Wine Everyday was recently invited to attend the Trade Tasting of 40 Madeira Wines at the Astor Center in New York City held on Monday, June 18, 2012. Although I had a scheduling conflict, I enlisted the help of my long time wine friend and fellow wine collector, Gregg Sharenow. Gregg and I have been sipping, sharing and exploring wine together for over 22 years, and I was confident he was the right person for this event. He is here to share his first article for Wine Everyday.
I have to admit that I had to do some research before embarking on my latest wine adventure; a tasting of 40 wines from Madeira at the Astor Center in N.Y. City. I know what you’re thinking; Madeira is the sweet white wine with the wicker-covered bottles that your parents and grandparents consumed on special or not so special occasions. That was sort of my recollection of Madeira. Well, I was in for a very pleasant surprise as none of the bottles were covered in wicker and many of the wines were truly outstanding. After tasting so many terrific Madeiras, I do think they deserve a chance to occupy a place in your wine collection.
Here is some brief background information that I gathered during my research. Madeira, which is produced on the Portuguese island of Madeira off the North African coast, are fortified wines (averaging between 17% – 22% ABV) that range in style from dry to very sweet. The wine, as we know it today, was accidentally created in the 18th century when ships returned from the West Indies with unsold wine that had been exposed to excessive heat in the ships’ holds. As it turned out, the wine that returned was much preferred over the wine that had been shipped because the heat aged the wine and made it more complex. Eventually, processes were created to heat the barreled wine for a prolonged period of time so they could avoid having to send the barrels on long ocean voyages. This heating process and the addition of neutral grape spirits (fortification) also makes the wine extremely long lived, even after opening (I’ve been told the wine will not spoil for years after opening). Of historical note, Madeira was used to toast the Declaration of Independence.
As I mentioned, the wines are produced in styles from dry to sweet and most of the better wines possess great balance as their acidity levels offset the sweetness. The sugar content depends on the grape variety used to produce the wine. There are several varieties that can be blended to produce Madeira (predominantly Tinta Negra). However, the finer wines are produced from one of four single white grape varietals. From dry to sweet, the grapes are Sercial, Verdelho, Boal and Malvasia (aka Malmsey). Generally, you will find bottles labeled by grape varietal, cask aging (5, 10, 15 or more years), Vintage (single year wine aged for a minimum of 20 years) or Colheita (single vintage wine aged no less than 5 years).
After drinking almost 40 wines, I discovered that I enjoyed the 15 year old, Vintage and Colheita wines most. The 15 year wines were definitely rounder with a softer mouth feel than the younger wines, although the younger wines were quite good as well. Some of the much older wines I tasted were the Oliveiras Boal 1968 and 1908 and Verdelho 1912. All of these wines were well balanced, wonderful wines that did not seem to lose anything from their many years in cask and bottle. If you could find these wines on your wine store shelves, they would retail for more than $500. Some of the terrific and much more affordable wines I tasted retail between $35 – $50 and many of the five year wines can be found for less than $20. Here are some of my favorites that are reasonably priced and can generally be found on U.S. wine store shelves; Broadbent Malvasia 10 year ($40), Broadbent Colheita 1996 Fine Rich ($45), Henriques & Henriques (H&H) Malvasia 15 Years ($39), H&H Boal Single Harvest 2000 ($?), Rare Wine Company Charleston Sercial, Boston Boal, New York Malmsey Special Reserves ($45 each), Cossart & Gordon 10 Year Boal ($35), Blandy’s Colhieta Malmsey 1994 ($50), Borges Verdelho 20 Years ($TBD).
Flavors that dominate these wines include caramel, vanilla, toffee and citrus. Pairing food with the different wine styles could be a lot of fun. As one of the vendors suggested, the Sercial is best consumed with spicy dishes like grilled shrimp with spicy paprika. The Verdelhos suggested pairing is with cream soups and foie-gras. The sweeter wines like the Boal’s and Malmsey’s are great on their own as a dessert wine (I found the Malmseys to be rich and syrupy with a delicious explosion of toffee and caramel flavors that last on your palate for very long time) or with rich foods like blue cheese or chocolate. Most of the vendors suggested that the wine be served at cellar temperature.
Whatever Madeira style you choose, I don’t think you could go wrong. They are well balanced, delicious wines that have only recently landed on U.S. wine drinkers’ radar. This is a nice wine to introduce to people who have never experienced them before. I also think they are a pretty good value since they last so long after opening. Enjoy!
Many thanks to The Dunn Robbins Group for the invitation to this grand event.