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An introductory Madeira tasting: 1971 Terrantez back to 1880 Malvasia

January 12, 2018 2 comments

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.  ****.

A half-bottle of 1977 Graham’s Vintage Port

The 1977 Graham’s, Vintage Port is the only Port we drank over the holidays.  In the half-bottle format the Port soon opens up to reveal itself as fully mature.  It is of moderate sweetness but the mixture of brown sugar, cloves, and cinnamon flavors add to the impression of being an end of evening drink.

1977 Graham’s, Vintage Port half-bottle
Imported by Ginday Imports.  Alcohol 21%.  There is a rounded berry core that mixes with wood box flavors.  The wine rounds out even more as it takes on brown sugar, cinnamon, and hints of tobacco leaf.  There is a good dose of acidity which keeps the balance spot on.  Of moderate sweetness you are reminded of it in the finish due to brown sugar and cloves.  This is just the slightest notion of heat.   ***(*) Now – 2028.

“C’est un produit d’une grande finesse”: The 1976 Ayala, Champagne Extra Quality Brut

October 26, 2016 Leave a comment

The Ayala house has produced Champagne for over 150 years.  During its golden period of the 1920s it supplied the royal courts of England and Spain.  The Union of French Sommeliers soon took note.  When they visited the house in 1924, they described the Champagne as having “great finesse” as well as high cost.  Ayala was eventually purchased by Bollinger in 2005.  This bottle of 1976 Ayala, Chateau d’Ay, Champagne Extra Quality Brut  comes from the period when it was regarded as a “smaller, but well respected house” according to Decanter magazine.  Ayala has produced a low-dosage Champagne since the 1860s and the house style comes through in the well-regarded 1976 vintage.  This is a finely textured, clean Champagne that is drinking at full maturity right now.  I found it a good start for an evening of mature wine.

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1976 Ayala, Chateau d’Ay, Champagne Extra Quality Brut
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.  The wine is a light to medium gold color with an amber tinge.  There is an initial mature, yeast note that is framed by a dry and fine texture.  The wine rounds out with air taking on weight through the clean finish.  Apple orchard flavors come out in the moderately lengthy finish.  *** Now.

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An Ancient Pair of Chateauneuf du Pape from 1964

August 30, 2016 1 comment

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Chateauneuf du Pape was a common post-war selection on restaurant wine lists and wine stores in America.  However, it fell out of favor in the 1970s due to significant price increases.  As late as 1980, Gary Gunther for The Washington Post cautioned that Southern Rhone wines needed to be considered against the “river of reliable, highly competitive wines from California.”  Sentiment soon turned.  In 1982, Robert Parker Jr. wrote that several of the finest estates had “become available for the first time at prices that are hard to ignore.”  He first traveled to Chateauneuf du Pape in the early 1970s and his love for the wines spawned renewed interest.  He wrote of recent vintages back to the “simply magnificent” 1978.  Until this summer, my experience with these wines never included vintages prior to 1978 because they are forgotten,  predating most interest.

Chateauneuf du Pape is an old wine producing region with a history that has changed quite dramatically within the last century.  The traditional wines are revered by all of my friends now but for others this was not the case in the past.   In Frank Schoonmaker’s and Tom Marvel’s post-Prohibition The Complete Wine Book (1935), the authors wrote that it was “until recently one of the least trusthworthy for sale in France”.  They did note that the passing of the Chateauneuf du Pape rules in 1923 made the wines “fairly reliable”.  They listed it as the third most important Rhone region after Cote Rotie and Hermitage.

The 1923 Chateauneuf du Pape laws were the results of the efforts of Baron Le Roy, proprietor of Chateau Fortia, and several other growers. As a partial effort to curb wine fraud, they developed rules for any bottle of wine that was labeled from Chateauneuf du Pape.  They delimited the boundaries for the appellation, the acceptable grape varieties, and minimum alcohol level amongst others.

In Frank Schoonmaker’s revised Encyclopedia of Wine (1965) he elevated Chateauneuf du Pape to the most important region of the Rhone.  He recommended the estate bottled wine as the best with Chateau Fortia as one of his handful of recommendations.  There were still just a handful of estates bottling wine in the 1970s.  In fact, in 1978 only 20% of the wine was bottled in the village with the rest sold in bulk.

