In Love with Madeira

Rare Wine Co.’s Savannah Verdelho

At a recent industry Vinho Madeira wine tasting at the Hotel Monaco, I sampled through a range of vintages and producers of the fortified Portuguese wine produced in the Madeira Islands.

While some think sweet when they think fortified wines, I find one of the joys of Madeira is that there’s often funky, earthy notes contrasting the after dinner factor. Ranging from dry to sweet, Madeira was first fortified with neutral spirits to prevent spoilage on long voyages around the globe from the port of the Madeira Islands. Some level of oxidation is actually preferred in making Madeira, which is partly what gives it its unique character.

If you have the chance to sample Madeira side-by-side, take it, as you’ll learn far more about this interesting spirit by comparison (true with any beverage). At the Vinho Madeira tasting, my standouts from various producers:

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D’Oliveira 1969 Sercial

Pereira D’Oliveira stocks rare old wines imported by The Rare Wine Co., Sonoma: Sampling eight Madeiras from 1908-1989 was the highlight of the entire event, the 1912 Verdelho amazingly full of life at 100 years old, earthy and vibrant with a dry raisin finish; a close second was the 1908 Boal, with its juicy, even dusty, acidity;  the 1969 Sercial (tends to be the driest Madeira varietal) is bright and acidic with a long finish.

Vinhos Barbeito (agent is The Rare Wine Co., Sonoma): Out of the nine Madeiras they offered for sampling, I was most impressed with a 1982 Boal (Boal being the grape varietal). It’s full bodied yet bone dry, nutty, high on acidity with a pleasantly unique funk; the 1996 Verdelho Colheita Single Cask with its long, nutty, almond finish; and the Rare Wine Co.’s Savannah Verdelho Special Reserve pleasantly evoking forest floor alongside shortbread and orange zest.

Madeira Wine Company, managed by the Blandy family (agent is Premium Port Wines, SF):  Out of the nine Madeiras they offered for sampling, standouts were Blandy’s 5 year Alvada for value and taste (nutty, spice, marmalade); and Blandy’s Terrantez 1976 toffee, meaty notes contrasting dry acidity.