Roy’s Note: Marco DeFreitas is a very serious Madeira enthusiast with familial ties to the island, as you may have assumed from his last name. He has been a long time contributor of Madeira articles to FTLOP and attended one of our earliest Fortification Tours to explore the nectar on the island. I am grateful that Marco was able to report on this very special event and provide details and photos of the tasting.
Article and photos by Marco DeFreitas © December 2011
One would be hard pressed to find a greater champion for the wines of Madeira than Mannie Berk and The Rare Wine Company. Their tastings are always enjoyable, enlightening and usually focus a particular theme. Their latest event took place in New York on October 27th, 2011 and featured the rare wines from the personal collections of some of the great families of Madeira. The wines came from the cellars of the late John Cossart, the late William Leacock, Manuela Vasconcelos Barbeito de Freitas and the D’Oliveira family. Note that these wines are not from their companies’ commercial inventory; in some cases, such as Manuela’s wines, the last remaining ounces were bottled from demijohn as a special favor to Mannie Berk.
It was a rainy, frigid night in New York – an ideal atmosphere for drinking a bit of Madeira. Upon entering the aptly named restaurant “Hearth”, in Manhattan’s East Village, the warm interior and exposed brick walls instantly provided relief from the damp, chilly weather outside. Chef Marco Canora prepared an expertly crafted five course meal which paired superbly with the wines being presented.
Potato, Celery, Smoked Black Olives, Aioli
1910 Leacock Sercial [ William Leacock ]
The Leacock family wines are a fascinating lot. Almost every generation of Leacocks tended to produce a single male heir, preventing ownership of these treasures from being excessively scattered. The last Leacock heir to which this pipeline of riches flowed to was William Leacock, the son of Edmond Erskine Leacock. Having less interest in Madeira than his ancestors, William sold his collection at auction back in 2008. This particular wine was bottled in 1931 and given a week of decanting. Light in color and highly perfumed, offering scents of sandalwood, dried flowers and tanned leather. Very high toned on the palate, with piercing lemony acidity. Dry and austere, with bitter nut skin and antique wood flavors appearing in the finish. Some dried fruit flavors peek out as it sits in the glass, but overall there is a lot more bones than flesh here. The short time in cask shows.
1910 Barbeito Sercial [ Mario Barbeito ]
Bottled in the early 2000s. Being a recent bottling, this was given less than a day’s worth of decanting. This was perhaps the darkest of the wines in this flight; generous, fresh and mouth filling. At first this comes across as a bit round, but the acids do kick in late and provide balance. Quite a bit more richness and torrefaction than the Leacock from the same year, but this has also seen about seventy more years in cask. Caramel, nuts and lime zest flavors coat the palate and echo on the superb finish. This is a bit on the sweeter side of the spectrum for Sercial but would be a great offering for those who find the varietal a bit screechy.
1892 Barbeito Sercial [ Manuela V. Barbeito de Freitas ]
This wine was recently bottled from the remains of a single demijohn that belonged to Ricardo de Freitas’ mother. As a personal favor, Ricardo made this wine available to Mannie. Given less than a day in the decanter, this was flat out gorgeous, almost a blend of the previous two wines – displaying the structure of the 1910 Leacock with the richness of the 1910 Barbeito. The nose was kaleidoscopic: hints of cognac, butterscotch, tropical fruits, flowers, baking spices and citrus skin. This handily filled the cracks on the palate, but had such heroic lift and energy that it never felt ponderous. Fresh, precise, and clean as a whistle. Add in the almost interminable finish and this easily charmed itself into being one of the wines of the night for me. It was a true privilege to taste this rarity. 97 points
Wild Boar, Chestnuts, Soffrito, Rosemary
1928 Leacock Verdelho EEL [ William Leacock ]
A wine most probably put aside for Edmond Erskine Leacock (EEL); bottled in the mid 1900s. I forget how long this was decanted for, but it probably would have benefited from further aeration, as a bit of bottle stink was still evident. Once again the relatively short time in cask makes itself apparent, with the wine showing a dry, tart, austere and slightly spirity character. This was my third time tasting this wine and it is not without merit, but tonight it unfortunately suffered from being tasted alongside richer wines with longer time in wood. Although lacking in sap, it does posses an interesting and pleasing bouquet that reminds me of strolling through an antique shop.