John Arlott, a wine journalist for The Guardian, also lists Chateau Fortia as amongst the best in his even smaller list from 1974.  At the time, there were some 330 proprietors tendings vines with  a proportion owning only two to three hectares.  With many proprietors operating at a small scale a symbiotic relationship with negociants developed.

John Livingstone-Learmonth, Drink Rhone, expressed to me in email that for many domaines, negociants were a way for their wine to be known and to reach a broader market.  As a result, the domaines supplied their best product without any feedback from the negociants on vineyard work.

Paul Jaboulet Aine, founded in 1834, is one negociant that is still a major force today.  The Hermitage “La Chapelle” remains a benchmark for Northern Rhone wines.  Today we would not include the Chateauneuf du Pape “Les Cedres” as amongst the best of the region but it was in the 1960s and 1970s.

With less domaines bottling their own wine, the range of wine available for the negociants to blend was quite good.  I know this for a fact because I have tasted the 1964 Paul Jaboulet Aine, Les Cedres, Chateauneuf du Pape and 1964 Chateau Fortia, Tete de Cru, Chateauneuf du Pape.

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On a recent summer evening I cut the capsules then pulled the corks on two bottles of Chateau Fortia and Paul Jaboulet Aine.  The Chateau Fortia, originally exported to Northern Italy, made its way to Switzerland before coming over to America.  The Paul Jaboulet Aine is an ex-domaine bottle.  Both were imported by Mannie Berk of the The Rare Wine Company.

Paul Jaboulet Aine is a negociant with original vineyard holdings in Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage.  John Livingstone-Learmonth explained how Northern Rhone merchants felt they should have Southern Rhone wines in their portfolio.  These were marketed towards French restaurants and the export trade.  Thus the Chateauneuf du Pape “Les Cedres” is a brand name.  Paul Jaboulet Aine purchased wine and not grapes for our bottle of 1964.  Only vineyard owners were entitled to use a bottle bearing the name and crest of the region.  Thus the bottle of Les Cedres is plain but the Tete de Cru is embossed.

The previously drunk 1964 Domaine de Beaucastel was a mouth filling marvel of fruit and life that benefitted from air.  The 1964 Paul Jaboulet Aine, Les Cedres, Chateauneuf du Pape also developed with air, revealing sweeter dark and textured flavors.  It did not reach the same heights but it was still excellent; a wine I would like to drink again.  It is rich in flavor, leaving impressions of substantive weight that are supported by acidity with a surprising kick in the end. The 1964 Chateau Fortia, Tete de Cru, Chateauneuf du Pape is more advanced, signaled by both the color and the nose.  The flavors are on the red fruit side and clearly more funky.  It is most pleasurable if drunk up in a timely manner.

The 1964 vintage is in many regards positively ancient for Chateauneuf du Pape.  It is also extremely rare in America.  There are no bottles listed for sale, ensuring it remains a largely forgotten vintage on our shores.  Thus to have tasted three bottles in the span of one month puts me in a rather unique and exciting position all thanks to my friend Mannie Berk.  These wines not only speak of a different style of winemaking in Chateauneuf du Pape they also represent a bygone period when negociants were the major forces capable of producing outstanding wine.  They are traditional wines that did not bend to the early-drinking vinification fad nor the press.

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1964 Chateau Fortia, Tete de Cru, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.  Alcohol 13.5%.  The wine is slightly cloudy with an older color.  The nose smells of old wine with animale notes.  There is a sweet entry with tart red fruit, and that animale note.  It fades with air becoming more metallic.  **(*) Drink up.

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1964 Paul Jaboulet Aine, Les Cedres, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.  Alcohol 13.6%.  This bottle developed well.  It is a rich, inky wine with old wood notes.  With air it opens up to reveal sweet blue and black fruit.  This textured, darker wine is supported by acidity which noticeably goes down the throat.  This is a great example of fully mature, substantive Chateauneuf du Pape.  **** Now but will last.

