Tim's Wine

Highlights from a Glorious Trip in Tuscany

by timswine on Thursday, October 4, 2018

For those who follow me on Instagram (@timswinemarket) and FaceBook (@timswinemarketorlando) you probably saw the amazing trip I helped to host in Tuscany, along with Art in Voyage (@travelinstyle).   We stayed at Villa Laura, which is the farm restored by Diane Lane’s character in the movie Under the Tuscan Sun.  It was a magical setting and a great home base for our travels.

     During this trip we visited six wineries, all in the middle of harvest.  All of our hosts were very gracious and showed tremendous patience with me as I guided our eleven guests through the process of converting grapes into wine.  We were lucky enough to visit small and large, family owned wineries and see the process through several different lenses.


At each visit we tasted several different wines, typically those available to us in the US.  We also purchased a few bottles, often those not available in the US, for dinner each night back at the villa.  It is always wonderful to taste the wines with the people who make them, but there is also a reward in seeing how they work with food as well.  After all, the essence of Italian wine is to compliment food.

      Below is a list of wines that were standouts for me during our trip.  They are all available at the Orange Avenue store and can be ordered by your local TWM if you want to try them. (To be fair to the wines not listed, many are not yet available so I will feature those later in different clubs and weekly features.)

2016 Felsina Chianti Classico ($29)

2013 Felsina Chianti Classico  Riserva “Rancia” ($59)


For many years this has been one of my favorite Chianti estates.  Their vineyards are in the southernmost zone of Chianti Classico, Castelnuovo Berardenga.  This area lies closest to Siena and is lower elevation than the rest of the Classico zone, so the wines typically show great power.      

    The 2016 just arrived and is an excellent introduction to the powerful side of these wines.  This bottling is aged in large botti for year, then bottled and held for an additional six months in bottle.   It offers a dynamic combination fresh and tart cherries, new car leather and forest floor mushrooms.  You can drink this wine now or cellar it for up to five years.

    The 2013 Rancia is a single vineyard bottling, at one of the highest elevations in the zone and a perfect southwest exposure.  This bottling is aged in new French oak barriques for eighteen-twenty months, then bottled and allowed to rest another six before release.  Here the fruit is darker, with notes of blackberries intertwined with the tart cherries, as well as dried straw, tamarind and spice cake aromas.  The feel on the palate is dense but framed quickly by firm tannins.  This wine will be best from 2020 through 2030.

2015 Selvapiana Chianti Rufina ($22)

2013 Selvapiana Chianti Rufina Riserva “Bucherchiale” ($45)

       On our second day we traveled to the northern-most, and highest elevation, area for Chianti Classico, the sub-zone of Chianti Rufina.  This is in no way to be confused with the mass-production brand, Ruffino.  Selvapiana is one of the oldest, and most respected properties in the zone, with winemaking and management directed by Federico Giuntini, the sixth generation of the family.  The wines here are a little lighter than those of Felsina, but show incredible finesse.

     Their base level Chianti Rufina is aged in large, Slovenian casks for one year.  There was no Riserva Bucherciale made in this vintage so the bottling has a little more stuffing than their typical bottling. The nose is marasco cherries, violets, candied orange peel, dried blackberries and a very subtle hint of allspice.  On the palate it is very silky and balanced, with moderate weight, high acidity, and faintly obvious tannins.  Good 2018-2023.

     The impressive 2013 Bucherchiale, which Federico considers the best since 2009, is from a single vineyard, which faces southwest for perfect exposure.  This wine displays a sweeter, more obvious blackberry, raspberry jam quality, with notes of tarragon, chocolate covered orange peel and a kiss of porcini mushroom.  On the palate it is nicely dense, with intergrated but high tannins, moderate acidity.  Drink 2022-2033. (I have tasted several 20+ year old examples and this wine ages magnificently,)

2015 Podere Ciona Semifonte ($22)


     Made by the engaging Lorenzo Gatteschi, with help from his parents, this is a tiny estate producing incredible wines for the money.  Every offering is limited and this is the current wine to arrive in the US.  It is a blend of 82% Merlot and 18% Alicante Bouchet, aged in large oak for a year.

