The adventure continued as we flew from Oporto to Funchal, the blooming capital city of Madeira. The expansion of Funchal’s boundaries is ever increasing, with construction of new hotels, tunnels and condominiums seemingly unabated. However, even with all of Funchal’s growth and tourism, there is a distinct charm that remains inherently intact. Upon arrival, our guests enjoyed a day of leisure, most spent time either poolside or taking a swim in the Atlantic right at the edge of our hotel although a couple wandered into town to shop for some rare bottles of Madeira.
Reconnaissance took place in the early evening and a few moments later we were inside the adega introducing our guests to our friends at H.M. Borges. After a brief tour of the property we sat down and I led a tutored tasting of the Borges lineup of Madeira. The selection was designed to initiate our group, a few of whom were very serious Madeira aficionados, through the various grapes and styles of this venerable drink. They also became enamored with the native Madeiriense cake known as Bolo de Mel. Afterwards, we headed to our favorite Charruscaria restaurant to share a breathtaking sunset and view of the city from up in the hills overlooking Funchal, while dining on Espatada and a enjoying a fine bunch of wines, including one named after one of our California guests.
Shortly after breakfast we began our visit to the Madeira Wine Company and took a private tour of their museum like facilities. It was here that the second step in our Madeira education was to take place – learning the difference between the Estufagem and Canteiro production processes. The tasting that followed, led by Madeira’s renowned maestro, winemaker Francisco Albuquerque brought home our understanding of both production methods taking us from cask samples right through to some ancient beauties.It was great to see Francisco's protege Filipe Azevedo while there and also having the pleasure to meet Ana Soares for the first time. I highly recommend that any visitors to the island see MWC as the history and their Adega is not to be missed!
Next came a welcome and delicious lunch to satiate our appetites and prepare us for our next leg of the journey. D’Oliveiras quickly took our growing knowledge of Madeira to the next level. Mr. D’Oliveira graced us with a remarkably deep vertical tasting of his family’s Madeira going way back into the mid-1800s. I’d have to check my notes, but suffice it to say that fifteen or sixteen bottles were laid out to inspire us. It was this specific tasting which brought home those in our midst; that to this point had resisted the tantalizing temptations of Madeira and finally could no longer deny their affinity to its irresistible charms. Dinner that evening was no less stunning at one of the island’s finest eateries in a quaint al fresco setting.
Finally, our last day of the trip had arrived all too soon, but like the crescendo of a great symphonic piece we had saved a few gems for our guests. Offering a unique aqueous perspective of the island as we hunted for whales and dolphins, we made our way to the inimitable Fajã dos Padres. Landing dockside, we were greeted by our friends, Mr. and Mrs. Mario Fernandes and their daughter Patricia. We enjoyed a slew of barrel samples and hiked the entire breadth of their property. After visiting the hallowed ground of the esteemed Fajã dos Padres vineyard, we headed back for a tasting of some gems that were made from the grapes of that special place. Dining on fresh caught tuna a few meters from the ocean, we took in the awe inspiring views of not only the beach upon which we sat, but the vertical wall that all visitors look up to. Knowing that the proprietor Mario Fernandes and his family had never tried the 1950 Fajã dos Padres Terrantez, I brought a bottle from my cellar for them to try. We had decanted this earlier and enjoyed it for dessert just prior to our departure and the perfect way to thank our hosts for an exceptional experience. We had not spent much time exploring the island, so over the next several hours we saw the beauty of the South side of the island and wound up in Seixal.
Our last visit was to the Fernandes family property and adega, well hidden from tourists. Several of Mario’s brothers met us there and showed us around. We sampled from a number of their 7 casks and then sat in earnest to try another half dozen selections of their greatest achievements. We toasted to their late father, Manuel Euguenio Fernandes with a Madeira which had been vinified to commemorate his 96 birthday back in 2002, a year prior to his death. A long day had headed into early evening and it was time to head back to Funchal and we thanked our gracious hosts for their hospitality.
The trip was close to its finale, but first we had one great evening out at a fabulous seafood restaurant. Lots of bubbly, wine and some Madeira at the end of the evening. In retrospect, this was our best visit to Madeira with some incredible wines and visits to friends old and new. I am looking forward to the next trip to Portugal this summer and enjoying meeting another fine group of guests.