Madeira: A Five-Week Stay

Article © Niklas Jörgensen
March 22, 2010

- Have you seen the news, my brother says.

It's Saturday evening and our five weeks stay in the outskirts of Funchal is only two days away. Normally I am useless at packing, starting the evening before, but this time it's different. Spending 36 days abroad with two small children needs planning and a “to do” list of quite impressive length.

- No, why, is my answer, wondering a bit why my brother calls to ask me that.

- Madeira, he says, is on the news. There's been some kind of flooding in Funchal. A lot of people are dead.

My first reaction is one of renunciation; it can't be that bad. But when looking at the pictures wired out from Madeira on all news channels, I suddenly realize why my brother asked - our vacation. I am trembling at the thought that we might have to cancel; not for the fact that the insurance company will quote force majeure – no, we want to go to Madeira!

The following two days we found ourselves updating the Foreign Office website for news of the situation, having talks with travel agencies and attempting to get in contact with Funchal. It's frustrating, but then finally the good news arrives! Everything is fine and functioning in Palheiro where we have rented an apartment - and in Funchal around 5000 people are working more or less day and night trying to get the city back on its feet as soon as possible. Despite the fact that this is a tragedy of huge personal proportions for the Madeirense, it is also devastating for them that tourists choose to cancel after the green light is given. An island where a quarter of the income comes from tourism, has suffered enough of the flooding - don't let their economy fall apart as well. We're going - Madeira needs us and we need Madeira!

Why Madeira?

Don't ask me why I bought it. I have no idea even though I suspect some fascination concerning the label saying Vintage 1940 was involved. It was a Sercial from Justino's and the amount I paid was way over my limit as a student at the university. I was only twenty three years old back then and a sip of the 1940 Sercial was all I needed to start a love affair for life, with Madeira.

After more than a decade of reading and sampling I then visited the island of Madeira some years ago, aware of the risk I had built up an image impossible for the island to live up to. It did however manage to meet my expectations and Madeira today is not only a wine passion, it is just as much an urge to travel back to a most fascinating, dramatic and mind bogging volcanic island out in the Atlantic. Last but not least; the people we've met there, and their genuine friendliness and generosity alone, are worth returning for.

When the opportunity to spend a longer period of time on the island aroused us, we immediately began to start planning our dream vacation. Now, after thirty six days in Funchal we're back home - and if I thought I knew Madeira before our visit; I was wrong! Checking my notebook I have tasted more than 100 different Madeira’s, created some memories for life and for me, new reference points. The respect for the wine and its producers that I had prior to leaving on our trip is now even greater, knowing the incredibly hard work they're facing every day.

So, pour yourself a glass of Sercial and read about our visit to a resurrecting island of Madeira, meetings with wine personalities, grapes struggling for their existence and just some general thoughts on how much the style actually differs between the producers.  I hope that this will be enough inspiration to convince you to book a ticket to Funchal!

Work in progress

On our first day in Funchal the local bus took us to the roundabout at Estrada Conde Carvalhal –it couldn’t go further because of the flooding.  Also, the parallel streets close to the circle were badly hit - Rua Visconde Anadia and Rua Brigadeiro Oudinot; probably the worst place to be in all of Funchal. This gave us only one option when entering the city; walk through a car tunnel.

Our first day in Funchal was filled with feelings; walking in the center of all that destruction, watching all the work in progress and seeing people openly crying on the streets was … to say the least, quite heartbreaking. Last time we visited Funchal we used to shop at the supermarket at Anadia Shopping – now this was filled with water. The walls of the garage next to it had cracked, (due to the pressure from the flooding) and water in unbelievable amounts was pouring in, at the same time as people were doing their Saturday shopping.

The seaside walk way couldn’t be reached during our first week since the parallel street of Avenida do Mar das Comunidades was filled with water and rocks. It also acted as the dumping place for all the trucks filled with rocks and mud.

In the other end of Funchal at Rua Dr. Brito Câmara and Avenida Calouste Gulbenkian, at the cross-street of Avenida Arriaga, the destruction was also severe. For Madeira wine aficionados it was especially tough to see the Diogo’s Wine shop hit – with the Columbus museum in their cellar severely damaged. Sadly, the devastation was of such huge proportions that Vinhos Barbeito who owns the store and museum decided not re-open them.

Staying on the island for more than a month, we became a part of the resurrection work and found ourselves sitting in the evenings following the local TV channel of Madeira, watching their updates.

After one week in Funchal almost all of the streets were open again and during our last days they had even managed to build new roads and bridges! One can’t be other than impressed by the will power of the Madeirense!

Heading west, the damage was also seen in parts of Estreito de Camara de Lobos and along the coast. The worst destruction we saw was in Ribeira Brava, the wild river, were the flooding came with such power, uprooting trees, houses, roads and even a bridge in its destructive downhill path towards the seaside. I have a picture etched in my memory, probably for the rest of my life, when we visited Ribeira Brava. A woman was sitting next to her home, which was half in ruins, washing a frying pan totally covered in mud.

Never could we have imagined all this, when we booked our vacation!

It’s old. It’s divine. It’s d’Oliveiras!

“People are afraid”, Luís D’Oliveiras says, while we're standing by the entrance. Outside the rain is pouring down and has continued to do so for several hours. Our taxi is delayed not only due to the weather but just because of the traffic jams in downtown Funchal.

“Everyone's driving home at the same time now, remembering what recently happened here, Luís continues.  “It is still not safe up in the mountains.”

The man knows what he's talking about. The flooding didn't leave the house of Pereira d'Oliveira unaffected and one warehouse was filled with water making it impossible to sell the wines.

“Thankfully it is covered by the insurance, Luís tells me with a sigh of relief - and will be settled soon.”

For a wine lover the first thing that comes to mind is a big … 'No, don't tell me the old and unique vintage wines are undrinkable', but thankfully, if one may say so, it's the five years old wines that were affected. Still, this is how a living is made for the smaller wine producers so the loss is still severe.

On our way home in the taxi I am still in a state of shock, not due to the weather circumstances but the wines Luís just served us. It is not often you have the chance like this; tasting and comparing Madeira's spanning from 1989 to 1895 - guided by the most generous and humble Mr. Luís d'Oliveira. Together with Aníbal D`Oliveira he represents the fifth generation of descendants from the founding owners. Established in 1850 by Joao Pereira d’Oliveira as a partidista, one who maintains stocks of wine which they aged and sold to shippers, it took more than a century before the company started bottling and labeling on its own Madeira in 1974. By then, they had built up the largest stock of old Madeira which today consists of around 1.5 million liters.

No other producer is even close to Pereira d'Oliveira when it comes to the impressive amounts of old and rare wines they stock they possess. How is this possible, one might ask? Who can maintain such enormous quantities of century old wine? The company is actually not just one but consists of five integrated producers where the oldest firm dates all the way back to 1820. The stocks simply are an inheritance from those five companies creating today's image of Pereira d'Oliveira as guardians of the centuries old frasqueira's, or vintage wines.

“Think of that”, Luis says. “None of the companies incorporated in Pereira d'Oliveira's existed in 1803 - the last time we had a natural disaster of these proportions.”  “People are not used to the situation” Luís continues.

It's hard not to talk about the flooding that hit Funchal and its neighboring villages on the south coast a little more than two weeks ago. It's a small island and many families were affected. But right now the main reason is more the current weather. It has rained intensely for almost four hours now and back then, on the 20th of February, it rained unceasingly for eight hours meaning there was more rain during those hours than what normally falls in the entire month of February!  Nevertheless, it is not without charm we sit in the warehouse of Rua dos Ferreiros 107 and listen to the rain hitting the roof.

At the beginning of what promises to be one of the most memorable tastings of Madeira I have been involved with, we are served the 10 years old Seco Aperitivo (90 points), a wine mainly consisting of Tinta Negra Mole. A light amber color with a lovely fragrant bouquet of almonds, wet earth, fudge and lime peel. What is more surprising, knowing how difficult it is to produce a younger dry Madeira wine with substance, is first of all the dryness but secondly the quite complex taste. The acidity is there as well and the choice of Tinta Negra Mole is revealed by a more round taste than Sercial gives at this age. Fine length as well and this provides a promising start to the tasting.

When you're impressed by a Madeira producer’s standard bottlings like the 5 and 10 year old labels, you can't wait to hit the vintage tasting!  But first Luís serves us a Colheita. The term is used for wines that haven't reached the stipulated 20 year minimum aging in Canteiro, but has the material to do so.

Luís pours the 1989 Sercial (92 points) and comparing it to the 10 year old in the glass beside this one, it is obviously a step up in the quality hierarchy.  A darker color than the first one and a more intense bouquet; vanilla fudge, furniture polish, apple peel and a honeyed, roasted almond touch. Quite weighty for a Sercial with fine, restrained acidity and a touch of sweetness. The apples return and are accompanied by tobacco, prunes, lime, wet earth and smoke. Long, fine aftertaste which stays and is most refreshing.  A great Colheita!

Colheita Madeira by the way needs a more thorough explanation. You have most likely had bottles from Douro with the epithet written on the label, or stenciled. For Madeira wine it is a more recent discovery that started to appear on the bottles after Portugal joined the EU in 1986. According to the IVBAM regulations, a Colheita requires five years of maturation before it can be bottled as one. It is allowed to undergo estufagem and doesn't need to, as the frasqueira (vintage wine), be cask aged all the time. Just as the Frasqueira (Vintage Madeira) the Colheita needs to consist of at least 85% of the same vintage, allowing 15% of a younger wine or different grape to be added.

Why you might ask?  That’s easy: to give producers the chance to “top up” the casks when the angels had taken their share due to evaporation. Some however don't top up and Pereira d'Oliveira is one of them - a choice that explains the company’s characteristic oxidative and quite concentrated style.

To sum up the Colheita’s of Madeira: consider it a great opportunity to sample a vintage wine without having to pay the sums a Frasqueira demands, due to its stipulated minimum of twenty years in cask - not unlike the situation in Douro between the Vintage Port and Late Bottled Vintage.

Luís now pours a rarity, the 1977 Terrantez Reserva (93 points), bottled in 2009.

“I would produce more, if I just could get my hands on more Terrantez grapes, Luís says.”

For the not yet initiated Madeira cognoscenti it is worth keeping in mind that few producers of Madeira wine own any vineyards, or wishes to do so, but they buy from between 200 and more than 1500 different cultivators on the island. Most own just a small plot of vines, less than half hectare due to the topography of Madeira. Also keep in mind many are doing the cultivation as an extra income - few have the time, knowledge or interest to cultivate the most difficult grapes, such as Terrantez.