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Mature Champagne from a traditional Bristol merchant

Bristol, England is a major port that has a rich, long history of importing wine.  It is no surprise then that wine merchants founded centuries ago still exist today.  My familiarity with the wine merchant Avery’s of Bristol dates back to the eve of their 200th anniversary in 1993. For centuries past, wine was imported in barrel then bottled by British merchant such as Avery’s.  This practice continued until the mid to late 20th century.  Though British bottling died out due to the rise of domaine bottling, the tradition of these merchants selling wine under their own label still exists today.  The NV Avery’s, Special Cuvee, Champagne Brut is one such example.  For over 50 years the Boizel Champagne house has produced a special Pinot Noir based cuvee for Avery’s.

The Boizel Champagne house was founded in 1834 but it was with the great 1961 vintage that Rene Boizel created the first cuvée spéciale for France.  It is from this period that the Avery’s cuvee was created.  This cuvee is available online at the Avery’s website but the bottle which Mannie Berk recently shared with me is no current release.  Instead it dates to the 1980s and speaks to another great British tradition, that of aging Champagne.  The three decades of age have given the wine a golden color, taken the firm edges off the bubbles, and developed a lovely mature flavor.  With air this Avery’s Champagne shows its strength yet never loses the balance between effervescence, mature flavors, and integrated acidity.  I think it is drinking great right now, just be sure to follow it over a couple hours as it breaths.  I just checked and it appears on The Rare Wine Co website.  If you cannot wait three decades for the current release to mature then snag a few bottles while you can.

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NV Avery’s, Special Cuvee, Champagne Brut
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  Alcohol 12%.  An attractive golden toast color greets the eye.  In the mouth this mature Champagne is almost inky with a good amount of bubbles at the start.  Flavors of dark, yellow fruit mixes with baking spices that come out with the prickles on the tongue.  The mature fruit is eventually replaced by a chalky, finely textured finish.  With air the wine builds attractive spice and toast notes.  **** Now but will last.

A Rare Chateau de Beaucastel Vertical from 1964 to 2001

August 3, 2016 3 comments

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When the end of Prohibition in America was in sight, the “potent” and “celebrated” wines of Chateauneuf du Pape were mentioned as amongst the “Legendary Potions” that the Europeans were waiting to ship to our shores.  Once the purchase of wines was legal The New York Times published a thorough description of international wines that Americans should drink.  It was, in short, a refresher to the world of wine.  From the Rhone were recommended Cote-Rotie, Hermitage, and Chateauneuf du Pape.

Chateauneuf du Pape soon became an American favorite.  It was always listed for sale typically along with Pouilly Fuisse, at reasonable prices from the 1940s into the 1970s.  These were frequently negociant wines but the occasional estate bottled selection like Mont-Redon was available at a premium price.  In the 1950s a new style of early-drinking Chateauneuf du Pape was developed largely relying on carbonic maceration.  This dip in quality was soon met with a rise in price.

The American wine boom of the early 1970s led to the massive price escalation of the 1971 and 1972 Bordeaux vintages.  These price increases far exceeded the effects of the revaluation of international currencies from the fixed Bretton Woods system to a free-floating system.  This caused most European wines to increase in price some 10% to 20%.  In 1973, however, the favored Chateauneuf du Pape doubled in price in a matter of months.

The popularity of Chateauneuf du Pape plummeted due to price and by 1981 The New York Times called it “France’s Forgotten Red”.  Over the next year wines from such traditional estates as Chateau de Beaucastel and Chateau Mont-Redon were once again available  at reasonable prices.  These offerings began with the recently released and outstanding 1978 vintage.  A few older vintages were available too.

Lost amongst the turmoil of price escalation and carbonic maceration is discussion of the vintage of 1964.  This vintage is considered excellent but yields were significantly reduced by a summertime hailstorm.   Throughout this post-war period, Chateau de Beaucastel is consistently described as a traditional Chateauneuf du Pape estate fashioning wines meant to age.  Curiously enough, it is the first vintage in which Jacques Perrin employed his vinification a chaud technique where he heated the grapes.

John Livingstone-Learmonth considered the 1964 Beaucastel “a supreme wine”.   It was recently served as the oldest wine at a tasting of thirteen vintages of Beaucastel.

