A couple of weeks ago, I lead seminars on back-to-back nights focused on the fortified wines of Portugal. The tastings were held in conjunction with Atlantic Wine Inc., a fine wine emporium in Atlanta. An educational Madeira event took place the first night followed by a comparative tasting of a dozen Vintage Ports the next afternoon into evening.
Atlantic Wine Inc.’s clientele comprised a nice mix of beginners, intermediates and a number of very serious wine connoisseurs. The Madeira seminar took place Friday evening at Twelve Atlantic Station which is part of Atlanta’s 12 Hotel chain. It turned out to be a fine venue for a tasting event.
Upon entering the room, there was a well-appointed banquet table splayed with a variety of hot and cold hors d’oeuvres. The room smelled beautifully once the Madeira was poured and the guests took their seats, raring to go. The Madeira lineup included a selection of ten bottles with several from The Rare Wine Company’s Historic Series and a handful of Vintage Madeiras dating back to 1912.
We discussed the vast array of grapes and styles that Madeira is known for including Sercial, Verdelho, Terrantez, Bual and Malvasia and also mentioned Tinta Negra Mole, Moscatel and Bastardo too. We then compared the island’s 5 key noble grapes and developed a clear understanding of their taste profile; ranging widely from driest to sweetest. This was an important dynamic for developing an understanding of the wines.
Here is the complete listing in order of our tasting:
- RWC Historic Series Charleston Sercial
- 1978 Barbeito Sercial Vintage Madeira
- 1912 D’Oliveiras Verdelho Vintage Madeira
- Henriques & Henriques 20 Year Old Terrantez
- 1988 D’Oliveiras Terrantez Vintage Madeira
- RWC Historic Series Boston Bual
- 1968 D’Oliveiras Boal Vintage Madeira
- RWC Historic Series NY Malmsey
- Broadbent 10 Year Old Malmsey
- 1950 Barbeito “FV” Malvasia Vintage Madeira
There was a brief explanation of the various categories like 3, 5, and 10 year old Madeira and we discussed the main differences between bottlings of Colheita and Frasqueira, (aka: Vintage Madeira). We explored the importance of America’s role in the scheme of Madeira’s financial success and detailed the specific shipping ports on the East coast which were key markets during the founding days of our country.
Additionally, there was a basic historical intro to Zarco’s discovery of the island and other critical elements such as the influx and devastating effects of oidium and phylloxera on the island’s vineyards and economy; details of the estufagem and canteiro production methods; and we ended up discussing storage, pricing and aspects of Madeira’s shelf life and ultimately, its invincibility.
Patrick B. the sponsor of these events and owner of Atlantic Wine Inc. thoroughly enjoys both Port and Madeira. It was a pleasure working with him and Jeff Madsen who helped coordinate the wines, glassware and the majority of the logistics.
The following afternoon, it was time to explore Vintage Port through a fascinating matrix tasting. Several of the guests who participated the night before showed up for this seminar too, which was held at Atlanta’s Valenza, an impeccably run Italian restaurant (dinner after the seminar was fabulous).
The private room was cozy but made it easy for me to focus on all of the participants and respond to their excellent questions. I really enjoyed this group as they were clearly enamored with Port and serious about learning as much as they could.
In all there were three flights of four VP’s apiece. Each was aligned by vintage and it was important to focus on the single best harvest from each of the three consecutive decades. By choosing four dissimilar shippers, it was my mission to show how Ports progressed as they aged; while also exhibiting the differences in “house style.”
Additionally, there was detailed information on the growing seasons for each of the vintages as well as some basic historical info on each of the four Port shippers. The guests were introduced to Port’s history of course; as well as the essential five Port grapes and the others approved for production by the IVDP; the layout of the Douro region; the fortification process; bottle vs. wood-aged Ports; decanting and storage and we finally touched upon some of the other Port categories.
Below is the list of all Ports we tried that afternoon:
- 1977 Dow
- 1977 Fonseca
- 1977 Gould Campbell
- 1977 Graham
- 1985 Dow
- 1985 Fonseca
- 1985 Gould Campbell
- 1985 Graham
- 1994 Dow
- 11994 Fonseca
- 1994 Gould Campbell
- 1994 Graham
As chosen by the participants: Fonseca was the clear winner of the 1977 flight and also of the 1985 flight, but Graham’s was the favorite of the 1994’s.
I look forward to revisiting Port & Madeira events in Atlanta, as it is one of our country's historically great cities and it possesses an amazing depth of fine dining options and an extraordinary concentration of wine enthusiasts per capita. I've only been down to Atlanta on a handful of occasions and each time, I depart with great respect for the sheer quantity of incredibly knowledgeable and generous wine consumers/collectors I meet there.