I'm a big fan of the Terrantez grape and if you've had the chance to taste an old bottle made from this grape, you understand its greatness and complexity; ergo there's no turning back for you!

The 1977 Terrantez Reserva is no exception. It’s young, yes, and I would love to see what will happen with this one if further cask ageing is allowed, but at the moment it is still a typical Terrantez. Amber color. Almost ethereal bouquet with elegant notes of dried fruits, hazelnuts, toffee and a bit floral. Young on the nose and I also notice a touch of Morello cherries which I've never experienced in a Madeira before. Young, vivid acidity, earthy and quite complex taste with fine notes of dried orange peel, prunes, figs, toffee and sweet tobacco.  It is a bit oxidative but still very refreshing and pure in its expression. Long, lingering finish.  The 1977 is a very nice example of Terrantez that probably would receive a much higher score if given two more decades of cask ageing.

Before I get too sentimental, it's always like that when a Terrantez is tasted, knowing it ultimately will become extinct unless something dramatic happens.  I am poured the nice 1966 Verdelho Reserva (94 points) - bottled in 2007. Try to be objective when you're having a glass of your favorite indigenous grape of Madeira - it's tough!  But why Verdelho? Isn't Terrantez cooler?

Well, after tasting a substantial amount of Verdelho's the last weeks I finally understand what makes me so thrilled about the grape. The combination of sweetness, acidity and spiciness is most captivating, but most of all - it is without doubt the one showing its grape character most of all, even with considerable time in cask. That's spot on why I love the grape aromas which otherwise tends to be secondary in a fortified wine. Unfortunately Verdelho is also in serious decline and in great need of a rescue plan.

The 1966 Verdelho is of dark amber color. Caramel notes intermingling with Christmas spices like cinnamon, cardamom and clove, some refreshing fruitiness, black tea and orange peel. Great bouquet! Still quite young on the taste, but the feature that catches the taster most, is the contrasting taste. The bouquet promises a sweet inviting wine but the taste gives a firm, finely acidic wine with restrained fruit and caramel notes. So fine in its intensity and I can't help but wonder how good this will become with some more decades in cask. Long, slightly oxidative finish but with all the Verdelho character summed up. Bravo!

“What shall I serve you now? Luís asks, “How about a wine to compare to the 1966 Verdelho?”

Luís brings us the 1912 Verdelho (97 points), aged 90 years in cask before bottling in 2002. Now that is a comparison! It's worth mentioning that Pereira d'Oliveira only bottles on a short-term basis, to meet market demand, and that should be in the buyer’s mind. If you loved a specific vintage and wish to find it again … don’t expect to. It might have been set for yet a another decade of cask ageing and then in the end, it winds up a totally different wine! Welcome to the uncompromising world of Pereira d'Oliveira!

1912 Verdelho - What color - mahogany with an even darker core. An explosion of dried fruits, cinnamon, cardamom, ground coffee, caramel, marzipan and dried flowers. Hugely concentrated bouquet, yet elegant. Intense in the mouth with caramel and vanilla fudge, nicely intermingling with the clove and tea flavor. Figs, red apples, walnuts and a touch of coffee as well. Sweetness balanced by a great acidity and the finish keeps going and going. Tasted twice during our stay in Madeira. Consistent impressions.

Some would argue I am too generous in my scores and maybe I am. But tasting wines at the source is sometimes much more than a search for perfection, making it impossible to hold back the subjective feelings. On one occasion when we visit Luis, just before dinner, he asks if we have time to stay for a glass. He then pours the 1912 Verdelho and brings the kids some of their delicious cookies. Which other wine producer in the world would do that?  Not many, that’s for sure!

Let's switch to Boal. In comes the 1968 Boal Reserva (93 points) bottled in 2009. With age Boal can sometimes give me a feeling of terroir, at least something that resembles the soil. I keep coming back to the dusty road in summer and this feature is spot on in all the older Pereira d'Oliveira Boal bottles.

The dusty sand road, caramel, burnt sugar, coffee and smoked tea is nicely balanced in the bouquet. It's big, quite young but a joy to sniff. Quite concentrated, maybe lacking a bit of elegance at the moment, but anyhow an acidity that keeps up the taste excellently. Caramel and soil in one, it's quite cool and the long, powerful finish is impressive and showing its presence the best possible way.

Confessions of my weak spot for Verdelho is now official. Therefore it is also important to tell the reader that Boal is the grape I’ve been most skeptical about over the years. The difficulties in giving it structure and not just being a caramelized and a bit monolithic wine in its younger phase has made me a bit disappointed on several Boal's over the years. The older ones I’ve tasted have been very impressive but still; Boal has yet to convince me of its greatness. Luís gave me a demonstration how wrong I was and what Boal is all about. First the impressive 1968 but then, a masterpiece when it comes to defining elegance, the 1922 Boal Reserva (97 points).

Pereira d'Oliveira's style can be quite full-bodied on occasion; maybe not as concentrated as Henriques & Henriques but the 1922 Boal Reserva differs from the house style with is sublime elegance. The sample poured is bottled in 2003 and yet again we have dark mahogany. The bouquet deluges the glass with its complex notes of roasted almonds, fresh walnuts, caramel, freshly ground coffee, dried fruits and lime peel. Do I have to mention the dusty road?

Elegance and power at the same time in the mouth make it a divine drink with mind bogging acidity, sweetness closing in on a Verdelho style and a fruity feel that's almost youthful!  I guess the delineation and complex yet elegant flavors which fill the mouth, sets a new reference point for me. I wasn't aware of Boal's ability to show such elegance.  I am not sure where the grapes are harvested, and I don't know, yet the terroir presence is everywhere in the finish. Some might say I am too generous in my rating of this wine but I admit it; I love elegance and this wine sets a new standard for me when it comes to finesse. Man, I love this!

I'm already convinced but it doesn't stop there; we have to move one step up before jumping to the last of the indigenous grapes! Luís pours the 1903 Boal (98 points)!  I'm so filled with impressions already but this 107 year old wine is poking on my undivided attention - and gets it.

If the 1922 was a reference point for Boal elegance, this 1903 is for combining sheer power with finesse. Dark mahogany. Enormous bouquet with a concentration that almost hurts, yet still manages to be complex. Oolong tea, caramel, orange peel, sweet licorice, almost meaty and then a finish of spring honey. Wow, I've just been run over by a 1903 Boal!

Maximum concentration, excellent acidity and with a taste register resembling the bouquet. Wines that seem to be just as great on the nose as in the mouth are the ones that follow you to senility. This is such a wine. Not perfection, but if it would have had the elegance of the 1922, it would then have achieved a perfect score.

The rain is now so intense it almost sounds like fire crackers hitting the roof. The building by the way; dates all the way back to 1619 and is situated in Rua dos Ferreiros, a classic wine street in old Funchal.  Continue up a few meters and the neighboring house is another Madeira lodges of the esteemed family firm, Artur Barros e Sousa, and if you continue upwards, the old warehouse of the famous partidista Adega de Torreao is situated - today owned and totally restored by Pereira d'Oliveira.

The centrally located house at Rua dos Ferreiros may not be the most practical, but many of the casks are old and the location is perfect considering the possibility of attracting tourists, especially those visiting Funchal for a day when arriving aboard one the gigantic cruising ships that frequent Madeira’s waterfront.

The most powerful and floral wine of them all, is the Malvazia which ends this majestic and most memorable of tastings.  First it should be noted that it is from the birth year of Aníbal and Luís’ parents, the 1907 Malvazia Reserva (97 points).  Dark mahogany. Rich and packed with nuances of dried fruits, nuts, burnt sugar, Aceto di balsamico, figs and a floral touch (lilacs). At the same time both impressively acidic, but yet well-balanced by the sweetness, powerful but not in a four square understanding, keeping its delineation from the very start to the goal. Dates, figs, coffee, honey and fresh tobacco; it's all there. But the most impressive thing about this bottles is the insane acidity, so wonderfully supportive of the sweetness. An immortal wine?

Last one out - switching century and taking us back to 1895!  Luís served us a wonderful glass of the 1895 Malvazia Reserva (95 points) and when tasting old Madeira it is impossible not to think in historic terms; what was life like back in that era, did the people that produced this wine ever get a chance to try it and so on.

One of the darkest wines I've ever had! Not as profound as the 1907 but more elegant on the nose with its grapey style. If the 1907 should be considered a bit non-typical for Malvazia then the 1895 was more the prototype. Floral, dates and figs; elegant with ground coffee and syrup on the nose. An acidity that must be loved by a dentist, gives the wine a most refreshing mouth feel. Some would argue it is too high, nonetheless, I like it a lot. The occasion determines when to serve the 1895 or the 1907, if you're in possession of both. Should you decide to pour the latter, in that case you’d be considered a most wanted friend!

All aficionados of wine, fortified or otherwise, ought to sample some of Pereira d'Oliveira's wines at least once in a while. They're handcrafted and so much more than just a drink; it's history, life stories, respect and simply a salute to wine.

Finally, some prefer the Madeira honey cake (Bolo de Mel) with a Boal but the question is if it isn't best paired with a rich Malvazia? Many are the Bolo de Mel's you will find on the island but the one that seems to enjoy the reputation as number one is sold exclusively at Pereira d'Oliveira. For the last 22 years Rita Maria G G Marques has supplied the producer with the honey cake and yes, it is a secret recipe. Like the wines, it's divine!

Artur de Barros e Sousa: Two brothers on a mission

“I have the best bottle cleaning machine in the world” Artur tells me.  “Look, my hands,” he says and laughs joyously.

Sincere friendliness, a trademark it seems, registered by the Madeirense, is also most present at Artur de Barros e Sousa. The Olim brothers, Artur and Edmundo, own and operate the family firm representing the fourth generation descendant's of the founding Pedro José Lomelino.

Little has changed at Rua dos Ferreiros, 109, since the lodge was established almost 90 years ago. Perhaps deliberately because this small firm only produces around 8,000 to 10,000 liters every year, selling the vast majority to customers visiting the lodge. But even if it is a marketing strategy it is a most delightful one and as a Madeira aficionado, a feature that I loved taking part of.

Artur and Edmundo are most proud of being the only company left not using any Estufagem whatsoever - everything is matured according to the Canteiro system. Their lodge’s capacity is around 90,000 liters so everyone can figure out this is a quite a small enterprise. Entering the three storey lodge is magical and walking the various levels, checking out the old casks is a true joy.