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The Beaucastel tasting was organized by Darryl Priest and stocked with wines from a total of ten attendees.  Darryl felt that lamb would be an ideal accompaniment to old Beaucastel.  It was from a single lamb that six out of seven courses were created for us by Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley at Ripple in Washington, DC.  Here is the menu:

*
lamb tenderloin tartare, sicilian pistachio, za’atar cracker
**
glazed lamb rib, corn pudding, crispy squash blossom
***
lamb loin carpaccio, baby heirloom tomatoes, cucumber, smoked labneh
****
lamb neck ragu, roasted potato gnocchi, fillet beans, harissa, parmesan
*****
rack of lamb, roasted leg, charred eggplant, oven roasted tomatoes
******
slow roasted lamb shoulder, merguez sausage, braised rainbow chard
*******
lemon verbena panna cotta, raspberry coulis, apricots, sable

After starting with a very drinkable NV Billecart-Salmon, Champagne Brut Rose we launched into the Beaucastel.  We drank the wines from oldest to youngest.  The two bottles of Hommage were decanted and the old bottles were simply popped and poured.  We largely rotated who started off pouring the wines so no one person would be stuck with the dregs.

Though a few bottles were shamefully off, such as 1978 and 1989, there were many excellent wines. My favorites list includes 1964, 1979, 1981, 1990, and 1995 Hommage.  For this post I will just comment on the oldest vintages as they are the least known.

The biggest surprise of the night was the 1964 Beaucastel. Due to the high prices of Chateauneuf du Pape in the 1970s, less was imported and sold in America.  This in part contributes to the difficulty of finding older vintages here.  This particular bottle came from a parcel that Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Company, purchased several years ago from a European cellar.

The bottle, label and capsule were in pristine condition and so was the cork when I extracted it.  A quick sniff revealed good fruit on the nose and a remarkable amount of fruitiness in the mouth.  Incredibly, the wine opened up with air and continued to drink well for nearly four hours.  David Bloch was reminded of a bottle of 1964 J. Mommessin, Clos de Tart that he, Lou, and I drank this summer.  They both taste of a similar period and style.  If you review older articles about Chateauneuf du Pape it was at times equated as a less expensive Burgundy.  In fact there are a handful of advertisements in England and America where Chateauneuf du Pape is listed under the heading Burgundy!    Everyone at the table commented on this wine.  Though no consensus was formed, there was discussion of the 1981, 1990, and 1995 Hommage as being favorites of the night.  I will add one observation.  The bottle of 1964 was the first one finished off including the very last dregs.

This was my second time tasting the 1976 vintage this summer.  Both from bottles Darryl sourced. This evening the 1976 was less advanced but it is still a solid wine at best.  The 1979 vintage proved very interesting.  It is an acidity driven vintage, bright and not ripe like the 1964.  I kept returning to my glass to be consistently surprised at how youthful it stayed.  Bill is spot on with his comment that it is on the same glacial pace of development as the 1964.  In contrast the 1981 vintage is a beautiful, elegant, and gently ripe wine that is drinking very well right now.  Please find my tasting notes below.

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NV Billecart-Salmon, Champagne Brut Rose
Imported by T. Edward Wines.  Alcohol 12%.  There is a good, fruity start followed by the presence of a yeast bit but the fine, ripe fruit soon takes over.  This is a generous wine with balanced bubbles, and even some grip in the finish.  I would not be surprised if some wine saw oak for there is a sense of old wood.  Drinking great right now.  ***(*) Now.

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1964 Domaine de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  Though light in color there are plenty of aromas and flavors.  It begins with earthy, garrigue infused aromas that open with air to reveal sweaty, red strawberry fruit.  In the mouth the flavors quickly fill with ample flavor and incredible amounts, for its age, of red fruit.  This wine is very much alive with brighter red fruit towards the finish and lively acidity throughout.  It ends with an ethereal, mineral finish. This bottle drank great over four hours.  Clearly this is a wine from a different era. ****(*) Now but will last.

