Have Some Madeira My Dear
Madeira producer, Blandy’s, celebrates its 200th year this year. The island itself was discovered in 1419 by a Portuguese mariner. With its rich volcanic soils and steep terrain, different varieties are planted at various altitudes, with the better varieties planted higher than others. The principal grapes are Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and Malmsey, which also correspond to the four styles of wine produced. The two dry styles are Sercial (Dry) and Verdelho (Medium Dry) while Bual and Malmsey are much sweeter, coming in at Medium Rich and Rich respectively.
In addition to the wine styles, Madeiras are also categorized by age, generally 5 years, 10 years and 15 years. Higher quality wines in particularly great years are designated with a vintage date and must be aged in cask for at least 20 years. Another well respected type of Madeira is a Colheita, which is similar to a vintage wine, but doesn’t have the same lengthy aging requirement.
To mark the special occasion, Blandy’s hosted members of the trade and press, giving them an opportunity to taste some very special wines including a Malmsey Colheita 1994, Malmsey 1985, Terrantez 1996, Vedelho 1968, Bual 1968, Sercial 1966 and Bual 1920. Given Madeira’s production, which includes deliberate exposure to heat, thereby cooking or maderizing the wine, these are wines with extreme longevity. Accordingly, all of these vintages still had a lot of life in them despite their age.
Among my favorites were the Terrantez (another permitted grape variety) 1976, which had a distinctly floral nose followed by a sweet palate of raisins and fruit cake, and the Sercial 1966. The latter possessed beautiful depth with a nose of honey and dried fruit, both of which persisted on the dry palate, joined by citrus and a briny note. For a more accessible (both in price and availability) option, the 5 Years Old Bual was absolutely lovely with cocoa, caramel and orange aromas and flavors.