“You should come in summertime”, Artur says. “Then the whole courtyard is covered” he continues.

Now we see buds sprouting and the leaves starting to multiply but I can imagine how beautiful it must be, seeing the pergola trained vines providing a most welcome canopy during the hotter summertime days. There are Terrantez, Sercial, Verdelho, Moscatel, well you get it - all grapes currently representing Madeira wine, or at least, one’s from the past.

“And if you come later you can taste my Verdelho grapes and compare it with the wine you have in the glass,” Artur says.

You never feel as if you're an intruder here - Artur or Edmundo always greet their guests with a sincere smile, and open arms. On the occasions we visit them during our stay there's a continuing flow of people visiting, tasting and walking through their Canteiro area of the operation. And most visitors buy at least a bottle or two. Especially after tasting a glass and realizing this is good stuff, in fact, really good.

Artur and Edmundo have a sound way of looking at Madeira - they only bottle enough to have on the shelves and that can be as little as 150-200 bottles filled up at a time. Frasqueira on demand one might put it. Checking the IVBAM (the control institute of the Madeira wine) listing of producers that export Madeira, you will not find Artur de Barros e Sousa.  For the most part, they just sell from their shop and a few specific local wines shops as well, but send nothing to importers in other countries.

“Our production is too small,” Edmundo tells me.  “But we do ship to private customers from time to time. - And we do have our long time followers, he continues while showing me the boxes they pack in when sending abroad.”

The bottling on demand means that every time they bottle, it is a new wine since the Canteiro ageing keeps on developing the remaining wine. Hence; buy a bottle, fall in love, ask for a new one of the same vintage - and get another wine with further cask age and more concentration - and fall in love again!  The ever changing wine is a true fascination and a joy to follow.

Modernists screaming after stainless steel, with their impeccably clean surrounding environment and internationally-styled wines … don't bother.  The Canteiro is all about letting everything have its own pace; spider webs are not removed and the cleaning lady definitely does not come every Monday and Thursday. Simply put; don't disturb the casks too much.

“But sometimes a cask starts leaking and I have to repair It,” Artur says when we're walking through the old warehouse where the casks are aging in the Canteiro rooms.  I enjoy looking at the ancient casks that most likely are well past 50 years of age, formed by decades of usage, I am still impressed they keep on delivering.

I find myself thinking of the craftsmanship involved in constructing casks and how tough it is to find skilled people - or having someone trained for repairing and building. What will happen with the wines of Madeira in future generations?  With young people possessing an unbound attitude, and the ability to travel, what will keep them interested in the Madeira business and follow the traditions of their ancestors?

Let’s not forget the cultivation of grapes that are done by people averaging fifty years - wine producers don't want to own land but who shall grow, harvest and deliver the grapes? Large scale production is impossible on the island due to its topography. The risk, Madeira wine will have to raise prices to keep up in the future, which is not at all a nightmarish scenario - it is in my opinion, maybe the only solution to make sure the few producers that still exist, continue to do so.

My oldest daughter, soon to be three, loves visiting Artur and Edmundo. It's exciting checking out the courtyard and trying to find Casper, the friendly ghost, that we have told her lives in their lodge.  This my friends, is how you visit wine producers, and keep the little ones happy!

I ask Artur about the grapes they buy; where they're from and which ones he buys.  As with most producers the Verdelho comes from São Vicente and the Sercial he gets from Jardim da Serra and Porto Moniz. The latter by the way, Madeira's most peripheral village, is worth a visit.

Not only for the serpentine roads leading to the west side of the island, or the giant Eucalyptus trees along the way spreading their fragrance, no, the little village is very impressively located and just sitting there, at the sea side watching the giant waves hitting the cliffs, is a meditative moment in itself. Not to forget the view behind you, looking at all the steep sites filled with Sercial vines. Heaven when you're mad about Madeira and its wines!

Finally, the Boal and Malvazia are brought in from Campanário. But what about the unusual Listrão that I've heard Artur makes, with grapes from the neighboring island of Porto Santo.  “No, not any more,” he says.  “No quality.”

In the shop, tasting room and office Edmundo reigns. Also here time seems to have stopped and when the telephone rings and Edmundo picks it up, we're fascinated that the ancient dial phone is still working.

Alexander Graham Bell would have been proud of that one! But this is the company profile and you can't help but love it.  It is a trip back in time.

“I know nothing about computers,” Artur says to me the first time we met.  “I only know wine,” he says and laughs plentifully.

We're now poured more or less all the bottlings available for purchase at the firm and Edmundo starts with the 1986 Sercial (93 points).  Fine, transparent amber color.  A tougher style of Sercial with its dark chocolate, orange peel, tobacco notes and wet earth. The taste has some sweetness to it giving the acidity a fine balance. It is elegant, still quite young and vivid in the mouth and the lemon scent, chocolate, roasted almonds, brown melted sugar and smoky mid-palate is lovely. A most individual Sercial, showing its class!

Three more years added in age now when Edmundo serves us the 1983 Verdelho (94 points), in my opinion the best glass they currently retail. Golden amber color. Spicy, fruity on the nose nicely backed up by dates, ground coffee, sugar cane and vanilla. Quite complex. The taste is filling the mouth and yet again I am thrilled by the grape's ability to not become too secondary in its character. Pears, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla in a slightly smoky style. Fine concentration, high acidity and a long finish. Bravo!

Edmundo tells me he believes their 1981 Verdelho is even a better wine but he had only one left on the shelves when we were there.

Next pour is a Boal Reserva Velho (93 points) - a wine with a similar age as the two previously poured, but it is a blend. Darker in its color than the first two it is also a more sullen style with its bouquet of burnt sugar, honey cake, smoke, orange peel and vanilla. Fine Boal nose. Quite dense and sweet in the mouth with fine acidity, nutmeg, caramel and tobacco. Long taste and fine maturity. An elegant Boal.

Last glass in the first line up, the 1986 Malvazia (93 points). Darker amber. Bouquet typical of the grape; it's floral, showing note of dates and figs and a lovely caramelized vanilla note. Quite full bodied with fine sweetness, chocolate, ground coffee, grape notes and hazelnuts. Long, lingering acidic aftertaste. A prototypical wine.

“You taste wine. I will drink my coffee now,” Artur laughs when he hangs up his coat and passes by us and Edmundo.  “This I do every day,” he says, greets, and walks out onto Rua dos Ferreiros.

As a comparison Edmundo now serves us three younger wines - Colheita's.  A 2003 Verdelho (91 points), a 2003 Boal (90 points) and a 2003 Malvazia (91 points). They all differ a lot from the vintage wines or the Reserva Velho with their grape character, youthful style and vivid fruit. They're all a joy to drink and very reasonably priced at around 20-22 Euro's a bottle.

It happens to the majority of the vines in the courtyard during our five week stay in Funchal. In the beginning of March it mostly looked like dead branches but by the end of the month there are buds and several leaves indicating the cycle starts soon - again!

It's easy to like the wines of Artur and Edmundo Olim and before leaving for home we pay a last visit. Edmundo then pours a most elegant and classy Verdelho Reserva Velho (93 points) - around thirty years of age. It shows fine spiciness, pears, wet rocks, vanilla fudge and a touch of honey. Its elegant taste, not powerful at all, but still filled with complexity and shows nutmeg, lemon, fudge, sugar cane and a delicate note of clove. God, I love this individual style of wine.

People like the two Olim brothers should have a medal for their efforts in continuing their heritage. It's almost a mission on the point of extinction. So, whenever you get the chance - do pay them a visit!

Big is beautiful, presenting: Madeira Wine Company (MWC)

“Please, may I hold her?”

There's no doubt about our two daughter's popularity amongst the lovely employee's at the Blandy's Lodge in Avenida Arriaga.

Nor is there any questions concerning our own urge to visit the lodge again, and again and again; which at the end of our stay, could be summed up in four visits overall!

The Blandy's Lodge is filled with stories to tell, wine to taste and is such a beautiful place to hang out for an hour or two. Many visitors to the island will also find their way to Avenida Arriaga and take part in one of the daily tours.

However; this is not the production site of the brands still linked with Madeira Wine Company (MWC). No, after visiting the two other producers on the classic wine road of Rua dos Ferreiros, it is time to round up the street with the Mercês Lodge.

Mercês is the production site of MWC and here we met with Ana Soares, Filipe Azevedo and also the chief oenologist Francisco Albuquerque stops by later. While Filipe prepares a tasting for us Ana shows us around the facility.

Mercês is such a contrast to the two producers down the street; it is in that context a large scaled business although in most wine producing regions in the world, MWC would have to be considered a quite small producer. But this is Madeira; production is miniscule so when you have around 38 % of the Madeira wine's volume you're a quite big company.

Big is beautiful though and if it weren't for Welsh & Cunha, together with Henriques & Camara, fusioned in 1913 to form Madeira Wine Association (MWA), we might have seen even less producers surviving the decreasing popularity of Madeira wine that was a fact over the course of the last century. After the consolidation in 1913, the following decades saw more than two dozen other companies joining, and by 1953 the Association had its last partner joining; Cossart, Gordon & Co.

Around thirty years later the Association changed its name to the current, MWC and today there are only two owners left; the Blandy's family and the Port producing family of the Symington's who joined not only as a necessary financial force in 1989, but also with knowledge, new ideas and marketing skills and contacts.

The stainless steel tanks are impressive to watch from above and I can't help but to think of how very different the conditions of the wine producers on the island experience. For a winemaker there is no doubt; MWC is the place to be if you want top notch equipment!  But the contrasting part, which makes the company still traditional, is the ancient casks used; in other words: the best of both worlds.

“I have never seen the inside of one of these before,” Ana says, and she is actually just as impressed as we are.

We're standing in one of the Canteiro's, in front of an old Estufa, probably at least 100 year old, previously covered in wood. The old copper pipes leading the hot water in order to warm up the wine for several months must have been one heck of a job to bend and put into the estufagem cask!

It's a fine day easily exceeding 20 C. before lunchtime. When Ana opens the door to the estufagem facility it is more than twenty, a lot more! The room is filled with a hot wine bouquet and I am glad I'm only passing by in here - preferring the Canteiro scents more with its dusty, evaporated feeling.

Continuing to one of the company's most valuable members of the staff - the coopers. When dealing with old casks, like the Madeira producers often do, you will need the skill of a cooper to be able to fix them from sudden leakage and of course making new ones. I've read about wine experts insuring their nose, maybe the coopers on the island of Madeira should be insured as well considering they are nearly as rare as the 1795 Terrantez?