     As a “super Tuscan” this wine delivers a different nose than a wine made of Sangiovese.  The bouquet is red licorice, candied cherries, milk chocolate and rose petals.  On the palate it shows a nice concentration of fruit, with soft tannins and lowish acidity that frame it into the finish.  Only 120 bottles available.

     After visiting this estate and tasting through their impressive line-up again, I stand by my belief this is the best value in serious Tuscan wine you can buy for near term enjoyment.  Owner Federico Carletti has grown this from fifty acres he inherited from his father to now more than 900 acres, and yet every wine offers incredible quality, and value.

     Their flagship wine is produced from higher elevation vineyards near the village of Montepulciano, and aged in equal parts large botti, 400 liter tonneaux and 225 liter barriques for 14 months.   It is a blend of 85% Sangiovese and the balance in Colorino, Canaiolo and Merlot.   It shows notes of ripe black figs, candied cherries, sage, cedar, allspice and caramel.  On the palate it shows good texture, with moderate acidity and tannins.  Drink 2018-2028. 

2013 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino “White Label” ($79)

2013 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino “Tenuto Nuovo” ($125)

2015 Casanova di Neri Pietradonice ($89)


I do not believe there is a hotter estate in Montalcino, and perhaps all of Tuscany, than Casanova di Neri.  Giacomo Neri and his sons oversee every step of the production of their wines, using only estate grown grapes from their extensive vineyard holdings.   

     Their White Label is the wine found Giovanni Neri first made in 1971.  It is produced from vineyards near the winery on the southeast side of the town of Montalcino.  This wine is aged for four years in botti, then a year in bottle before release.  It shows a rich nose of old leather books, cinnamon and clove, white chocolate, fennel seed, birch syrup and luxardo cherries.  The feel on the palate is very dense and concentrated, with firm but integrated tannins and moderate acidity.  Drink 2023-2033.

     Their highly rated Tenuto Nuovo is a single vineyard bottling from a vineyard Giacomo purchased in 1985, in defiance of his mother.  It is a site located north of the town of Montalcino and was not considered ideal for ripening Sangiovese.  Twenty years later, various vintages have received numerous 100 point ratings and the 2004 was the Wine Spectator Wine of the Year.  Talk about a bet paying off!   This bottling is aged for 48 months in French tonneaux (400 liter barrels) and a year in bottle.  It is a bigger wine than above, with rich notes of dark chocolate, caramel, graham cracker, cinnamon, baked dark cherries, clove, dried figs and a kiss of balsamic syrup.  On the palate it is very dense and powerful, with firm tannins that are nicely integrated, with moderate acidity.  Drink 2023-2043.

      Finally, and new to our lineup, is their Cabernet Sauvignon, Pietradonice.  This wine is a single vineyard site south of the town and is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.  It is aged for 18 months in barriques, of which 25% are new.  It shows an enticing combination of cooked black currants and black cherries, herbs de Provence, lavender and dark chocolate.  Texturally it is extremely dense and broad, with firm tannins but bright acidity.


Poll: Americans Reach Wine Awakening at Age 29

by timswine on Friday, July 27, 2018

Source: https://uk.news.yahoo.com/

The average American has their “wine awakening” at age 29, according to new research.

A new study of 2,000 wine drinkers showed that the average Americans will only start to fully appreciate a good bottle of vino toward the tail end of their 20s, but how they get into it, and what they prefer, varies greatly.

The most common way Americans get into wine is from a friend, with 30 percent reporting that’s how they originally tried it. One in five (21 percent) discovered it on their own, and 17 percent were drawn into wine by a partner.

The average American can also name four wine types off the top of their head, and is most familiar with chardonnay (69 percent), merlot (62 percent), and rosé (58 percent).

According to the results, Americans are embracing wine and becoming knowledgeable on the subject earlier and earlier, with millennial respondents being able to name the most wine varietals off the top of their head compared to those older.

They could name five on average, whereas those aged 55 or older could only name three. Millennials are also appreciating wine at the youngest average age at 23 years old, compared to those aged 55 and older coming around to wine at age 34.

The new survey, conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Jordan Winery, found that zinfandel was the most popular first wine that awakened a person’s wine senses, with 17 percent saying it was the first they knew they liked.