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1976 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Vineyard Brands.  Alcohol 13.5%.  Darker than the 1964.  The nose sports more stink and barnyard but does reveal a floral and herbal freshness.  The flavors are controlled with an acidity driven start and short finish.  There is a fair amount of barnyard character here but it is not off putting.  Less advanced than the bottle tasted last month but it leaves a similar impression.  ** Now.

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1978 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Vineyard Brands.  Alcohol 13.5%.  The nose is rugged, smells older and past-prime, eventually of blood.  The palate confirms this is not in the best shape for it is compact and short in flavor.  The acidity and aftertaste are there but this bottle is old and not a good representative.  Not Rated.

1979 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Vineyard Brands.  Alcohol 13.5%.  The lively color is promising and fulfilled by the sweaty aromas of leather and smoke.  This is an acidity driven wine with red fruit, structure, and surprising youth.  It is well-balanced with gentle earthiness and watering acidity.  This old-school wine will never be as generous as the 1964 but it will certainly drink well just as long.  **** Now – 2031.

1981 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  Alcohol 13.5%.  The beautiful and fine nose balances earthy and olive aromas.  In the mouth the fruit, earth, and acidity are well balanced.  This wine has levity with elegant, ripe fruit and a gentle, ripe sweetness that lingers in the mouth.  **** Now – 2021.

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1983 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Vineyard Brands.  Alcohol 13.5%.  A very different wine with aromas of flowers and candy.  With some rough and hard flavors, plenty of acidity, and a tangy finish it is time to drink up.  ***(*) Now.

1985 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Vineyard Brands.  Alcohol 13.5%.  Lactic nose.  Not right.  Not Rated.

1989 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Vineyard Brands.  Alcohol 13.5%.  There is some VA on the nose which the palate confirms as a slightly underperforming bottle.  There is however plenty of ripe, strawberry fruit, and strength.  Not Rated.

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1990 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Alcohol 13.5%.  There is a great nose which conveys tension and complexity with fresh aromas of garrigue, fruit, saddle leather, and stink.  In the mouth, this wine has youthful grip, lovely balance, a firm finish, and an inky aftertaste.  There is plenty of flavor in the end.  ****(*) Now – 2035.

1998 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Alcohol 13.5%.  There are pure flavors of clean, assertive fruit driven by acidity.  It shows the grip and tang of the vintage.  This is a strong wine with old-school flavors of Kirsch.  A good wine. **** Now – 2036.

2001 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Alcohol 13.5%.  This is so young with clean flavors of strawberry and cherry fruit.  It is still in early development as it oscillates between flavors of fruit then garrigue and cedar.  Good acidity.  ***(*) 2021-2036.

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1994 Chateau de Beaucastel, Hommage a Jacques Perrin, Chateauneuf du Pape
Alcohol 13.5%.  The nose is subtle with mature, earthy aromas.  The softer and gentle entry brings dark, sweeter fruit and garrigue in the finish.  A fine wine that could use a longer finish, suggesting it is time to drink up.  **** Now.

1995 Chateau de Beaucastel, Hommage a Jacques Perrin, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Vineyard Brands.  Alcohol 13.5%.  Those nose offers animale aromas with bits of berries and Kirsch poking through.  In the mouth the concentrated, powerful flavors of ripe fruit cling to the mouth leaving extract in the aftertaste.  The flavors are also accented by animale notes.  The power is driven by acidity leaving fine, drying tannins.  **** Now – 2030.

The dessert wines were led off by the 1973 Domaine des Baumard,  Quarts de Chaumes.  This is a vintage that Phil Bernstein recently tasted at Baumard, where it is still available, so he imported a small quantity.  It is lovely stuff!  It is complex from decades of age but it is also very lively.  There is even a curious red berry fruit flavor.  The combination of residual sugar and acidity will see this wine through for decades to come. The 1988 Chateau Raymond-Lafon, Sauternes is drinking great right now.  I love Sauternes and this bottle did not disappoint.  The 1989 Huet, Moelleux Le Mont Premiere Trie, Vouvray reminds me of an apple orchard but it was too subtle and short in the finish to warrant much excitement.

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1973 Domaine des Baumard,  Quarts de Chaumes
The nose was stinky at first with cheese and some tuna.  This is a tight and vigorous white wine with flavors of apricots, apple spice, and creme brulee.  It is a little thick with noticeable residual sugar.  It is quite complex and offers surprising red berry fruit in the middle.  There is plenty of acidity that will see this wine through many years to come.  **** Now – 2036+.