On our way to the tasting room we check out the impressive bottling line and the laboratory before standing in front of a line-up the assistant oenologist, Filipe Azevedo, has prepared. The tasting really contains it all; the 2009 harvest of Tinta Negra Mole prior to going through estufagem as the youngest feature, through to the very oldest available wine in the MWC portfolio, the 1920 Bual from Blandy's. Filipe explained his decision making process when selecting the line-up for our tasting.

“It's one of my projects I have,” Francisco Albuquerque tells me.

The chief oenologist has entered the tasting room and I can't help but ask him about the wine I tasted some days ago; the 2008 Primeira Paixão - an impressive young Verdelho.

“I make that wine to show how good table wines can emerge from Madeira as well,” he continues … “The grapes are from vineyards at Vargem, south of São Vicente in the north and from Estreito de Câmara de Lobos in the south.”

“Production was just below 2,000 bottles in 2008 but I think I can double that in the 2009 vintage,” Francisco continues while he also reveals his future project in Caniçal; a red table wine. “I have Touriga Nacional and Merlot there, but I am not satisfied with the vines yet, so we will have to wait and see.”

The 2008 Primeira Paixão Verdelho (89 points) which Francisco makes together with his old friend from the mainland, Rui Reguinga, is of light yellow color with a green edge to it. It's a youthful wine showing pears, wet rocks but also an almost tropical scent to it with notes of passion fruit, mango and white peaches. Followed during two days and on the second day it shows quite a complex bouquet for such a young wine. In the mouth it shows its origin; acidity reigns but plentiful amounts of fruit back it up and the balance is impeccable. No doubt this is Verdelho with its slightly spicy notes adding depth and the aftertaste finishes off in a most refreshing mineral driven way. No doubt about it; this is amongst the very best table wines I've tasted from Madeira - possibly the best!

Together with the local Espada fish, or the Black Scabbard as it is named in English, it is a perfect accompaniment.  I can't wait to get my hands on the 2009 – the problem will be finding it though.

Tasting the latest vintage is always a great experience, especially when the wine is just a few months old. Filipe has poured us a Tinta Negra Mole from 2009, fortified but not yet undergone estufagem. Next to it a similar wine but with two months heating in Estafa and finally, the wine as how it is supposed to taste when it is ready to drink. It is a great way to learn the process of the more simple wines of Madeira!

MWC has been the most innovative of all Madeira Company’s for a start and there's no doubt that Symington's entry on the island of Madeira in 1989 was one of significance.  They were the first to explore and introduce the Colheita's and amongst other avant-garde actions is the bottling of Alvada (87 points).  It is a blend of equal parts Bual and Malmsey, it is an unusual wine trying to reach a new category of wine consumers, preferably the younger one.  It is at least five years of age, this wine shows quite impressive character with notes of figs, dates, sugar cane and roasted nuts in the nose. Quite sweet on the palate but with refreshing acidity. A more modern formed wine with less traditional taste. I get a feeling of more fruitiness which nicely backs up the honey, sugar cane and walnuts taste. Fine wine and a nice entry level Madeira.

As a comparison, we're having the 2001 Blandy's Harvest Malmsey (87 points). Again, a most pleasant wine in the lower end of the quality scale and very good wine for the money. I prefer the Alvada which I sense has more presence and better delineation but that is simply a matter of taste.

Walking around in Funchal, which we do on a regular basis during our five weeks stay, means you quite often bump in to the Blandy's Lodge in Avenida Arriaga - as a nice feature we once in a while ended up in the vintage room where we did a comparison between two wines from the same grape.

One day the rain surprised us and being 100 meters from the lodge we ran in that direction. Five minutes later we sat there with two glasses of Sercial, the 1950 Leacock's Sercial and the 1974 Blandy's Sercial.

The 1950 Sercial (95 points) has a profound complexity and is just an amazing sniff! The glass is filled with roasted almonds, fresh tobacco, dried herbs, furniture polish and orange peel. Wow! The taste is just as good, with its light, but elegant mid-palate and fine mouth watering acidity. Elegance in a glass with almonds, tobacco, honey, smoke and just a touch of dried oregano it is a great glass of Madeira with a long, lingering aftertaste.

In a way it is mean, I know, serving a glass of the 1974 Sercial from Blandy's next to the 1950. But this is what it's all about; learning and understanding the complexity that comes with age.

The 1974 Blandy's Sercial (92 points) differs in style from the Leacock's more elegant style. Here the bouquet is more filled with dark chocolate, walnuts, coffee and paint. A more full bodied taste than the 1950, but also lacking its competitor's complexity and elegance. However, I am fascinated by the style and high acidity. Almonds, dates, a Fino scent to the taste and fresh tobacco provides a most interesting glass. Long finish.

Continuing on the Mercês tasting and visit I got the chance to try the new Colheita from Blandy's; 2000 Verdelho (91 points). Sculptured in a modern way it still had classic grape character with fine notes of fresh pears, spices and minerals on the nose. A most seducing taste with fine integrated acidity and sweetness. No heavy weight as Blandy's otherwise can be, but an elegant wine with notes of nutmeg, vanilla fudge, lime, pears and wet earth. Refreshing and a great glass before dinner, or with a creamy mushroom soup. Love it!

Two more Colheita's, with some added age though, were the 1991 Bual (91 points) from Blandy's and the 1992 Malmsey (91 points) from Blandy's. Now it's down to preferences; I chose the 1991 Boal, a lovely example of Colheita, with its semi-sweet style, burnt sugar, honey cake and date notes, while my wife was a fan of the more concentrated and floral Malmsey.

The 1992 Malmsey had more raisin notes, both in bouquet and taste, and was a prototype example of the grape. Once again; I am so glad to see the Colheita wine’s quality and most reasonable pricing. Not a Frasqueira, not even close, but a style on its very own!

Amongst the standard selection the 10 year old Bual (90 points) from Cossart Gordon stood out, together with the 10 year old Malmsey (90 points) from Blandy's. Both with concentration, complexity and acidity to deserve your attention.

The last three standing; 1980 Bual from Blandy's (93 points), 1985 Malmsey from Blandy's (93 points) and the majestic and yet elegant 1920 Bual from Blandy's (96 points) are all a step up in quality.

The 1985 Malmsey is actually the only offering the company has at the moment on the Frasqueira side, when talking about Malvasia. A quite youthful wine with fine floral notes, dates, figs, ground coffee and dark chocolate. On the palate it is a full bodied wine with orange peel, nutmeg, raisins, figs and wet earth. Long finish.

The Bual is a grape that just keeps on growing in my own popularity, they were great. 1980 seems to be a fine year for the grape since other Buals I've tasted have been of equally excellent quality. 1980 Bual: Notes of burnt sugar, vanilla, honey cake, cherries in liquor and nutmeg. A fine mouthwatering acidity and excellently matching the sweetness, makes it a great glass on its own. Smoke, tobacco, walnuts, figs and orange peel on the palate. Long, mineral driven aftertaste.

Now, the last bottle standing was of course the oldest Madeira offering currently available at MWC, the 1920 Bual from Blandy's. A joy and treat to taste, and one you don't spit in respect for the winemaker, it is a most complex and elegant wine, reminding me a bit of the 1922 Boal from Pereira d'Oliveira.  Dates, nutmeg, herbs and an almost ethereal note to it. Some coffee and fudge on the nose as well. Fine, elegant taste but also concentration giving the wine some extra proportion. The minerals, orange peel, sweet liquorices, walnuts and burnt sugar are super and the finish is of impressive length. Bravo!

“What do you want to taste now,” Filipe asks me.

Most people would probably ask for the oldest stuff available in the tasting room but I have two most specific wishes. First of all, tasting any wine from your own birth year is always fun, but being a Madeira fan it's even more thrilling since 1972 is a great year where all the noble grapes resulted in Frasqueira's. Filipe starts looking knowing he has a cask sample somewhere and finds it at last. Ana is just as excited as I am, since we share a mutual interest of the vintage.

Not only is it a sample of the vintage of 1972, it is also a Verdelho! Thank you Filipe. The 1972 Verdelho (95 points) from Cossart Gordon has an incredible intensity on the nose with spices, fruitiness reminding me of both pears and oranges. A fresh walnut aroma as well is present and together with smoky minerals a joy to sniff. Still youthful on the nose though.

Impressive concentration, Anjou pears, Oolong tea, wet rocks on the palate together with mind bogging acidity. Long, fine and refreshing aftertaste. Even after emptying the glass the bouquet refuses to leave!

“This one has many years ahead in cask,” Filipe says. In other words: a wine I get the chance of enjoying at the time I retire, in 25 years?

My last wish is of another character; I simply ask Filipe to pick a wine he thinks stands out for any reason be it a great young wine, the most elegant or something rare. Filipe thinks for a while before he starts looking for the 1963 Sercial Leacock's.  “I chose this for its exceptional acidity and structure,” he says.  The 1963 Sercial (96 points) might be the most impressive Sercial I've had during our stay. With a lovely transparent amber color it shows the time spent in cask. Huge bouquet fills the glass with roasted almonds, fresh mint, lemon, wet rocks and smoke. Huge concentration, yet impeccable balance, with elegant almond on the mid-palate. Already now you start realizing the acidity will crack your teeth and boom, there it is!  No doubt, I've never had a Sercial with that much acidity, yet it bears it with honor. With wines like this, dentists will never be out of job!  A fantastic wine!

Being a sucker for Verdelho I find myself having a reason to pay the Blandy's Lodge one final visit before returning home. I end up comparing two 1973's; the 1973 Leacock's Verdelho and the 1973 Cossart Gordon Verdelho. Both are fine examples of Verdelho, the grape that's sadly becoming more and more rare in the vineyards.

1973 Leacock's Verdelho (92 points) has a spicy note to it, backed up by spearmint, dried herbs Provencal, fudge, burnt sugar and tobacco. Elegantly styled it is backed up by fine sweetness. Ground coffee, fudge and a cask feel to it, the Leacock's style is a bit on the light side, nonetheless a fine wine with an impressive acidity in the finish.  The 1973 Cossart Gordon Verdelho (92 points) shows more power and concentration both on the nose and palate.  Burnt sugar, fresh tobacco, clove, lime peel and wet rocks on the nose. Smoky, less sweet taste than the Leacock's and a more dense style, the Cossart Gordon appeals to those in search of a richer style of Verdelho. Fine length and refreshing acidity.

