity department which leads to a medium finish that is a bit syrupy if not cloying. Since 1970s, this bottling was sold under the Cossart Gordon label. This one was believed to have been bottled in the 1950s. 90 points 3/10/07
Henriques & Henriques Grand Old Boal (approx. 180-200 years old) – Dark chocolate color with a golden hue on the meniscus. Slight funk initially with turpentine, marzipan and baking spices. Elegant with medium body weight, this H&H opened up and came alive in the mouth. Bottled in 1927, rebottled in 1955 and again in 1975. I left this in my glass for nearly seven hours as I doubt I’ll ever seen another, and it became more viscous and round and gained further layers of sweet pecan and butterscotch flavors. The finish was very long but had a slightly bitter aftertaste that did not improve otherwise this would have been one of the better wines on the table. Lots of fun nonetheless and I would really like to find a bottle of this again someday to watch it evolve over a few days or even a week, as I bet it would be significantly better and more complex. 95 points 3/10/07
1827 Quinta do Serrado Bual Vintage Madeira – Medium cola color with a greenish edge. From the beautiful Câmara do Lobos district comes this very fine Bual. I have only had this a few times, but have really loved this particular bottling. Eric LeVine brought one to the Seattle tasting in January and it was one of the two best Madeiras there. This one delivered a wildly profound profile of tar, lively and lovely VA notes, maple syrup and a dominant filbert nut aroma. Enormous power with richness and an intense initial palate attack with enough acidity to keep me slurping this down very slowly. As soft as a whisper, this delivered the textural equivalent of a liquid French kiss, Perfect symmetry between all the components should hold this seamlessly balanced beauty for another century. An extraordinary and elegant finish, this is the finest Bual I have had and it nears perfection for its total domination of my senses. This Serrado was aged in cask for 108 years, transferred to demijon and stayed there for another 53 years and then was finally bottled in 1988. It is clearly the winner of the flight and possibly up for the Madeira of the night award. 98+ points 3/10/07
1927 D’Oliveiras Bastardo Vintage Madeira – Maple color with a bright golden edge. There was an initial scent of plastic which eventually blew off. Then the toffee, minerals and an odd smell of wheat made for an atypical nose. Elegant and from memory, a slightly better example than the disappointing showing of a bottle I opened at the recent Seattle tasting, yet it still does little to excite my palate. I find the acidity here in synch with the fruit which lent a citrus peel and almond nut flavor and later a touch of mocha crept in. This gained body over the course of the evening and became medium weight although I took note of the relatively short finish in comparison to the other two Bastardos in the same flight. The aftertaste was nutty but pretty straight forward. This came from Adegas de Torreao which was a supplier and stockholder, not a shipper. Not much was ever made as the harvest yields were slight and there wasn’t much to bottle. D’Oliveiras bought Torreao’s inventory just five years ago and this was discovered amongst the rest of the barrels and bottled just two years ago from one of the original Torreao casks. 90 points 3/10/07
1875 Cossart Gordon Bastardo Vintage Madeira – Mannie mentioned that 1927 was the last of four Bastardo Madeira vintages, ever to be produced. Pretty amazing to realize how extremely rare these bottles really are. The other vintages were 1870, 1875 and 1876. Henriques & Henriques also own a few barrels of their own 1927 Bastardo and I do hope to get to try it some day. Oddly enough, Bastardo came to Madeira in the 1400s and arrived from Greece of all places. Late in the 1800s when Phylloxera destroyed vineyards on the island, this grape along with Terrantez was wiped out, although a few vines of each grape did manage to survive (at least for awhile). Sadly, it was not financially feasible to replant at the time and today I am unaware of any Bastardo vines on the island. The color of this Cossart Gordon is slightly darker than the D’Oliveiras Bastardo (1927). Stunning and unique aromatics compared to the other two Bastardos in the flight; exhibiting an herbal not along with pine, menthol, a nutty nuance, espresso, and exotic papaya. Fabulous and kept my nose in the glass for a long time! Dense and smooth with a subtle and sophisticated presence, the palate is all about white peaches along with cocoa/mocha, and is an unctuous harlot of a wine with some dried apricots that take over on the fine aftertaste. This Madeira was originally bottled in 1962 and purchased in 1991. How often do you ever get a chance to try three distinct and extinct Bastardos in one evening? It is certainly a first for me. 94+ points 3/10/07
1906 Madeira Wine Association Ltd. Malmsey Vintage Madeira – Dark molasses color. Caramel, citrus and an overripe pear note round out the aromas here. Zesty and focused acidity, the MWA Malmsey struck a chord with a finely tuned and complex mid-palate supported by sweet marmalade flavors and a nutty toffee nuance that was alluring. The finish was clipped and was the main weakness of this wine. I wonder if it had been decanted long enough? 91 points 3/10/07
1907 J. Barros Malvasia Vintage Madeira – Light-medium maple color. Admittedly, I was starting to get caught up in conversations so my note on this last wine was a bit abbreviated. Solid aromatics, huge acidity, drier than expected, somewhat simple and with a modest length to the finish. 87 points 3/10/07
The camaraderie was palpable and after a leisurely tasting and dinner such as this, there is a bond formed between the participants, linked by the elixir known as Madeira.
THE CAUCUS ROOM
www.thecaucusroom.com (great website!)
401 9th St. NW
Washington, DC 20004
For those that are interested … in completing the road show, I’ve compiled a list of all Madeiras that were consumed by guests in Seattle, New York City and Washington DC:
- 1852 Naval Reserve
- 1862 D'Oliveiras
- 1898 Barbeito (in 2 cities)
- 1903 Barbeito
- 1917 Barbeito
- 1832 Acciaioly
- 1846 Blandy’s
- 1870 Blandy’s
- 1899 Welsh
- 1850 D’Oliveiras (in 2 cities)
- 1882 Blandy’s
- 1885 Barbeito
- 1885 Lomelino
- 1890 D’Oliveiras
- 1900 D'Oliveiras
- 1902 Barbeito "Pico dos Barcelos"
- 1905 D'Oliveiras (in 2 cities)
- 1912 D'Oliveiras
- 180-200 year old Henriques & Henriques Grand Old Boal
- 1827 Quinto do Serrado (in 2 cities)
- 1863 Barbeito
- 1903 D'Oliveiras (in 2 cities)
- 1907 Blandy’s
- 1908 D'Oliveiras
- 1922 D’Oliveiras
- 1875 Cossart Gordon
- 1927 D'Oliveiras (in 2 cities)
- 1927 Leacock
- 1830 Quinto do Serrado Malmsey
- 1834 Barbeito Malvasia (in 2 cities)
- 1836 Acciaioly Malmsey
- 1862 Blandy's Malvazia
- 1885 Barbeito Malvasia
- 1895 D’Oliveiras Malvasia
- 1900 Barbeito Malvasia (in 2 cities)
- 1901 Barbeito Malvasia
- 1906 Madeira Wine Association Malmsey
- 1907 J. Barros Malvasia
- 1907 Blandy's Malvasia
- 1875 D'Oliveiras Moscatel