Americans prefer their wine to be smooth (56 percent), fruity (48 percent), and sweet (47 percent), with chardonnay being voted tops as the wine that Americans are drinking most frequently.

Wine can be a rewarding treat after a long day, and according to the results, Americans will typically pour themselves two glasses a night, two nights a week. But one in four (23 percent) tend to wind down with a glass of wine four or more nights a week.

But how much of a connoisseur are Americans exactly?

Well they certainly act the part, as over half (56 percent) of American wine drinkers will sniff the glass before taking a drink, and another 48 percent will even give the glass a swirl before indulging.

One in four Americans (25 percent) even prefer wine over every other alcoholic beverage.

Why? Taste, mostly. Forty-six percent of all survey respondents think wine simply tastes better than other drinks, whereas another 43 percent say it better helps them relax at the end of the day.

And the reasons why wine is superior don’t stop there. Forty-three percent say it pairs best with food, and a third (34 percent) enjoy the health benefits that come with wine.

“It’s always great to be reminded that we’ve been on the right path with making wines specifically to pair with a broad range of foods,” said John Jordan, owner of Jordan Winery in Healdsburg, Calif. “I’m still surprised so many California winemakers have chosen to produce over-the-top wines that are high in alcohol and tannin, making them destructive at the dinner table.”

They say home is where the heart is, but according to the study, it’s also where the bottle is, as 64 percent of Americans are more likely to drink wine at home rather than at a restaurant.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in winery direct purchases for home consumption over the last five years,” said Jordan, whose parents founded the winery in 1972. “But, we’ve also seen a resurgence in wine sales at restaurants. Restaurants don’t seem to be losing business to at-home drinkers.”

Dealing with long wine menus at restaurants can be enough to frustrate and confuse 30 percent of Americans, and while having a sommelier provide insight as to what to order is nice for some people, one in five (19 percent) report they’re intimidated by them.

But when choosing a wine at a restaurant, familiarity with a brand is the biggest factor determining what people end up with a glass of, with 46 percent saying they will most likely order a wine they’ve had before rather than branch out into uncharted waters.

“This is precisely why we have focused on making quality wines of balance for four decades,” Jordan said. “Once you earn the trust of your customer, if you keep your promise, if you always deliver a quality product, they will remember you.”

Madeira Diary – Day 4 – The wines

by timswine on Thursday, October 15, 2015

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

Madeira Diary – Day 3 – Grapes, Winemaking & Aging

by timswine on Monday, October 12, 2015

If you are following these posts then you know by now that Madeira is a very special place.  The climate, geography and history alone make Madeira fascinating enough that serious wine fans should want to understand more.  This post will focus on what makes the wine so interesting; how the grapes are grown, the wines are made and then most important, the aging process.

When oidium and then phylloxera wiped out the roughly 50,000 acres of vines on the island between the 1850’s and the 1870’s, only a fraction of them were ever replaced.  The second death blow came between the Russian revolution and American prohibition, which eliminated the two top markets for the wines.  The 20th century saw a steady decline in wine sales and with that, vineyard plantings.  Today there are only about 3000 acres of vines planted on the island.  The average grower dedicates less than two acres to a vineyard planting, most of which are located on steep, terraced hillsides. The largest contiguous planting on the island is only about 100 acres and lies on the north side of the island.

In an effort to maximize the use of land, most growers plant their grapes using pergola trellising.  This is done by training the vines to climb poles and then the canes are dropped across a network of wires so the grapes can hang below the leaf canopy.  This serves two purposes, allowing the owners to plant the soil below with food crops and the leaves protect the grapes from sunburn.  I did see several vineyards using vertical trellising but the training of the canes is far less sophisticated than anything you will see in modern commercial vineyards.

According to the official reports 80%-85% of the vineyards are planted to a black grape variety, Tinta Negra Mole.  This variety is easier to grow and is used for less expensive wines than the higher quality white varieties, Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and Malmsey.  The reason it is so popular is the white varieties are quite fragile.  With regard to the white varieties, Chris Blandy told us that on many occasions they will examine a crop that is ready to pick on one day, then an evening rain will occur and the grapes can be ruined the next day before the pickers can harvest.  For this reason several other varieties are almost extinct, including Terrantaz, Moscatel and Bastardo.