Although owned by the same house it is a joy to confirm there is actually a typical “house style” maintained amongst the brands of Blandy's, Cossart Gordon, Leacock's and Miles. More obvious 30 years ago than today but when tasting the Frasqueiras I get the feeling Francisco and his gang strive for labeling the wines after which house style they most resemble.

Moral of the story: big is beautiful which Madeira Wine Company, by Madeira wine standards, evidently shows. And once again we're honored by the treatment given - not to forget the time the staff spent with us.  It is clear Madeira wine producers love their work!

When in Funchal, visit the Blandy's Lodge, take a tour around the Canteiro, visit the museum and check out the history of the company and then relax while having a glass of the mind bogging 1963 Sercial from Leacock's later on in the vintage room. It is hard to consider a better way of spending the afternoon!

H.M. Borges – still a desert island wine?

A cascade of orange peel, sugar cane, nutmeg, vanilla and old casks fills the glass. It's so complex and sublime you just want to sit there for an hour and savor the bouquet.  “We bottled this in celebration of Funchal's 500th Anniversary,” Isabel tells me. “It is a blend of Malvazia more than 40 years old.”

It's easy to fall for H.M. Borges Vinhos. For me it is all about relating back to the summer of 2009 when we spent the holiday, as a newly enlarged family, at the family summer home in the Stockholm Archipelago.  We brought only one bottle of Madeira with us, to enjoy a glass on the veranda at evening times when watching the sunset. My choice? The H.M. Borges Verdelho Solera 1915. Such a refined and elegant glass, clearly distinguishing Solera from the more powerful Frasqueira. And yes, we drank the lot that summer!

Now, roughly half a year later, we're sitting in the tasting room at the old flour mill in Rua de Janeiro 83, together with Isabel Borges and her winemaker, Engº. Ivo Couto, prepared to add H.M. Borges to that list of producers and wines you have a special relation to.

This is at least how it works for me; producers I've met in person and had a glass with, do most of the times deliver such an impact on me that I have a special relation to their products for many years to come. It’s quite logical actually; wine is so much more than just a drink; it is history, a chat with nature, passion and sometimes totally impossible to understand how something that divine can emerge from fermented grape juice!

When sitting there, with the old Malvazia anniversary wine in the glass I can easily say the 1915 Verdelho last summer wasn't one lucky shot. Borges does deliver!

H.M. Borges is a well respected name amongst the Madeira cognoscenti, not least of all, Michael Broadbent. Few of us have tasted so many wines as the former senior director of Christie's wine department has, but when asked the inevitable question of 'What’s your desert island wine' he doesn't hesitate: “the 1862 H.M. Borges Terrantez.”

It all started with Henrique Menezes Borges importing provisions to the island. The profit made was used to buy supplies of older Madeira wines. Doing well he came to the point when he had enough quantity of wine to start a business. Thus, in 1877, Borges started as a partidista, buying from the local producers, securing quality and then selling it further to the bigger producers.

After Henrique Menezes passed away, the two brothers and daughter stepped in and took over. In 1922 the company stood on its own leaving the partidista business and they were now bottling as H.M. Borges, Sucessors, Lda. They branched out in 1925 with the purchase of Adega Exportadora de Vinhos de Madeira.

Madeira is not a big island, so the likelihood to fall in love with someone else also in the wine trade didn't come as a surprise. Therefore no raised eyebrows when Henrique Menezes daughter married João Henriques Goncalves, owner of the wine company bearing the same name. Then, in 1932, Goncalves’ company bought Borges and the same year it was merged with yet another producer becoming partner, Araújo, Henriques & Co. The owner’s condition has so remained.

Why is he feeding us with all this family relationship information, you might wonder?  Well, it actually explains the tough conditions for the Madeira producers quite well. In order to survive, mergers and acquisitions were more or less the only way of avoiding extinction in times when the fortified wine lost more and more of its followers.

Standing at Rua de Janeiro 83 it is hard to understand that this rather small building houses not only the Canteiro but just as well the Estufas, bottling line and laboratory. Here we start with the tasting, continue by exploring the building and end up tasting again. Ivo, with experience both from MWC and also the now closed Silva Vinhos, has poured us a selection of Madeira to show the Borges’ style.

In my opinion, Borges has always been leaning to the more elegant side and with lower acidity than other producers.  I had to revise this old impression of mine when having a lineup of the company's wines. Sure, the younger wines still do have a lower acidity but the variation when ages goes up and Colheitas are added, are bigger than I had expected. For example, is the 10 year old Malmsey a brilliant example of sweetness balanced by acidity. Also I find a slight change in style in more recent bottlings tending to be more fruit driven and concentrated than older bottlings.

Walking around the Borges’ facility with Ivo is great, getting the chance to see the different parts of the process. With MWC's very modern equipment in mind, I am yet again reminded of just how different the conditions are amongst the various producers.

“Wait here, Ivo says, I will just bring the key.”

Entering the Canteiro with the oldest casks demands a key. The quantity of casks are much less here - once Borges was famous for their larger quantities of old wines, today these are diminished to a small number surviving. Actually the really old ones are in demijohns, hidden in a corner waiting ... what?  Ivo pulls the cork on one of them:

“Here, smell this one,” he says.  Caramel, vanilla, smoke and wet earth jumps out of the demijohn filled with a 1887 Terrantez!  Its heavenly and I ask Isabel later if they are going to bottle them for sale.  “No, we can't sell them? she says. “IVBAM regulations prohibits the sale because we can't certify the origin and age. They were bought so long ago, we don't have any documents to prove them.”

I can't but think it is sad these will just be standing there in a corner. Naturally the wines can be enjoyed by the owners, but it's probably a substantial amount of money they miss out not being able to sell them. Pity, I would have bought one even if it says only - wine 1887 - on the label!

Ivo pours a 2009 just to let us taste the latest harvest. Having tasted samples of other producer's 2009 Tinta Negra Mole as well, I am thrilled the style differs so much. This one hadn't undergone estufagem yet and it had a nose reminding me of a young ruby port meeting a French Maury. A bit medicinal on the nose, reminding me of cough medicine, but with fresh newly crushed red berries in the background. A touch of herbs and wet earth. Very educational to sample!

Borges Colheita's are impressive and very different from the style I usually thought was the trademark of the company. The 1998 Colheita Malmsey (92 points) harvest is most impressive in its floral and darker style. Burnt sugar, vanilla and figs on the nose. A quite full bodied style with fine acidity accompaniment.  More modern in its approach with fine fruit, powdered sugar, nutmeg and flowers in the taste. Long refreshing finish. Bravo!

Frasqueira's, Colheita's and Solera wines, I admit, are the ones that really gain my attention. I am on the hunt for extraordinary wines and experiences but my wallet doesn't always permit too much extravagance, so when finding a 10 year old wine which really delivers, I am most enthusiastic!  One of those is the 10 years old Malmsey Reserva Velha (91 points) from Borges. Not only is it a really good glass of Malmsey, it is also priced at 16 Euros in the lodge, which is a great bargain!

The style doesn't differ that much from the Colheita Malmsey. A bit tougher in its appearance with dark chocolate, flowers, peaches, burnt sugar and smoke on the nose. Fine, high and most refreshing acidity gives this Malmsey's sweetness balance. I know, this is what attracts me, and do you share my passion for acidity gripping freshness?  If so, then you must go visit the Borges.

Ivo then pours a Boal 1977 (93 points) which has fine amber color. With some age Boal delivers a scent that I refer to as terroir; the dusty summer road. It is present here as well and together with fudge, sugar cane, herbs and dates it is an elegant version of a Boal. Elegance is also the trademark in the mouth and the style is just what I expect to emerge from Borges. I like it a lot and its dusty, vanilla fudgy taste goes well with the honey and figs that comes after a while. Fine acidity in a mineral driven finish.

My last glass in the prepared tasting was the celebration wine of Funchal’s 500th anniversary. The more than 40 years old Malvazia (95 points) blend is an extraordinary wine. Limited in its production to a 1,000 bottles it is already sold out a long time ago. This is divine! A dark amber color with the already mentioned bouquet of orange peel, sugar cane, nutmeg, vanilla and old casks. What is it with fine wine that always tickles my nose - and almost makes me sneeze?  This one does it and perhaps it is the wine's concentration and glass filling bouquet? A great complexity both in the bouquet and taste and I find myself returning to that specific glass several times during the tasting. Just to smell it!

It is, for a blend, very concentrated and the amalgamated taste is pure love. White peaches, pipe tobacco, sugar cane, vanilla and ground coffee backed up by the dusty road. Long, lingering finish. No, this one I don't spit; it would not only be rude it would also be a waste of ages, even if it's not even lunch time yet!

“Do you wish to taste our Solera?” Isabel asks as the discussion regarding the Solera's of the island deepens.

Ivo brings the 1940 Solera (94 points) and pours a glass. A fine amber color. Elegant nose that folds out in the glass. Almost floral on the nose with figs, dates and corinth. Fine fresh tobacco and some old cask feel. Lovely balance, medium sweet in a medium body and with good intensity. Not that acidic but what a delicious glass!

It is not mentioned during the tasting, and I actually first found out when returning home, that the 1940 Solera originates from the extinct producer of Veiga França (see the eminent Madeira Wine Guide by Peter Reutter). Bought by Borges who continued the cask ageing before bottling, I am most happy to have two bottles left from the Veiga França Solera 1940 to compare with. But frankly, the Borges version has gained weight, or rather intensity, compared with how I remember the younger bottling from the extinct Veiga França.

Now, where do I find a bottle of the celebration wine? I need something that splendid to compete with the sunset this summer as well!

Henriques & Henriques: descendants of kings

Next time we visit Madeira we already know where to look for residence. Câmara de Lobos is such a wonderfully located village with a friendly small town feeling to it, nice restaurants, breathtaking view, close proximity to Funchal and oh yes; there's a wine producer too, Henriques & Henriques (H & H).

One of the major players on the island's wine scene, H & H and its associates Casa dos Vinhos da Madeira, Belem's Madeira Wine, António Eduardo Henriques Ltd and Carmo Vinhos, are most likely the number one attractions of this fishing village.

It's a sunny day when we arrive at the impressive building in Belém, located in the western part of Câmara de Lobos. Greeting us in the entrance is a giant cask saying Verdelho 2002 and signs with all the associates of the company. Our cicerone, Mr. Humberto Jardim - president of Henriques & Henriques, welcomes us and takes us for a tour around the lodge while telling us about the company.

