Home > Tasting Notes and Wine Reviews > The noteworthy wines of Eric Ifune

The noteworthy wines of Eric Ifune


I started reading Decanter magazine during my Bristol days.  I clearly remember my favorite issues which were those of December.  These issues included descriptions of everyone’s favorite wines of the year.  Whether there were old wines or new wines, these capsule summaries were fun relfections of both personality and tastings attended.  This year I thought I would ask some friends to list their favorite wines of this year.  Today I start off with a post by Eric Ifune.  You might recall his name from such boards as Wine Berserkers and For The Love of Port.   You also might have comes across his name as an attendee of the annual Madeira tastings organized by Roy Hersh (For The Love of Port) and Mannie Berk (The Rare Wine Co.).   It was earlier this year, at the epic Majesty of Malvasia Tasting, that I first met Eric.

I’m listing my most noteworthy wines from 2015. These are all wood aged fortified wines since that is my area of maximum interest, especially Madeira. A few might not be my highest rated, but they are amongst the most memorable. They are listed in chronologic order of tasting

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The first is a Blandy’s 1907 Bual. Tasted at a friend’s house while sharing various Madeiras. It was opened on the spur of the moment. It had a deep, glowing, almost iridescent red-gold-green color. One of the most visually attractive wines I’ve seen in a long while. Brooding, rich caramel and toffee flavors. Huge and concentrated.

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The 1839 Blandy’s Faja dos Padres Malvasia. Tasted at a grand Malvasia tasting in New York hosted by Roy Hersh and Mannie Berk. The Faja dos Padres is the most famous Madeira vineyard and historically known for the Malvasia Candida vine. It lies next to the ocean on the south side of the island at the base of a 300 meter cliffface. Originally it belonged to the Jesuits, hence the “dos Padres”. Rich and intense. Very sweet but with huge balancing acidity. Complete and complex. This was head and shoulders above the other wines at the tasting which were all great and historic in their own right. This is probably the best wine of the year for me, and the best Malvasia I’ve ever had.

1912 Niepoort Colheita Port. The best Port I’ve had this year. Tasted in Lisbon this past spring. It was very dark colored with a beautiful balance of richness, sweetness, and acidity. Very long and concentrated. A real beauty!

1900 JBF Verdelho Madeira. JBF stands for John B. Fernandes. He was a grower in Funchal at the turn of the twentieth century. His vineyards were close to today’s city botanical gardens. There were many growers at the time who made and sold wine to the shippers. His descendants immigrated to the US but kept some property on the Island. A lawyer did some work for them and was given this as a gift. It was in demijohns. The lawyer knew Francisco Albuquerque, the wine maker at the Madeira Wine Company, and asked his advice. Francisco recommended bottling the wine, and he did so for the lawyer in 2014. A smoky, rich wine. Sweet for Verdelho but with excellent acidity. Very concentrated with excellent balance. I love these unknown wines.

1912 Jose Maria Fonseca Bastardinho. JM Fonseca is famous for their Moscatel de Setubal and their table wines. They had a small vineyard of Bastardinho (the little bastard) as well. It’s the same variety as the red Bastardo, a rare grape on Madeira. Unfortunately the vineyard was grubbed up 20 years or so ago, but I understand JM Fonseca is thinking about replanting some again. This wine was very, very dark. Very concentrated, rich and citric flavored. Not as sweet as Moscatel. This is the best Bastardo/Bastardinho I’ve ever had. JM Fonseca still markets a small amount of a 30 year old Bastardinho which is very nice, but not nearly the concentration and depth as this vintage wine.

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1996 Horacio Simoes Moscatel Roxo. Horacio Simoes is a small producer in Setubal. They make some excellent Moscatel de Setubal, but also have some of the rarer Moscatel Roxo or “Purple Moscatel.” It is a mutated version of the normal Moscatel. The normal Moscatel is the same variety as Muscat of Alexandria and the Roxo was found in a field in Setubal having spontaneously mutated. I think I like it better than the normal Moscatel, being less sweet and having more depth. This particular bottle was rich and concentrated. This is a producer to keep an eye out for.

