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An introductory Madeira tasting: 1971 Terrantez back to 1880 Malvasia


This past weekend I hosted a Madeira tasting in answer to requests I have received from my friends.  With a sizeable selection of wines made available to me by Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co., I settled in on what I consider an introductory tasting.  Over the course of 10 bottles I presented such wines as a recent Historic Series blend, a 19th century Bual solera, Bastardo, Tinta Negra, young Terrantez, and Malvasia Candida from Faja dos Padres.

I deployed all of my matching stems, some 72 of them, so we tasted the Madeira in two flights of five.  The extra dozen stems were required for Champagne, of course.  Each flight was largely designed to move from drier and more acidic to richer with the ending wine of each flight being old.  The two oldest bottles were decanted five days prior to the tasting then rebottled after one day in the decanter.  The other bottles received similar treatment one to two days ahead of time.

One guest surprised the group with a bottle of 1937 D’Oliveira, Sercial Madeira which was inserted into the first flight so we could compare it against the 1928 D’Oliveira, Sercial Madeira.  Thus you will find eleven tasting notes below.

The wines all showed very well with enough variety to encourage comparison.  It is definitely one of the most satisfying tasting I have been to as of late.  Given the loud volume of everyone towards the end of the tasting coupled with their individual comments, they agreed to!  For each flight I presented a short history of the wines which was well received.  I was excited for this tasting to occur, not just to experience the aromas and flavors, but to convey the individual stories of the wines.  Please find these wine histories appear below.  They are far more important than my tasting notes and ratings.

The histories are largely compiled from correspondence with Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co., and  Ricardo Freitas, Vinhos Barbeito, as well as the private publications of Mannie Berk Terrantez: The Transcendental Terrantez Tasting (2012) and Bastardo & Mostcatel – The Tasting (2017).  I also relied on the books Noel Cossart’s Madeira The Island Vineyard (2011) and Alex Liddell’s Madeira (1998).  Of course some bits are of my own research.  The map reproduced above comes from Isole Canarie from Vincenzo Coronelli published in 1697 and available at the David Rumsey Map Collection site.

Flight #1

NV Rare Wine Company, Historic Series Library Company Madeira
Released in 2015 to honor the Library Company of Philadelphia which is the oldest successful library in America, having been founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1731. Henry Hill was a successful Madeira merchant who lived in Philadelphia and also knew Benjamin Franklin. As a partner in the firm Hill, Lamar, & Bisset, he sold Madeira to wealthy Americans including financier Robert Morris, signers of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll and John Hancock, and George Washington. Many of the business letters sent to Henry Hill reside at the Library Company. Bottled 2015.  The honied nose is followed by luscious, honied flavors of fig.  There are both tea and tobacco notes in the end.  This is fully mature now with just a vein of structure apparent in the finish followed by a bit of bracing acidity.  A fine value with flavors clearly evocative of old bottles of Madeira.  ***(*).

1928 D’Oliveira, Sercial Madeira
Pereira D’Oliveira was founded in 1850 as a producer of wines. It operated as a partidista until the mid-1970s when it began to market wines under its own name. Over the years D’Oliveira has acquired other firms thus expanding its stock of old wines. This particular wine was acquired in barrel when D’Oliveira purchased the Adegas do Terreão collection in 2002. Terreão was founded in 1949 by Vasco Loja who also operated as a partidista supplying the major wine companies particularly during the 1960s and 1970s. D’Oliveira keeps their wines in barrel until they are bottled for sale on an annual basis.   This means that different bottlings come from different barrels having seen wood for different durations. Bottled 2017.  A highly aromatic and articulate nose of citrus and tobacco, profound and of unique complexity.  The dense, explosive start has very fine acidity which soon builds to rapier sharpness.  Overall, this is a lighter weight, saline wine with an expansive, lighter finish, and pervasive pungent aftertaste. ****(*).

1937 D’Oliveira, Sercial Madeira
Shipped by David Turner Air Cargo.  Imported by Vineyard Road Inc.  From old family stocks at D’Oliveira. See notes for the 1928 D’Oliveira, Sercial Madeira. Bottled 2012.  There is a low-lying, dark nose.  The rounded start transitions to a berry core by the middle.  There is acidity present but it does not finish with much acidic strength.  I found more weight throughout the palate given impression of length but ultimately it is not as exciting nor complex as the 1928.  ***.