Like Pereira d’Oliveira, H & H was also founded in 1850, and has a long and interesting history. For many years the company's own vineyards supplied the grapes needed, but then came the socialist revolution in Portugal that changed everything. When the freeholders of the land got the possibility to buy their plots it resulted in H & H only having a few hectares left around 1974. But some more recent plantings have made H & H owners of about ten hectares of vineyards making them the largest landowners on the island. That however, doesn't nearly meet the demand from one of the bigger producers of Madeira wine so a majority of the grapes are bought in from many contracted growers.

With a reputation of being a modernist and representing a more powerful and concentrated style of Madeira wine I had my reasons for publishing the visit to H & & as one of the last, even if it was our first producer's visit during our five weeks of vacation in Funchal.  Mr. Humberto Jardim most generously poured an extensive tasting which gave a good indication of the company's trademark. After having visited other producers I can only confirm; this is a powerful and concentrated style of Madeira. And I like it a lot!

Walking the Belém lodge is a tour filled with contrasts. Impressive with giant stainless steel tanks expressing a modern approach, but next to them you will find the cooper's room where repairing ancient casks for the Canteiro wines makes a good contrast.

“He is very good,” Humberto says and tells us how hard it is to find good cooper's and people willing to learn the profession.  Then a walk upwards and out to check the building, surroundings and the view. In front of the lodge is a library.

“I wonder if anyone thought of the risks before building a library a few meters from the ocean,” Humberto says. “With the salty winds it won't take long before the books will be damaged,” he continues.  We then entered the Canteiro, which also houses the tasting room for visitors. One can't ask for better surroundings when sampling wine, sitting next to a Solera 1898 cask, or a rare cask of Moscatel or Terrantez.

On the same floor there's a shop and a smaller historical part with very nice photographs from the days when the “borracheiros” men who transported the grape juice right after pressing, was carrying the wine to Funchal. From remote parts of the island they carried the juice in skins of goats or lambs which they put on their shoulders. A borracheiro could carry 70 liters, walking their way to Funchal. It certainly puts things in perspective - especially considering it is not that long ago that the borracheiro tradition disappeared as the method of transporting grape juice on the island of Madeira.

Down one floor and now it's time to taste! Humberto shows us the laboratory, the wine maker runs by, and finally we're in the tasting room.  “You won't get a word out of him,” he says smiling and referring to Luis Pereira.  “He's so good at what he does, but is also a bit shy,” he smiles.  I find myself thinking, ‘A real winemaker’ letting the wine take center stage and not himself.  Naturally, when Mr. Jardim understands we're from Sweden, the discussion about the Madeira sales in our country becomes interesting. Sweden has been an important market for decades, for not only H & H, but for the whole of Madeira. Sadly, as with many other northern countries in Europe, the fashion tends to go towards a style of wine that's not synonymous with Madeira.

The latest statistics from IVBAM places Sweden as the 8th most important market for Madeira wine with 111,240 liters imported in 2009. Just to give the stats some comparison, the entire U.S.A. bought 135,779 liters in 2009. America is also a historic and important market for Madeira, but as with Sweden the fortified wine is losing its popularity.

H & H can't be accused of not trying to reach new consumers. Let's take the young and dry Monte Seco (83 points) that starts the tasting as an example. With its youthful color, almost resembling a fino sherry, it is by far one of the company's most simple wines. Yet I am fascinated by the wine that delivers a fruity bouquet with orange peel, almonds and smoke. As for Madeira bone dry taste; Humberto Jardim mentions it is the Madeira with the least sugar on the island.  No alcohol shining through which often is a problem in the younger wines, I believe, but its almonds, fruity straight forward taste is simple. Nonetheless; great value for money and a worthy competitor to challenge Fino sherry of similar price levels for your choice of aperitif.

Many wines were tasted and besides the Monte Seco my concentration will stay on the Colheita's and 10 year old wines and upwards. Humberto pours me two colheita's; the Single Harvest 1995 (90 points) and 1998 (89 points). Both are Tinta Negra Mole's and it's good to see the grape can perform on its own. Never powerful or with the personality of the other noble grapes, it is still two wines showing that Tinta deserves attention. Coolest thing; styled totally different!

The Single Harvest 1995 is more what you’d expect from a Tinta Negra Mole with fine fruity bouquet, a bit herbaceous, medicinal and almonds. Quite elegant with less acidity though than the other H & H wines, wet earth, coffee, caramel and vanilla. Yet a bit herbaceous, with nice length and a wine that's easy to like.

The Single Harvest 1998 is such a contrast with its pronounced oak character. In fact I am so confused I simply have to pick up a bottle before leaving the lodge. I’ve never tasted a more modern Madeira but nonetheless it will have its followers. In some way I like it quite a lot, but it differs so much from what I expect from a Madeira, that I am not sure exactly what to think.

Following a bottle over some weeks makes me more and more convinced though that this is exactly what is needed for Madeira wine - if new consumer's are to find the island’s wine treasure. Coffee, vanilla, dark chocolate dominates the nose. Medium bodied with sweetness at Boal level without having its acidity though. Quite good concentration, a slight bitterness in the taste which otherwise copies the bouquet. Refreshing but you have to like oak to fall for this one.

I like the Sercial's from H & H. They differ in style comparing with other producers mostly because of the company's style resulting in more powerful wines. Both the 10 years old (90 points) and 15 year old Sercial (92 points) are fine wines that deserve attention. Sercial tends to show more of almonds than nutmeg, hazelnuts or walnuts but H & H style is more oaky and showing nutmeg together with vanilla, green apples, orange peel and smoke. The two wines are showing quite similar bouquet and taste, although it has to be added; the 15 year old has a bigger register and more complexity to it.

Actually all the 15 year old wines I tasted at H & H were extremely fine and well made Madeira's with personality and a great quality-price-ratio. We all want to drink vintage all the time, but I suspect it is only a few who can afford that luxury.  The 15 year old Sercial, Verdelho, Bual or Malvazia from H&H are wines to seek out when wines with age are your preference.

Switching to the Verdelho's, Humberto now pours the 10 years old (90 ) and 15 years old (92 points). Both are fine examples of Verdelho with the typical spiciness, orange peel, pears, smoke and nutty style. Actually it is not only pears on the nose - more of a general fruity feel so aromatic and typical of the grape. Just as is the case with the Sercial the Verdelho's complexity comes with age making the 15 year old quite a complex wine. But both wines are expressing a concentrated style, yet refreshing and with plentiful of acidity. Bravo!

It's interesting to note that at almost every visit to a producers’ winery, that they've all expressed their appreciation for Verdelho – and it seems to me, that it's their favorite. I'm not disagreeing - even I maintain that the grape is my number one choice.  But I wonder why if it seems to be so popular, it still continues to lose ground in the vineyards and is less and less cultivated?

I truly hope that noble grapes, as the aforementioned Verdelho, will see a renaissance in the future but I actually doubt it. When the average age of the cultivators are just getting higher all the time (today they're in their mid-fifties) and the next generation seems less interested; Madeira has some serious challenges to be reconciled.  There's a solution but as always it will end up costing a bit for the end consumer. Cultivator’s needs incentives - read better kilo prices paid for the noble grapes.

Humberto brings a bottle of Single Harvest Boal (91 points) from 2000. A bottle styled like a Frasqueira impresses with a more restrained style of Boal. I have said it before; in my opinion the Boal grape tends to be too straight forward and just sweet in its appearance when bottled very young.

But this wine shows some complexity already and has fine grape character that I just love - man, isn't it good to be wrong sometimes? Bouquet of sugar cane, wet rocks, smoke and fudge. A touch of vanilla as well.  Fine, semi sweet taste with really good acidity and minerals, lime peel, a floral touch and vanilla fudge. Good length. I would love to have the opportunity to buy this one at home!

The 10 years old Bual (89 points) and 15 years old Bual (91 points) are also very enjoyable, but here the age is more appreciated, making the 15 year old much better. Typical Bual with a green rim to it in the color. Fine oak in both of them giving the wines scents of ground coffee, toffee and sugar cane. The older version also has this mineral feature I like to call dusty road. Good acidity in them but the restrained sweetness in the 15 year old allows the acidity to feel more interesting in my case, as the acidity aficionado I am. Smoke, burnt sugar and vanilla in a full bodied style with fine length, where the 15 year old also shows ground coffee, makes them a good finale after a dinner. The sweetest style is now on the program and Humberto serves us three Malvazia's; the 10 year old (89 points), the 15 year old (91 points) and the 20 year old (93 points).

Let's start directly with the awesome 20 year old Malvazia; what intensity and what balance! Malvazia can so easily just become a sweet wine that doesn't make any dessert happier, but having a glass of the 20 year old Malvazia makes me wish I had aged Stilton next to me, just to get the beauty of contrasts. The acidity is just as mind bogging and gives depth to the wine. Floral nose with notes of figs, dates and raisins together with burnt sugar, vanilla and honey. Perfumed grape character in the taste that, together with fine oak treatment and a most present acidity, gives a refreshing and long aftertaste. Great stuff!

The 10 year and 15 year old Malvazias both have impressive power and for the house, concentration. Similar in both the bouquet and taste to the 20 year old but logically not as complex. These are wines that will pair with the local honey cake, Bolo de Mel, in a most satisfying way.

The garrafeira's Humberto pours, the trilogy of 1964 Sercial (95 points), 1976 Terrantez (94 points) and the 1980 Boal (94 points), are the masterpieces of the tasting.

The 1964 Sercial is a truly great wine with a concentration I rarely find in Sercial. A darker amber color. Roasted almonds, wood, lemon peel, paint and a touch of vanilla. Racy acidity although it is not for the weak one's. Impeccable balance and fine almond taste with vanilla fudge, green lemons, herbs and wet earth. Long, intense length. Impressive and one of my favorite Sercials tasted during our entire visit to Madeira

The 1976 Terrantez has elegance written all over it. Amber color. Caramel, coffee, wet rocks and a peach scent to the quite youthful bouquet. Elegant and classy taste with appetizing acidity backing it up.  Burnt sugar, wet rocks, fresh tobacco and ground coffee in the mouth backed up by a medium sweetness and a fruity feel to it. Long, lingering aftertaste. My wife's birth year and Humberto pours her an extra glass!  Madeira cognoscenti’s unite and do what's in your power to rescue this, the number one grape of Madeira!

The 1980 Boal is a massive wine and despite its young age it is already profound and complex. Amber color. Sugar cane, dusty road, vanilla and sweet tobacco in an intense bouquet. The taste is massive and I can't help but be impressed. How will this one taste given some decades further cask ageing?  Youthful semi sweet taste with smoke, burnt sugar and coffee. Mineral driven finish. A young wine with great individuality.