For the quality producers the grapes are hand harvested and they use a color coded system of 25 kg plastic tubs to identify grapes they will be purchasing.  It is not uncommon that a producer has such as small parcel that their whole crop may be only a few hundred kilos of grapes.  These tubs are transported to the wineries, weighed then quickly processed.

Unlike producers of table wines, for Madeira there is very little difference in fermentation between the black and white varieties.  Tinta Negra is destemmed and at the Madeira Wine Company the grapes are fed down a long, 50 meter trough before being pumped into a fermentor.  This is the extent of the skin contact but as you will see with the aging process, that is not very important.  The white varieties are destemmed then immediately pressed off the skins and pumped into fermentors.  As Madeira is a fortified wine the alcoholic fermentations proceed until the wine is 5-6% alcohol, at which time neutral grape spirit is added increasing the content to 18-20% and arresting the fermentation.  Prior to the Symington ownership of the Madeira Wine Company (MWC), the wines were fermented to complete dryness, fortified and then grape must was added back to the wines to adjust sweetness.

What makes the aging process so specific to Madeira wines is the effort to simulate the effect of transporting the barrels across the ocean during colonial times.  In those years the barrels were loaded into the hold of a ship to act as ballast  for long journeys.  As Madeira was one of the main shipping ports for all English colonies the wines would spend months, and sometimes years, crossing the oceans.  During these trips the wine would evaporate, oxidize and concentrate, creating the unique character that is distinct of Madeira wines.  To simulate this process the wine producers of Madeira now store the wine in warm lodges (warehouses) and use a very unique aging process called estufagem.

At MWC the wines made from Tinta Negra Mole are treated differently than those of white varieties.  After the wines are fortified they are moved to large, 50,000 liter tanks laced with heating pipes.  The wine is then gently heated to a little over 110 degrees (F) where it is held for four months.  This is the estufagem process and is a way of hastening the aging that naturally occurs in barrel.  AT MWC the wines made from Tinta Negra are then used for their lesser labels, Miles and Leacock’s as well as the Rainwater wines (more about those on day 4) for Cossart-Gordon and Blandy’s.  I should also point out that at MWC a large amount of Tinta Negra is barrel aged as well and that too is blended into their Rainwater bottlings.

By contrast, after fortification the white variety wines are moved to oak barrels, where they are aged in four different lodges for years, often decades.  These lodges have several floors each and as you might expect in a sub-tropic climate the top floors are hot.  On the top floor the wines will loose between 8-10% of their volume through evaporation in the first year or two of aging, and unlike table wines the barrels are not “topped up.”  This allows for a greater level of oxidation, concentrating the wines and stabilizing the color, which eventually is brown.  (Remember I said that color was not important at fermentation?)  Each variety and vintage is kept separate, so the Blandy’s own thousands of barrels, tended by a team of 4 full time experts who repair any leaks.  For this reason the MWC have not purchased a new barrel in over 50 years and many of them are over 200 years old. These barrels are moved the around the lodges and the evaporation is closely measured and controlled. When there is not enough left of a particular grape variety and vintage the wine is moved to a collection of glass demijohns.  Chris hinted that they may come out with a “Demijohn collection” someday of the very best vintages.

The final step of the production occurs when winemaker Francisco Albequerque crafts each blend for the four MWC houses.  In an average year they bottle 80+ different wines, adhering to the traditional style of the four houses.  Francisco uses barrels from many vintages to create the blends that ultimately become the Rainwaters, 5 and 10 year blends, vintage wine as well as their latest creation, Colheita bottlings.  More on these with the Day 4 post.

Madeira Diary – Day 2 – The Blandy’s – 1808 to Infinity and Beyond

by timswine on Sunday, October 4, 2015


On our first full day on Madeira my travel companions and I were treated to a tour of the south side of the island on a fishing boat.  Although I am prone to sea sickness the waters were calm and we left the marina in Funchal on a small, 30 foot boat for a four hour tour.  Cruising along the coastline it is easy to appreciate the beauty of the island and the majesty of it’s size and steepness.  I can only imagine what thoughts were racing through John Blandy’s mind when the island came into view when he landed there in 1808.