NV Henriques & Henriques, Inauguration Wine Madeira
From the back label, “To inaugurate Henriques & Henriques’ new winery in 1994, winemaker Luis Pereira searched the firm’s stocks of old wine to find something truly extraordinary. The wine he chose had been vinified and blended in the 1950s by his mentor Peter Cossart—the father of John Cossart. Though the wine’s origins were uncertain, Pereira believed it to have the character of a great verdelho or bual. It was a wine uniquely worthy of commemorating this important event. Pereira produced 800 bottles which were given to dignitaries attending the inauguration. This left a small amount to age in cask. In October, 2006, 144 bottles were drawn out, and then in April, 2008, the final 168 bottles were drawn out, each time for The Rare Wine Co.” This is the 2006 bottling of which it is numbered 66 of 144.  The nose is robust with mature hints and caramel.  Further investigation reveals articulate and sweet aromas of brown sugar, Christmas spices, and tobacco.  This is a zippy wine with piercing acidity soon coming out then building to the piercing finish.  There are good, sweet and weighty flavors that drape over the tongue with a ripe, orange flavors core, and mineral finish.  This ia very powerful wine with a long, textured aftertaste.  ****(*).

1971 D’Oliveira, Terrantez Madeira
Terrantez, long regarded as the finest variety in Madeira, was largely wiped out of existence with the phylloxera of the 1870s.  Being low-yielding and difficult to grow, it was not replanted.  In 1921 it was considered “extinct or almost extinct.”  The situation had hardly improved by 2004 as there was less than one hectare of vines in existence.  This scarce wine was acquired in barrel when the Adegas do Terreão collection was purchased in 2002. See notes for the 1928 D’Oliveira, Sercial Madeira. Bottled 2017.  A complex nose of fruit, marmalade, and sweet aromas.  In the mouth is a controlled start, vibrant middle, and sweet kick at the end.  The mouth feel reminds me of marshmallow combining sweetness and airy weight into one sensation.  This is a gentle, young wine of elegant strength and seamless integration.  ****.

1845 Cossart Gordon, Bual Solera Madeira
The 1845 Bual became a solera in 1875 in response to the shortage of wine following the Phylloxera epidemic. It eventually became the first Cossart centenary wine marking the anniversary of the founding of Cossart Gordon in 1745. After Cossart, Gordon joined the Madeira Wine Association in 1953, the soleras in wood were moved to stores at Rua Sao Francisco and no longer topped off. There were many bottlings of this solera both in Madeira, with red and black text, and in England. This bottling is by Evans Marshall & Co. who became Cossart’s agents in London in 1956. Bottled after 1956.  A very mature nose still with some bottle stink.  The sweet start soon focuses on flavors of sweet black tea with wood notes in the middle, and flavors of sweet cinnamon and baking spices in the textured finish.  This is the most advanced wine of all with a mellow nature and slight separation of acidity and residual sugar.  It becomes  vinous in the aftertaste with a hint of acidity.  ***.

Flight #2

NV Unknown, Padre Madeira [da Silva Collection] 
The oldest known dated bottles of Madeira once belonged to Braheem Abdo Kassab who famously initialed his wax seals with BAK.  This Padre wine was in bottle for a long time, discovered in the laundry room of the home of a Kassab relative on the island. This is believed to be all Tinta Negra from the early 20th century.  Approximately three dozen bottles were aired in demijohn for a few months then rebottled. Bottled 2016.  The pungent, sweeter nose steps out of the glass with aromas reminding me of old Madeira.  There is a round, weighty, vinous start with ripe orange citrus flavors, good acidity, and grip.  The middle is assertive and the finish powerful with hints of dense fruit, I suspect this wine needs further time for integration.  ***.

