A closer look at two different bottlings of 1811 Malvasia Candida
The 1811 vintage in Madeira was harvested during the second occupation of the island by the British during the Napoleonic wars. The War of 1812, between the Great Britain and America, meant that regular supplies of Madeira to America were soon disrupted. While the 1811 vintage may not have arrived in a timely manner, it eventually did, making the wine lists of Delmonico’s and Aster House as an example. For the last several years bottles of Madeira labeled “1811 Malvasia Candida” have reached both American and English shores, some of which have appeared at auction.
All of these wines bear the same label and until recently, were only found in Burgundy-shaped bottles sealed with a rust-red wax seal. It appears that perhaps a year ago, a new variant appeared in a Bordeaux-shaped bottle sealed with dark gray wax. This year I have had the opportunity to taste both bottlings of this 1811 Malvasia Candida, first in New York City and second in Washington, DC.
The earliest record I can find of this wine appears in Alex Liddell’s “Madeira” published in 1998. Here he describes it as “From a private island source. Old, machine-made green glass bottle. Labelled. “P W” stencilled on bottle. Hard wax seal with JNV authentication seal superimposed. The most shrivelled (relatively long) cork I have ever seen, not adhering to the sides of the neck, but kept in place by the wax seal. Heavy crusting.” His tasting note finds the nose as “not wholly agreeable” with flavors “dried out and hollow”. He found it “difficult to believe it is really Malvazia. Patently old, but not evidently fortified – though it probably was.”
It was on April 11, 2015, at The Majesty of Malvasia Tasting in New York City that I first tried this wine. This particular bottle came from a private island source. This bottle itself was in “an old Burgundy or Champagne style bottle with a rust-colored wax capsule”. It is possible that the capsule bore an impression “from a JNV Seal”. The bottle was stoppered with a “[r]elatively long cork”. Alex Liddell does not describe the bottle shape nor the color of the wax. His bottle was labelled and stenciled whereas ours was only labelled “1811 Malvasia Candida” followed by “Vinho de Malvazia / Bebe pouco / E viverais com alegria”. Richard Mayson, in his post The Majesty of Malvasia, translates the label as, “Malvazia Wine / Drink a little / And you will live with happiness”. This seems to be a mix of Portuguese proverbs.
While we cannot state for certain that Alex Liddell’s bottle is the same as the New York City bottle, the tasting notes appear similar. Richard Mayson even comments “I questioned if this had been fortified”. Here is my tasting note:
1811 Malvasia Candida, Madeira
[New York City. Burgundy shaped bottle with red wax.] This was the lightest of the flight being light amber. There was a subtle nose of musk and cookies. In the mouth were lighter, simpler flavors, a short finish, and notes of dried nuts in the aftertaste. This became sour with air. A curiosity. **
Both Alex Liddell’s and the New York City bottles had relatively long corks. The Washington, DC, bottle had a very short, 1-3/8″ in length, tapered cork which is still soft and springy to this very day. The cork is branded with “TRADEMARK” at top, a castle tower like image in the middle, and “MADEIRA” at the bottom. The cork is only stained at the narrow end from the wax. The cork still smells like sweet old wood and vintage Port.
The Washington, DC, bottle is listed as lot #943 for the May 21, 2015, Acker Merrall & Condit Auction from which it was purchased. It appears in a grouping of six bottles divided into four lots which is pictured on page 215 of the auction catalog. The wax capsule appears exactly the same as lot #941 1842 H. M. Borges Terrantez and potentially the same as lot #942 1715 H. M. Borges Terrantez. You may view the catalog here.
At Zachy’s Spring Auction on May 9, 2014, appears lot #821, a bottle of “Madeira Malvasia Camica 1811” that had “very top shoulder” fill. I have not seen a picture of this bottle but I suspect “Camica” is actually “Candida” and that the fill implies a Bordeaux-shaped bottle. On Pinterest, you may find images of the Burgundy shape bottled here and the Bordeaux-shaped bottle here.
A number of old Madeira bottles were recently auctioned off at Christie’s King Street auction on October 22, 2015. Amongst these bottles is included a collection from “a private cellar on Madeira”. From this collection comes lot #243, a bottle of 1811 Malvasia Candida that is described as “‘Recorked at O.P. Brothers Private Collection May 2015″. New wax capsule.” The tasting note continues “Medium sweet pure fruit driven and youthful. Could this be a glass aged vintage as it has such a pure red fruit character? Seductive, hardly what you expect from a 200 year old wine.”
Whether the Christie’s bottle looks like our Washington, DC, bottle is not yet known but the description sounds similar. I would be curious to learn if the Washington, DC, bottle ultimately came from the O.P. Brothers Collection. The Washington, DC bottle was decanted the night before and arrived at our dinner table in a decanter. One sniff of my glass revealed, youthful, ripe fruit that immediately told me this was a different wine than what I tried in New York City. Indeed, in the mouth the wine was ripe, sweet, youthful, and contained a pure thyme note. In short, it was enjoyable. Here is my tasting note.
1811 Malvasia Candida, Madeira
[Washington, DC. Three-part molded Bordeaux bottle, dark green glass, sealed with dark gray wax. Heavy sediment on bottle. Very short tapered cork.] Acquired from a private collection Acker Merrall & Condit auction May 21st, 2015, New York. This was very sweet on the nose and with air, a prominent thyme note came out. In the mouth this wine was sweet, concentrated, vibrant, with a hint of Big Red flavors and a bit of greenhouse. There was sweet sugar and lots of thyme flavors. Way too young to be an 1811 and of the wrong flavor profile. Nevertheless, whatever was in the bottle, provided a tasty experience. Not Rated.
The night before our Washington, DC, dinner I tasted bottles of 1867 and 1833 Barbeito Bual that had been imported by Mannie Berk (Rare Wine Co.) from Ricardo Freitas (Vinhos Barbeito). Thus they bore perfect provenance. Incredibly, the 1811 tasted decades younger than the recently bottled 1867 and 1833! I can appreciate the need for a new cork, new wax, and perhaps some topping off. But the Washington, DC, bottle did not taste youthful solely from topping off. That the Bordeaux-shaped bottles taste different then the Burgundy-shape bottles is acceptable. But the extreme youth of the wine coupled with the fact that both type of bottlings have the exact same label makes me suspicious.
On a positive note, if you have purchased one of these recently waxed Bordeaux-shaped bottles you probably will not be disappointed. Our bottle was a big hit, which is saying something because the New York City bottle was the worst of all the Madeiras we tasted that day.