Velho Verdelho [ John Cossart ]
Although the exact vintage is unknown, it certainly dates to the beginning of the 19th century; bottled in 1927, rebottled 1957, rebottled 1991, recorked 2011. While Madeira fans might be familiar with the “Heavenly Quartet”, a series of four undated old wines from Henriques & Henriques that predate the company’s formation in 1850, they might not be familiar with this unofficial sibling of that quartet which was also a part of the original inventory (a Heavenly Quintet?). This wine certainly performed well, showing quite a bit of dried fruits, molasses, walnuts and orange peel. Generous, round and perhaps a bit on the sweeter side of a typical Verdelho. Tangy, lip-smacking finish. It should be noted that this bottle was merely recorked in 2011; there are similar bottles (from John Cossart’s collection) being decanted on the island for The Rare Wine Company in demijohn to “freshen up”. One can certainly assume these rebottled examples will show even better when they are eventually offered for sale. 93 points
1850 D’Oliveira Verdelho, Family Reserve
This is not the typical “recently-bottled” commercial release, but a “Family Reserve” wine that was set aside for longer aging in bottle. This was bottled in the 1970s and decanted for four days. Having been fortunate enough to sample the regular bottling of this wine on three other occasions, it was fascinating to compare my previous impressions with this bottle-aged version. The weight, richness and power of the regular bottling were evident, but there was something else, an elegance, a polish. The texture was silkier and the flavors more multifaceted. The caramel and fruitcake flavors were complicated by floral hints and an unusual savory note (olive tapenade?). The intensity still overwhelmed the palate, but this is not just the wild beast I know and love, there is a smoothness and civility I did not expect. An absolutely gorgeous wine!
Roasted Lola Duck
Braised Leg, Fig, Onion Soubise, Escarole
1922 D’Oliveira Bual, Family Reserve
Just like the previous wine, this was a “Family Reserve” wine that was set aside for longer aging in bottle. This was bottled in the 1970s and decanted for four days. Dark in color and a bit cloudy in appearance. Assorted dried fruits, tanned leather and baking spices on the nose, with a light caramel, honey and citrus zest palate. Tangy and precise on the finish, with supple acidity. This really lingers in the mouth with fantastic length and clarity. Beautiful. 94 points
1898 Henriques & Henriques Boal Solera [ John Cossart ]
Bottled in the 1980s. I can’t recall a Madeira that so transformed itself over the course of a tasting. This initially seemed to have some bottle stink; the odors of a “wet basement” and petroleum were a bit off-putting. These odd aromas eventually blew off and left behind an impressive wine, if somewhat stern. Caramel, figs and herbs on the high-toned palate. Not weighty, but chiseled, precise and focused. Lovely wine, but “tough love”. 91 points
1895 HFS JPW Madeira [ John Cossart ]
This wine was believed to have been laid down for Julian Philip Leacock, who was born in 1893. It was bottled in the early 1900s. Very light in color with an odd mustiness about it; there was also a prominent acetone streak. Could this be corked? Others thought so, but I wasn’t sure, for although it was odd and perhaps not that pleasurable, it was still drinkable. Nevertheless, there was something wrong with this bottle as I’ve had it on two other occasions where it showed measurably better. N/R
Selection of Farmstead Cheeses
Landaff (raw cow), Cobb Hill Ascutney Mountain (raw cow), Ewephoria Gouda (pasteurized sheep)
1883 Barbeito Bual [ Manuela V. Barbeito de Freitas ]
Bottled from demijohn in 2011 and decanted one day. Wonderful Bual with fruitcake, lime, brown baking spices and tangy acidity. Palate coating, with the haunting finish that decayed slowly in layered waves. There was some volatile acidity, but nothing that was off-putting. Long, warm, edgy and inviting of another sip.