NV Barbeito, Bastardo 50-year-old Avo Mario Madeira
Barbeito was founded in 1946 which is today run by third-generation, Ricardo Diogo Vasconcelos de Freitas. Bastardo was completely extinct in Madeira until 2004 when Ricardo convinced a farmer to plant it.  Today there is just over 1 hectare of vines.  This wine is an homage to Ricardo’s grandfather and is a blend of Bastardo wines Ricardo made in 2007 and 2009.  These are the first two successful harvests for there was bad weather in 2008.  At the time, there was no living memory on how to make the wine so Ricardo set out on his own.  He mixed these wines with some old Bastardo in demijohn that belonged to the Favilla family and 36 bottles of old Tinta Negra from 1950 that was bottled in 1997.  The 50 year old category was only introduced in 2015.  Bottled 2017 of which it is #326 of 550.  A sweet and floral nose is similarly followed by a sweet, gentle start.  Of good flavor, it mixes herbs and cedar box in an easy to drink manner.  The balance is impeccable making it compelling to drink.  ****.

1929 D’Oliveira, Tinta Negra Medium Sweet Madeira
Dated bottles of Madeira from the late 1920s through early 1930s are scarce.  The effects of the Great Depression was felt on an international scale and locally it wreaked havoc on Madeira.  The Portuguese Minister of Finance sought to mitigate the effects on Portugal by centralizing the importation and milling of grain in January 1931. The price of bread and other common goods quickly rose as a result. A few months later a revolt on the island of Madeira took place with control of the island temporarily seized from the government.  The spread of the European financial crisis coupled with the political instability on Madeira impacted the banks on Madeira the same year of the revolt.  By the end of the year banks suspended all payments and in the course of restructuring the banking system in 1932, many private banks failed.  This is the period when the influence of the partidista rose.  These merchants purchased wine at vintage then sold it off to shippers as they needed it.  It is likely that during these financially difficult times much Madeira was sold off for ready money rather than kept around as single vintage lots tying up capital.  This wine is from old family stocks at D’Oliveira. See notes for the 1928 D’Oliveira, Sercial Madeira. Bottled 2016.  With ripe aromas this wine offers attractive aromas of age which I look for in older bottles.  There is a weighty, round, dense start with good body and juicy acidity.  The flavors are more mature with moderately sweet bakings spices, strong acidity, and some brown sugar in the finish.  The strength of the acidity builts into the finish leaving a piercing citric edge.  ****.

1986 Barbeito, Malvasia Faja dos Padres Madeira
Malvasia encompasses several different grapes with Malvasia Candida the most sought after. It is a difficult grape to grow and prefers particular locations. One of these locations is Faja dos Padres which was originally cultivated by the Jesuits centuries ago. Located on the south side of the Island it lies at the bottom of a 900 foot cliff which, until recently, was only accessible by boat. For centuries, this site was considered as producing the best Malvasia Candida wines. The Malvasia Candida was nearly wiped out by phylloxera in the 1870s.  When the site was sold in 1919 it was believed that no Malvasia Candida vines existed. But in 1940 a single Malvasia Candida vine was found surviving at Faja dos Padres. It was cloned then planted at Torre. In 1979 the same vine was cloned again then planted at Faja dos Padres. An additional vineyard of 0.4 ha was eventually established. This is the first commercial bottling of Malvasia Candida from Faja dos Padres since 1921. It was raised in 800 liter casks aged by the canteiro method. Bottled 2012 of which it is #172 of 654.  The nose is young and fruit with complexity from wet tobacco.  The wines is young and rounded with clearly defined sweet black tea flavors.  There is a delicacy to the wine that makes it stand apart, with delicate berry fruit and a fresh finish.  With impeccable balance this wine highlights the flavors of Malvasia.  ****.

1880 Companhia Vinicola da Madeira (CVM), Malvasia Madeira
Founded in 1870, CVM was eventually associated with Justino Henriques. The company was closed in 1984 and much of the stock was sold off. This bottle bears a paper Junta Nacional do Vinho seal underneath the wicker capsule. The JNV seal would have been applied between 1937 and 1979.  The nose is slightly pungent with sweet, yellow citrus.  There is a gravelly start of brown sugar, wood box, and flavors of age.  The wine is completely balanced with no hard edges.  Backed by residual sugar this is dense and even racy in the finish with a hint of spiciness to perk up the long, gentle, sweet aftertaste.  ****.

  1. March 11, 2018 at 7:47 pm

    This was a fantastic read! Thank you for sharing.

  1. January 15, 2018 at 12:01 pm

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