At the time of his arrival the island must have been a beehive of activity.  Napoleon Bonaparte was on the verge of invading Portugal and the royal family was leaving for their colony in Brazil.  The English, recognizing the importance of Madeira as a deep water port to restock their ships bound for their colonies, invaded and without bloodshed secured the island in late 1807.  The twenty-three year old Blandy arrived on the island in early 1808 as the quartermaster for General Beresford, who led the garrison.  Being in charge of provisions for the garrison, Blandy must have realized the potential of the port and after his service ended he remained on the island, opening a business managing and stocking ships.  In those days one of the island’s biggest products was wine, which was used as ballast for the ships.


John built a very successful shipping business on the island but it was his eldest son, Charles Ridpath Blandy, who would ultimately make them synonymous with the Madeira wine trade.  It happened in 1852 when an oidium outbreak ravaged the vineyards of the island and threatened supply.  Charles purchased huge stocks of aging wine to ensure their supply and making them the largest brand on the island.

For the remainder of the century the family expanded into many other businesses, handed down from father to eldest son, but at their core they remained Madeira producers. In 1925,  before the great depression, they along with several of their competitors, formed the Madeira Wine Company  so they could share some logistic and supply costs.  Over the next decade the Blandy’s bought out their partners and now are almost the sole owners of the company that includes Blandy’s, Cossart Gordon (the oldest firm on the island), Leacock’s and Miles.

They are “almost sole owners” of Madeira Wine Company because in 1989 the family sold their ownership to the Symington family, owners of Graham’s, Dow’s, Warres, Cockburns and the Quinta do Vesuvio Port houses.  With their ownership they introduced new technology and ideas to the business, as well as hiring winemaker Francisco Albuquerque.  I will address these changes to the winemaking on day four, The Wines.  Then, after 22 years out of the business the 7th generation, Chris Blandy, repurchased most of the stock in 2011 and put the company back under family management.   Now, along with the Symington family they are laying the foundations for the Madeira Wine Company to be the leaders of quality Madeira for years, perhaps centuries, to come.

Madeira Diary – Day 1 – The fun is just getting there

by timswine on Friday, September 11, 2015

Madeira map

If you found this blog based on my social media posts then probably the first question you are asking is, “why is Madeira so special that Tim is flying 19 hours to get there.”  The second  question you probably should also be asking is, “what the hell is Madeira anyway?”

 The island of Madeira lies about 350 miles off the coast of Morocco, north of the Cape Verde islands that you hear referenced every time a tropical wave blows off the coast of Africa.  It is owned by Portugal and for that reason was an important part of the colonial trade triangle.  Boats carried slaves from Africa to the sugar plantations of Brazil, carried sugar and rum back to Europe and then down to Madeira, eventually, to load up on wine before that was carried to the new world.

      Madeira is a very special type of wine, that becomes interesting due to an extremely hot aging period.  In colonial times the casks of Madeira were loaded on ships and taken around the world, twice.  The constant rocking, heat and humidity of the ship’s hold “cooked” the wines and give them a very special, pronounced flavor.  You often see the word “cheese rind” used to describe Madeira, in a good way.  The wine geek term for this is “rancio” and is distinctive to wines aged under heat.  I won’t get too far into that with this post but watch early next week when I can post pictures and show you.

 Madeira vineyards     Madeira bottles

If you spend any time reading about the colonial period you will discover that our founding fathers spent a lot of time drinking.  Cider was the beverage of the daylight hours and Madeira was the tipple of choice in the evenings.  The wine was so popular in the English colonies, who would become the US, that we imported almost a quarter of the island’s total production.  Madeira was also the wine used to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence and Washington’s inauguration.

     Madeira’s popularity started to wane in the 1830’s when a disease called oidium struck the island and killed off a substantial portion of vines.  Just as the industry started to recover the root louse phylloxera struck in 1873 and wiped out most of the remaining 6000 acres of vines.  Since that time the major agricultural crop of this subtropical island is bananas, although wine is starting to make a comeback.

Tomorrow … The Blandy’s and Madeira in the 21st century