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Barbeito 1891 RR Bual Madeira. The RR stands for Riberio Real, a well-known vineyard about 200 meters above the fishing village of Camara de Lobos. The vineyard was owned by the Favila family who made this wine. This was tasted with Ricardo Dorigo of Barbeito who had the wine in demijohns. He has since bottled approximately 200 750 ml bottles. This wine is rich and meaty. It has huge concentration but great balance. Just mouthwatering stuff.

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D’Oliveiras 1850 Verdelho Madeira. D’Oliveiras is famous for their stocks of old, old wine. The 1850 is still available for sale in their shop! I’ve had this wine maybe half a dozen times and it never disappoints. D’Oliveiras started as a partidista with vineyards in the San Martinho district west of Funchal. They sold wine prior to becoming a shipper themselves. One can sometimes see bottles with the stencil AO-SM, standing for Antonio Oliveria-San Martinho. This wine is from those original San Martinho vines. This particular taste was from a bottling 40-50 years ago. A popular misconception is that Madeira doesn’t age once in glass. It does, but at a glacial rate. The great United States Madeira collections from the 19th and early 20th centuries were based on glass aged wines. After decades, or even centuries in glass, the overt fruit and richness diminish. The wines become more delicate, lacy if you will. That change of 40-50 years given the initial richness of the 1850 due to extreme concentration made this a stellar bottle. Complex, very rich and concentrated with tropical fruit and toasted nut aromas and flavors. The new Madeira legislation passed in Portugal earlier this year now mandates a bottling date on all Canteiro aged wine. A good thing to my mind.

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Faja dos Padres 2001 Malvasia (from cask). The same vineyard as the 1839 above. A Faja is a generic Madeiran term for a spit of land formed from a landslide of decomposing volcanic soil from a seacliff. They are prized as agricultural property due to their warmth and shelter from the elements. The Faja dos Padres was known for centuries for the Malvasia Candida variety. It is a tetchy variety to grow however, and by the mid-20th century, it was thought extinct on the island. The variety Malvasia Sao Jorge had supplanted it. A single vine was found near the cliff on the Faja dos Padres. DNA analysis confirmed it was the original Malvaisa Candida and its cuttings used to repropagate the variety on Madeira. The Faja dos Padres today consists of 9 hectares of land. There’s a garden-like mixed planting of tropical and semitropical fruit. The vineyards are on the more western end with Malvasia Candida and Terrantez planted. A small restaurant and bar serves local caught grilled tuna. I’m addicted to the limpets broiled with olive oil and garlic! There are also a few rustic but comfortable guest cottages for rent. The only way to visit is by boat or by the vertiginous two person elevator shown in the photo. Barbeito takes much of the grape crop, but some is reserved. It is vinified and aged on the property in a small stone lodge. This wine on property cannot be commercialized as Madeira, but is reserved for guests. Relatively pale for malvaisa, but this is young stuff. Meaty, savory, sweet, and spicy all at once. I’d love to see this after a few dozen more years!

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Fernandez Family 1986 Verdelho (from cask). Manuel Eugenio Fernandes (the MEF on the cask in the photo) was a table wine broker on the island for many years. His hobby and passion, however, was for fortified Madeira. He bought and aged it in the basement cellar of his house in Seixal, on the north coast of the island. The wine was for family and friends. He only sold his fortified wines twice. Once he sold a pipe to pay for a flat in Lisbon when one of his sons went to University. He had a long life and had many children. All of them successful, doctors, lawyers, engineers. His children keep their father’s house in Seixal as a get together place for family events. The basement cellar is still there, and the family still make and age wine in their father’s memory. Again, this wine cannot be commercialized as Madeira since it is not registered nor regulated by the Instituto do Vinho, do Bordado e do Artesanato da Madeira (IVBAM), the government institution which regulates Madeira (and handicrafts such as embroidery). It also must be bottled by one of the registered shippers. A few bottles of an over 40 year old Verdelho were bottled by the Madeira Wine Company a few years ago in honor of Mario Eugenio’s 96th birthday, and these have the IVBAM selo. This particular wine was a Verdelho from 1986. Taken directly from cask using a bamboo wine thief. Shimmering pale amber-gold. Rich with honey and tangerine flavors. Beautiful and pure fruit. Plush mouthfeel and long on the end. If you could combine an old still Champagne and a Fino Sherry, it would be something like this. Wonderful to drink with family and friends, which is what the Fernandez family does with it.

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