Filled with impressions we thank Humberto Jardim for a great tour around Henriques & Henriques. But we're not ready to leave yet - the Canteiro needs to be revisited and I also have the urge to drool on the extremely old wines they have!

The Grand Old Boal, the Sercial Reserva, the Malvasia and the WS Boal are of such age that they were considered old already in the 1850's! Most likely this is the closest I get to these bottles and although that might sound a bit depressing, it is actually quite cool just to see them. Humberto told me that the amount left now is so limited that they only sell a bottle or two once in a while - and then solely to long time customers.

We have a chat with the kind employees at the H & H shop before once again passing the giant cask saying Verdelho 2002 - this time on our way out.  We checked the golden sign of the associated partners of the firm and went for a walk along the harbor of Câmara de Lobos.

With the sea cliff of Cabo Girão and its impressive 580 meters in the background, the dramatic way of building, the tranquility and all the surrounding plantings of vines and bananas, it's easy to understand why Winston Churchill fell for the village and its surroundings and made paintings of the harbor and other local scenes.

We will also be back for a longer stay - revisiting H & H and, of course, Câmara de Lobos!

Vinhos Barbeito: a grand finale

”There are more modern instruments, but we like this old one,” Americo says when explaining for me how they measure the alcohol content in the wines.

We're standing in the laboratory of Vinhos Barbeito together with Americo Pereira who's guiding us around the ultra modern facilities of the company. But still, everything is certainly not just new, expensive and shining machines; the mix of respect for tradition and modern thinking has put Ricardo Diogo Freitas, the managing director, on the map as one of Madeira's shining stars.

Being one of the youngest companies, founded in 1946 by Mário Barbeito, the firm has since the joining of Ricardo seen new developments that make Barbeito quite unique in their interpretation of Madeira. A co-ownership with a Japanese company has most likely secured some financial stability - it is not easy being a Madeira wine producer these days - but in the end, it is all about one thing -- the consumer will notice: the quality that's in the glass!

Barbeito was badly hit by the flooding in Funchal on the 20th of February. Not the wine making or storing facilities, no, their retail outlet shop in central Funchal was hit and damaged severely. Many truly unique bottles were lost, wines that can never be replaced - and although insurance covers the losses, it is heart breaking to hear. But sadly it didn't stop there. Mário Barbeito, the founder of the company had yet a passion and that was Christopher Columbus.  Mário collected an impressive amount of literature and other documents on Columbus; all which was gathered after his passing away and made in to a museum. A museum in the cellar of Diogo's Wine shop....

The disaster that hit the Diogo's shop, and their museum, postponed our meeting with Barbeito making me even more excited for what was to come.  The day before leaving the island after five weeks, Americo made sure we received a most memorable experience to take home with us.

Showing up at the same time was also Maik Göbel, a real Madeira aficionado who also makes sure the wines can be enjoyed in Germany.  Americo gave us the grand tour around the facilities, checking out the different stations of the process such as the bottling machinery, the new mechanical lagares, the temperature controlled section and of course, the Canteiro.

After that a wide range of wines to taste and the one's mentioned below are as usual the one's in the upper end of the quality hierarchy. Not rated and judged were the samples tasted from 2009. However, since it was the last visit we had before going home, I got a great chance to compare them with previous cask samples from other producer’s places.  Barbeito's style does differ. It has more color, concentration and fruit that's different from other 2009's I’ve tasted.

“These are to be used in the Historic Series we produce for the American market and The Rare Wine Co.,” Americo told us.  Rarely am I that impressed by the younger wines, but Americo pours the exception, the 5 years old Sercial (86 points).  For a typical Sercial style with nice intensity and no alcoholic feel, this is really a good one. Also it is a good indication of what to expect from a producer when their simplest wines show this much class!

The 10 year old series by Barbeito really deserves attention from the consumer in search of a Madeira packed with personality, but without creating in a huge hole in the wallet. All of the four noble grapes on the 10 year old level impressed, but I have to be honest; it is particularly the Verdelho which I'm always making sure I have a bottle of at home.

For me, the 10 years old Verdelho (93 points) from Barbeito is the best example of the grape variety and age, amongst all the producers. The bouquet is all about elegance; Christmas spices, orange peel, smoke, fudge in a quite complex style. Fine, refreshing acidity in a medium dry style with notes of spicy fudge, wet earth and nutmeg. In Europe retailing between EUR 25-30 which only makes it even more fun to drink since you know it is not one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

I am almost just as fond when it comes to the 10 year old Sercial (91 points). Fine maturity even though young on the nose. Roasted almonds, herbs, paint, dried apricots and just a hint of vanilla. Dry and refreshingly acidic, this wine is the perfect starter together with a creamy mushroom soup. Almonds, mineral, green notes of lemon and an herbaceous touch to it. Quite intense finish.

The Boal and Malvazia are fine wines as well, especially the sweeter one, although they don't really reach the same level as the Verdelho. The 10 years old Boal (90 points) has notes of caramel, wet rocks, burnt sugar and dried fruits to it in the bouquet. Fine balance between acidity and sweetness complemented by candy like taste of fudge, vanilla and just dried fruits. Elegant taste of caramel and mineral in the finish.

The 10 years old Malvazia (91 points) shows typical grape notes with its floral touch on the nose, backed up by sugar cane, figs, dates and orange peel. Big nose. In the mouth it impresses with fine intensity, figs, dates, spices and flowers in a sweet but balanced style. Long, lingering finish.

Americo now pours a lineup of Colheitas starting with the 1997 Single harvest Tinta Negra Mole (91 points). The grapes comes from a single vineyard in the lower parts of Estreito de Câmara de Lobos and shows how good a Tinta Negra actually can be if given the proper treatment and respect. 3,849 half liter bottles were made and the result?   A fine straw and slightly amber color. Lovely citrusy aromas, lemon peel, almonds, fudge and a scent I recognize as wet earth. It's pure, refreshing and the old oak casks adds a nice complexity to the grapey style. Fine and elegant in the mouth it never loses its freshness and stringency. Not a blockbuster - this is simply a perfect wine to sip as a starter or refresher between meals. Fine acidity, although not as present as in the other noble grapes, which balances the sweetness well.

The VB Reserva Meio Seco is an oddity, one that stems from a purely random result!  Americo tells the story of how he and Ricardo were tasting through a wide range of wines in their retail outlet shop of Diogo's one evening. When getting tired they had without thought poured the Bual and Verdelho in the same glass and later that evening, when Ricardo was smelling them, he reacted to the glass with the accidental mixture. Both were impressed by the result and the random pour resulted in the bottling of a blend of the 2001 Bual and the 2003 Verdelho, Cascos 12d and 46a (92 points).

A fine light amber color. Spicy, smoky and quite fruity with notes of apricots and white peaches on the nose. Hazelnuts, smoke, toffee and a most refreshing taste of grapefruit! Long, medium dry finish with a lingering mineral feel. Fun!

The 2001 Boal Cascos 48 and 84 (92 points) - a palindrome Ricardo couldn't resist when finding out how well the casks had developed. Intense, caramel nose with smoke, apricots, orange peel and toffee. Lovely bouquet! The medium sweet taste, is quite powerful and is harmoniously backed up by impressive acidity and the notes of vanilla, dried apricots, sugar cane syrup, wet rocks and fresh tobacco are splendid. Long vivid finish.

I have said it before in a post on the 2000 Malvazia Single Cask 40a (93 points) - this might be the best Colheita Madeira I’ve tasted. Tasting it now, at Barbeito's only makes the experience even better!

The funny thing about this bottling is that it wasn't meant to be. In March 2007 Ricardo Diogo V. Freitas decided that amongst the 32 casks of their 2000 Malvasia, cask 44a was to be bottled as a single cask Malvasia. But the bottling never started and the delay ended up with the cask staying in the 620-liter oak barrel. In November the same year Ricardo re-tasted the casks and found that the cask 40a had developed impressively in the period between April and October, most likely due to the hot summer of 2007, which made him reconsider. 40a had gained more concentration, weight and had also developed a nice freshness. So the cask, with a capacity of 750 liters, ended up being bottled in January 2008. 1,026 half liter bottles. That's it. No more, no less!

Almost like perfumed grape juice this wine catches me right away! The oak is there and there’s also some orange peel, fudge and matchsticks. Sulfur you think on the last sniff, but I am not sure. More of a feature from the soil.  However, it is an elegant bouquet with lots of freshness and grape aromas! Even if it's less than a decade old it is still showing some fine complexity in the mouth. What strikes me is the balance between acidity and the grapey sweetness. Delicious! No signs of oxidation in the taste but some scents of raisins and figs can be detected. Flowery and long, long extract filled finish. Bravo! Worth an effort trying to find one of these thousand+ bottles made of this rare and true beauty!

Madeira aficionados in the UK; I envy you. The two bottlings Americo now pours are uniquely for Fortnum & Mason who sends their team every year to find a really good Colheita to go with the pudding.

- They try a lot of casks before settling for one that then is bottled and sold during Christmas in UK, Americo tells us while serving the 2001 Malvazia from Cask 426 a (92 points).

It's such a nice Malvazia, although it doesn’t quite reach the same heights as the 2000 Single cask 40, but still with young, vivid, floral nose and dates, peaches and burnt sugar backing up. Good intensity, enough acidity to balance and a mineral feel to it. Dates, grapey taste, wet rocks, caramel, vanilla and a touch of ground coffee. Good pick Fortnum & Mason!

An even more exciting choice made by the classic English quality house of Fortnum & Mason is the 40 year old Boal (93 points). Bottled in 50 cl size, as is the Colheita, it is a splendid example of how good Boal can become with age in wood. Yet again I find the mineral feature that for me resembles a dusty road in summertime; it gives the wine that extra dimension and this is an awesome Boal! Quite dark amber color. Besides the dusty road the elegant bouquet shows spices, caramel, vanilla and tobacco. Elegant, intense and firm acidity in the semi sweet taste. Such a complex taste withnotes of vanilla, walnuts, herbs, dates and caramel. Long, pure aftertaste. Great wine - great Boal!

Americo pours four vintage Madeira's; the 1978 Sercial, 1988 Sercial, the 1981 Verdelho and the 1978 Boal. The Sercials are both tremendous wines where the 1978 Sercial (94 points) clearly shows what good age does to the grape. Roasted almonds, wet earth, paint, an almost fruity feel and vanilla fudge. Intense, yet elegant taste with the typical mind bogging acidity. Lime peels, wet rocks, almonds and nutmeg; all rounded up in a long finish. Love it!

