If you are discovering this blog with this post I would recommend that you scroll down and read the first three days of the Madeira diaries, which relate to the island/climate/growing conditions, the Blandy family and the way the wines are made. This will give you the background information to understand the material of this post.
The most common question that I have been asked since the Madeira experience began is, “so the wines are like Port?” While there are some similarities in the way the wines are made and their alcohol content, they have little in common. What makes Madeira so unique is the result of the aging process. Unlike most table wines where the producers try to minimize the effect of oxygen in the aging process, in Madeira it is encouraged. This causes a concentration of the flavor compounds of the wine and encourages a wide range of exotic aromatic compounds, the result of the wine slowly breaking down. What protects the wine is an almost inconceivable level of acidity, always over 6 grams per liter, which also limits the need for sulfur in aging or bottling. (For perspective most Napa Cabs are usually a little more than 4 grams per liter.)
When the Blandy’s winemaker, Francisco Albuquerque begins the blending for each wine, he starts with a pallet of thousands of barrels and tanks of Madeira aging in their lodges. His mission is to craft blends that are typical of the style of that grape. For example Sercial wines are typically the driest, Verdelho slightly off dry, Bual finished semi-sweet and Malmsey a fully sweet wine. There is a lesser style, called Rainwater, which is produced using only Tinta Negra Mole, the lone black grape variety on the island, which is typically pretty dry. By using barrels of wines from different years he can create consistent blends with dimension and complexity. If you can imagine, Francisco creates 80+ wines per year, for the Miles, Leacock’s, Cossart-Gordon and Blandy’s brands, all owned by the Madeira Wine Company.
The notes you see here are from a comparative tasting, led by Mr. Albuquerque, to study the differences between the wines. You will note some similar adjectives between the varieties as well as some that are unique to each wine.
Blandy’s Madeira “Rainwater”
100% Tinta Negra aged at least 3 years with a small amount of old wine to boost the aromatics
75-77 g/l residual sugar (RS), 6 g/l total acidity (TA)
Nose of tumeric, orange marmalade, dried strawberry, slightly maple; bright on the palate, almost crunchy, picks up a nice sense of fruit mid-palate, quite long but sharp edged.
$25 per 750 ml bottle
Blandy’s Madeira “Alvada”
A proprietary bottling of the company, almost equal parts of Bual and Malmsey
120 g/l RS, 7 g/l TA
The nose is almost resinous; juniper, hickory, candied orange peel, dried date, faint gorgonzola dolce; Palate is quite rich and full to start, sweetness fades mid-palate and acidity cleans it up.
$25 per 500 ml bottle
The ten year old series are typically made from a blend of six or seven vintages with the blend exceeding the average age. All are $38 per 500 ml bottles and are in stock. There is also a similar series of 5 year old blends that are in stock for $33 per 750 ml bottle.
Blandy’s Madeira Serial 10 year
45 g/l RS, 7.5 g/l TA
Savory nose of toasted almonds, aged sheep’s milk cheese, dried sage/rosemary/thyme, fresh orange peels. The palate initially shows sweet but searing acidity cleans it up quick, crunchy/citrus like finish.
Blandy’s Madeira Verdelho 10 year
78 g/l RS, 6.5 g/l TA
Sharp nose of grapefruit rind, bitter orange, coriander, sea salt, new leather, cracked black peppercorns; Palate is surprisingly round and balanced, brief flash of sweetness before the acidity perks up at the finish to dry it out.
Blandy’s Madeira Bual 10 year
95 g/l RS, 6.0 g/l TA
Exotic notes of toasted caraway seeds, Worchestshire sauce, caramel, toasted walnut shells, bit of soy sauce; In the mouth it is nicely plump and broad, high acidity but not as obvious, very long, persistent barely sweet finish.
Blandy’s Madeira Malmsey 10 year
127 g/l RS, 6.0 g/l TA
Obvious streak of green herbs (parsley?) then savory back notes of roasted beef bones, sea salt, dried chantarelle mushrooms, candied orange peel, allspice, green cardamom; In the mouth a more obvious sweetness at first, good balance of acidity but not aggressive, very long and slightly more sweet than others.
The remainder of this list are wines we tasted during several sessions of the trip, mostly with meals. They are not available for sale, at least not yet.
The Colheita designation was created by the Blandy’s family, at the encouragement of the Symington’s, to represent great wines that are not yet entitled to the vintage designation. Vintage Madeira must be aged at least 20 years in cask before bottling, Colheita’s by law must be aged for 5 years.
Blandy’s Maderia Sercial Colheita 1998
47 g/l RS, 9 g/l TA
Bright nose of cinnamon broom, dried tobacco,butter brickle ice cream, some dried orange peel; palate is quite keen edged but very concentrated, has a slightly sweet, rounded edge, for a second, then it shears off but very long.
Blandy’s Madeira Verdelho Colheita 1998
77 g/l RS, 6.3 g/l TA
Savory, Maduro cigar wrapper, orange marmalade, candied pecan; palate is quite rich and concentrated, has a very nicely focused edge and very good persistence.
Blandy’s Madeira Bual Colheita 2002
96 g/l RS, 8 g/l TA
The nose is quite savory, orange pekoe tea, cinnamon, allspice and clove, dried dates and black figs, some candied kumquat; searing acidity shoots up then very it fleshes out just a bit, quite long.
Blandy’s Madeira Malmsey Colheita 1996
Extremely rich nose of juniper, vanilla, tangerine skin, green pepper corn; Palate is quite deep but with searing acidity carrying it the whole way, very long, very concentrated.
Blandy’s Madeira Malmsey Colheita 1999
125 g/l RS, 7.5 g/l TA
Quite rich nose of vanilla, toasted oak, marzipan, orange marmalade,(no green); quite vivid, acidity sheers off the sweetness but very long.
The following are a collection of vintage bottlings sampled during our formal tastings (with statistics) and with meals (no statistics.)
Blandy’s Madeira Verdelho 1979
82 g/l RS, 9 g/l TA
Interesting aromas of wall paper paste, brown sugar carrots, aged sheep’s milk cheese, beef bouillon; Palate is quite sweet at first, extraordinary concentration, very long although dries out quite a bit during the long finish.
Blandy’s Madeira Sercial 1975
58 g/l RS, 8 g/l TA
Words could not describe this wine, or at least I forgot to write a tasting note?
Blandy’s Madeira Terrantez 1976
This is a very rare variety on the island, considered by most producers as the finest quality
100+ g/l RS
Nose is deeply salty, beef broth, dried mushroom, toasted caraway seeds, blood orange caramel; Palate is nicely sweet at first, vivid acidity and a mushroomy, earthy quality, very long, still almost dry.
Blandy’s Madeira Terrantez 1977
Exotically sweet nose of vanilla, creme brûlée, cardamon, nutmeg, Maduro cigar wrapper, orange marmalade; Palate is quite rich to start, has vivid acidity but an almost tannic bitterness, (high cisinic acid), sheared finish.
Blandy’s Madeira Bual 1966
76 g/l RS, 10.5 g/l TA
Nose is quite syrupy, blood orange caramel and bitter orange marmalade, Claro cigar wrapper, maple syrup; Palate is quite vivid and tight, very nice concentration but held up quite a bit by acidity. This one might last forever.
Blandy’s Madeira Bual 1920
Nose is almost citric, beef bouillon, toasted pecan, sea salt, juniper, subtle volatile acidity, treacle syrup, bitter orange peel; Palate is quite concentrated but vivid acidity, almost a streak of tannin, incredible, long, savory finish