WS Bual [ John Cossart ]
One of the Henriques & Henriques legendary “Heavenly Quartet” of Madeiras that were in the company’s inventory during its inception in 1850. Dating from the beginning of the 19th century and bottled in 1927, rebottled in 1957 and recorked in 2011; decanted for 1 week. There was quite a bit of sediment in my pour. This was a deep, Deep, DEEP wine… full of rich, dark flavors of coffee, caramel, praline and even a hint of stout beer. There was also a creamy café-au-lait hint on the palate, but the acids were sharp and precise. A fantastic wine I would love to have for after dinner. Just like the Velho Verdelho, this bottle was merely recorked in 2011; there are similar bottles being decanted on the island for The Rare Wine Company in demijohn to “freshen up”. One can certainly assume these rebottled examples will show even better when they are eventually offered for sale. 94 points
Milk Chocolate Tart
Orange Cream, Pistachio Ice Cream
1875 D’Oliveira Malvasia Madeira Family Reserve
Bottled in the 1970s. Superb intensity on this wine. Piercing orange zest, dried apricots, crème brulee and assorted nut notes. Fanatical cling, with the flavors cementing themselves to the palate. Wonderful concentration, but allied with face-cringing acidity (yes, in a good way). This was a brilliant matchup with the pistachio ice cream with orange cream that was served.
1870 Barbeito Malvasia Madeira [ Manuela V. Barbeito de Freitas ]
Bottled from demijohn in 2011. A powerful and luscious wine but with a brilliant clarity about it. Minimal torrefaction and lighter on the flavor spectrum, with tea leaf, spice, citrus and bergamots. This was fascinatingly electric on the palate, so much energy and freshness. Pin point perfect acidity with a light, airy, filigree finish. A supremely well balanced Madeira and a perfect end to the tasting.
My six year old son likes to play games from a math workbook. He unwittingly learns basic arithmetic by, what to him, are fun activities. I was involved in a similar situation at this event. I was merely looking forward to a fun night of tasting great wines but ended up acquiring a basic education on the subtle attributes Madeira acquires based on their aging regimen under wood and glass.
Let start with the Leacock wines. They saw relatively little time in cask (~20-30 years) and an enormous amount of time in bottle (~60-90 years). These wines showed a dry, austere and high toned character. They possessed an interesting bottle bouquet of dried floral and antique wood notes, but were a bit lacking in concentration. I think these wines suffered in comparison to the other wines in the tasting and would have probably shown better on their own. I remember enjoying these wines a lot better when tasted alongside other Leacock family wines.
The Verdelho Velho and WS Boal from the John Cossart Collection also enjoyed a long time in bottle (~80 years), but they received a good amount of time in cask as well (~100 years). This extra time in wood provided more flesh and richness to the wines.
The D’Oliveira “Family Reserve” wines were brilliant and eye-opening. Although they also received abundant cask time (~50-120 years), they enjoyed about half the bottle time (~40 years). I wonder if this is the ideal combination, for they had power, weight and richness, but a regal finesse that I don’t recall recently bottled versions of these wines possessing.
I can’t say enough about the personal wines from Manuela Barbeito de Freitas; they speak volumes on her ability to choose and raise stunning wines. Spending ample time in cask (I’m not sure exactly how much), they seemed to have received just enough wood as needed – no more, no less. When deemed appropriate, they were placed in demijohn after which they almost enter a state of suspended animation, changing little yet remaining fresh and vibrant. Having been bottled straight from demijohn this year, these wines demonstrated a sparkling freshness with shimmering clarity. There was a deft touch about these wines, displaying more overt fruit and less torrefaction.
Overall, an immensely enjoyable evening; it’s always a thrill when pleasure and education collide.