The 1988 Sercial (92 points) is also typical for the grape and style but doesn't have the same nuances as the 1978. Though; quite rich and intense with a young nose with orange peel, nutmeg, paint and herbs. A more full bodied Sercial with good intensity, excellent acidity and notes of roasted almonds, wet earth, green apples and ground coffee.

The 1981 Verdelho (94 points) was extra exiting to taste since I have purchased it, and this beauty didn't disappoint! Actually one of the better young Verdelhos I've tasted and the explosion of spices, pears, wet rock scents, toffee and sugar cane in the bouquet is a joy! A dryer style of Verdelho in the mouth and a great wine to match with food! Great delineation and wonderful structure. The pears, spices, toffee and mineral feeling are so harmonious I just wonder if this would benefit from further ageing in casks. Long, intense aftertaste. I can't wait to try it when the mushroom season arrives and just gently fry some Cepes and Chanterelle's in butter and garlic, put it on a piece of roasted bread and sprinkle some Pecorino over it. Welcome to heaven!

The vintage Boal is excellent and shows potent power. 1978 Boal (93 points) is an explosion of caramel, syrup, hazelnuts, orange peel and a slight volatile touch to it which just makes it more exciting. Dusty road, mature red apples, smoke, tobacco and burnt sugar in the semi sweet taste which is nicely balanced by the refreshing acidity. If I didn't know my Madeira better, I would be shocked to hear about the residual sugar in a wine like this!

Finally, the Lote 7199 is a 20 years old Malvazia (93 points). I am amazed at just how good and concentrated it is for a blend. A wine to seek out for those who love Malvazia and desires a vintage wine but don't want to pay the price of Vintage Madeira. Elegance is written all over it and I get the feeling of a dusty warm summer road on the nose together with flowers, walnuts, smoke and figs. Excellent mouthfeel with the sweetness in perfect balance with the acidity. Concentrated with notes of figs, dates, ground coffee, orange peel and walnuts. Long finish. A wine not hiding its presence!

The 30 year old Malvazia Lote Especial (96-97 points)is a wine of gigantic proportions. One of the greatest non-vintage Madeira's I've had and it is almost so concentrated it hurts drinking the wine. With its most complex nose it jumps out of the glass and the floral notes, caramel, vanilla, dark chocolate and nutmeg seduces me. What a bouquet! The intensity in the taste is mind boggling and yet the wine is elegant. Believe it or not, but it actually reminds me a bit of the 1967 Chateau d'Yquem which the Malvazia Lote Especial shares some similarities to. The fresh dates, the floral touch, dates and figs together with tobacco may not sound as a Sauternes; no, it is more the awesome concentration they share. Never ending length with lingering acidity - this is what wine is all about!

Sold out and according to Americo it will take some years before Ricardo dares trying to create such a masterpiece again. Thankfully I found the bottle at Berry Bros & Rudd for, (if I may borrow an expression from the wine critic Robert Parker and adapt to this majestic piece) … life is too short not to drink the 30 years old Malvazia Lote Especial!

IVBAM and the last Bastardo

Admit it - Bastardo sounds more interesting than Trousseau. Unfortunately the growers on the island of Madeira disagree and today the grape is more or less extinct. You will find a plant at Rua dos Ferreiros 109 when you stand in the courtyard of the small family run firm of Artur de Barros e Sousa, and should you be invited to visit the experimental vineyard of IVBAM, you will find one row with Bastardo vines averaging 35 years – and a row with cuttings.

But first; let’s jump back a few days in time. In order to fully understand Madeira wine. You’re helped a lot if you know the rules of the game. Therefore, a meeting with IVBAM, the Instituto do Vinho, do Bordado e do Artesanato da Madeira, helps a lot.

Think about it; in 2008 Madeira produced 4,349,573 liters of Madeira wine. Not much in other words. Since the wine is most likely the trademark of the island one has to take care of it tenderly. No rules to follow and the risk is Madeira could lose its highest valued asset; if the rules were too strict the institute could be responsible for one of the few remaining producer/shippers on the island to fail. In other words, it's like walking a tightrope for the IVBAM regulators.

IVBAM is located at Rua de Janeiro, more or less on the opposite side of the road from H.M. Borges. Furthermore, they’re also located at Rua Visconde do Anadia where the directorate is situated. Here we met with the Presidente da Direcção, Paula Cabaço and the Divisional Head of Artistic Creation, Nadia Meroni. Their assistance in helping us understand IVBAM's role, provide us with all thinkable material and offering visits to their experimental vineyard outside of Calheta, and the wine production site at São Vicente, were most generous.

Now, the Campo Experimental outside Calheta, on the western part of the island, sadly will uproot its Bastardo vines soon. Why?  That is what I wanted to understand and asked the question whilst standing in front of them - finally getting the chance to see the Bastardo vine on Madeira. Engº. Magalhães who runs the Campo explained that they had done all possible tests and experiments with the old Bastardo vines already and now needed the space for new experiments.

As the hopeless wine romantic I am, I couldn't understand why someone wanted to uproot these old beautiful vines, but Mr. Magalhães assured me that they had already taken cuttings from the vines and replanted them in a new row. All indigenous grapes must be preserved and it was only those old plants which had done their job now.

You see, this is the man’s job; to experiment and find out what is the best possible way to cultivate the indigenous grapes of Madeira, and communicate this to the people involved in the cultivation of grapes. Pergola or Gobelet? In which soil does Malvazia perform at its very best? Where should the Sercial be planted on the island?  Why does Terrantez have a history of being considered a difficult grape to cultivate? Are the Moscatel grapes grown on Madeira the same as the one found in Setúbal outside of Lisboa? These are some of the challenging tasks they struggle with here in the peripheral Calheta.

But it doesn't stop there!  Besides their main task which is to work with the noble grapes of Madeira, they also experiment with other Vinifera grapes in order to be able to recommend what grapes suit the land when it comes to table wine. Hence one will find all classic grapes being tested here from time to time.

Back to the Bastardo cultivar. A legendary wine needs a legendary story. Furthermore it needs to be of limited availability in order for the reputation to grow to mythical proportions and even better is if you can put 50 years to the story. Or why not 83 years because that is what most likely gave the grape its reputation.  We know of only a handful of vintages of Bastardo in Madeira, roughly speaking, during the previous 200 years. One stands out and that is the 1927. Maybe the greatest year ever for the Bastardo on the island.

One firm, a former partidista (maintainer of stocks which they aged and sold to shippers), Adegas de Torreao, had a quite large quantity of the 1927 Bastardo in cask. When the passionate owner Vasco Lojas passed away there was no one to take over in the family - or rather, no one seemed to have any interest.

Thankfully the old warehouse with its old casks ended up in the best possible hands when Pereira d'Oliveira bought them. And today you can actually buy a quite recently bottled 1927 Bastardo from them. Some is still left in cask today … and there you have it. A legendary wine based on a virtually extinct grape which few have tasted from Madeira, but with a story worthy of its legendary status.

But why doesn’t anyone want to cultivate Bastardo on Madeira? Is it really that tough? Actually no, although it tends to “bud” late, but that shouldn't be a problem on this island. The reason is more likely money and since the Bastardo can give irregular yields, most farmers rely on grapes that will allow them greater certainty to be able to cash in on their crop.  Who can blame them?  If it is someone who has been taught the dangers of a mono-culture it is the Madeirense - and with that followed a transfer to more reliable grapes. Sorry Sercial, Verdelho, Boal, Malvazia, Terrantez, Moscatel and....Bastardo. Tinta Negra Mole is the sheriff in town today.

So sitting there, next to the Bastardo vines in Calheta, Mr. Magalhães told me I might be one of the last to see the old Bastardos before they were uprooted.  Strange - it left me with both sadness and some bizarre selfish feeling.  Anyway; here they are - some of the last Bastardo's of Madeira!

And should you be inspired, wishing to take part in the legend of the 1927 Bastardo, then check out Pereira d'Oliveira that stocks it, both in bottle and continued cask ageing. The price?  Oh, just a bit over EUR 220.  That is not much for a legend, right?


Due to most unlucky circumstances Justino’s wasn’t visited this time. It was a pity considering my fond memory of a certain bottle from this producer, which opened up the world of Madeira for me. However, that doesn’t stop me from taking the chance trying to sum up the clear differences in style between the producers of Madeira wine.

First of all; let’s divide them in two categories; traditional and modern. A traditionalist however doesn’t necessarily mean sticking solely to the classic track, but the style of the wines differ from the other type, the modern, that is -- more generous in their fruitiness.

As traditional Madeira producers, I put Artur de Barros e Sousa, Pereira d’Oliveira and H.M. Borges into this category. The latter producer, is showing more intentions for a modern approach though.

As modernists I put Madeira Wine Company, Henriques & Henriques and Vinhos Barbeito where the latter though is the least modern. For me, it seems Barbeito found a third road to walk down.

Amongst the more traditionally styled Madeira’s there’s a huge difference in style, if for example, you compare the neighbors, d’Oliveiras and Artur de Barros e Sousa.  While the latter has a more delicate touch to its wines, d’Oliveiras seems to strive for a combination of elegance and concentration, in a slightly oxidized style. Amongst the older companies, H.M. Borges’ elegance is their trademark but in more recent bottled versions, I also feel a more modern touch with accentuated fruit compared with the other two traditionalists.

There’s no doubt who represents the most concentrated Madeira – Henriques & Henriques is the most impressive and full bodied producer of Madeira wines, with a modern fruity touch to them. Madeira Wine Company introduced the other producers to a new thinking and although they have reduced their modern touch it is still, together with H & H, the one that in some wines can be confused for not being a Madeira.

Barbeito I would place in the middle, between traditional and modern thinking producers. The fruit touch to the wines is modern but they still have a general feel that bears more similarities with the “old school” style.

To put it in a simple way; Madeira offers a great variety of wines and the producers have all found their way of expressing it. After tasting more than 100 wines of high quality during our stay I can only raise my glass and toast to a unique wine that deserves so much more attention than it gets!


Roy’s Note:  This month’s Guest Corner contribution was written by Niklas Jörgensen who hails from Stockholm, Sweden.  His exploration of Madeira over the course of five weeks is recounted in this well written article.  The fact that Niklas brought his family to Madeira for such an extended vacation has me rethinking my own priorities.  This is a fascinating look at what the island has to offer.

By | 2016-11-18T10:24:09+00:00 June 15th, 2010|Categories: Guest Corner Articles, Madeira, Travel Tales|Tags: |0 Comments

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