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1988 Chateau Raymond-Lafon, Sauternes
Imported by Luke’s Distributing Co.  Alcohol 13.5%.  The attractive amber color is followed by a robust nose.  The tangy fruit is matched by well-balanced residual sugar and acidity.  It soon becomes clear there is great sweetness here from ample residual sugar.  Drinks well right now.  ***(*) Now-2020.

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1989 Huet, Moelleux Le Mont Premiere Trie, Vouvray
The subtle nose is followed by apple and fallen orchard fruit making it the most vinous of the dessert wines.  It is perhaps, a little subtle and short to warrant future aging.  *** Now.

“I dream of wine every day”: A Madeira tasting to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the partnership between Mannie Berk and Ricardo Freitas

Twice last year I found myself in the company of Mannie Berk (The Rare Wine Company) and Ricardo Freitas (Vinhos Barbeito) tasting old Madeira dating back to the early 19th century. The first time was at The Majesty of Malvasia tasting held during the spring of 2015 in New York City. The second time was at the Plume Restaurant in Washington, DC. The Plume Restaurant is located in The Jefferson hotel. It is an apt place to hold a Madeira tasting for the core wine list is based on the wines which Thomas Jefferson drank. This means the Madeira selection is particularly deep with such selections by the glass as the 1882 Barbeito, Malvasia “RR” and the 1720 H.M. Borges, “Palther”. However, we were not there to plunder the restaurant’s cellar, we were there to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the partnership between Mannie Berk and Ricardo Freitas.

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When Mannie and Ricardo first corresponded, there was soon trouble. Mannie had faxed an order for Madeira which was full of old vintages. The Barbeito family had never sold old vintages as part of their regular business and Ricardo was afraid to fill the order. He knew it would take many months to bottle, seal, and label the wines for this order alone. A few months after the fax was received, Mannie arrived on the island, meeting Ricardo for the first time.

Just one decade earlier, Mannie had come across hundreds of cases of ancient Madeira owned by Hedges & Butler, a British wine agent that had just been bought out by a large brewer. The Madeira was being sold off at absurd prices and Mannie bought every single bottle. It is these bottles which became the nucleus of The Rare Wine Company. Mannie’s focus on Madeira continued with purchases at the great Quinta do Serrado and Acciaioly auctions held in London during 1989. At this time the Madeira market was bad and prices were low. Ricardo’s mother had attempted to sell some Madeira at auction shortly after the Acciaioly sale. What constituted the market then was, in effect, saturated so the sale did not go well. Thus there were plenty of old vintages at Barbeito when Mannie’s fax arrived.

Ricardo’s mother was a good taster and appreciated the old bottles. She drank old Madeira every day be it from the 1960 vintage or the famous 1795 Terrantez. She always bought wines here and there, for she was crazy about these bottles. She felt they were something to have fun with. However, she took the time to take care for them, carefully transferring the bottles to demijohn. Indeed, Ricardo’s first experience with old Madeira was transferring these bottles to demijohn before eventually re-bottling them. This is a technique he still employs today.

Vinhos Barbeito was founded by Mario Barbeito in 1946 during the difficult post war years. When he passed away in 1985, his daughter Manuela not only took over running the business, she became the winemaker. Her son Ricardo joined the family business in 1991 and became the winemaker in 1993. It was Ricardo who ceased bulk operations to focus in on high quality individual wines.

Mannie did not solely focus on selling ancient vintages of Madeira. The Madeira imported into America was of average quality and knowledge of Madeira’s important role in American history was all but forgotten. Within a few years of the first fax, in 1998, Mannie and Ricardo began the collaborative “Historic Series” of wines. These wines highlight American’s historic thirst for Madeira by offering complex, aged Madeira, evocative of historic styles. All of this at affordable prices.

Ricardo commented that the Historic Series are difficult to make. These blends are based on his large library of old vintages purchased by his grandfather and mother. Ricardo dreams of wine every day not just of their pleasure but also how they will taste as a blend. With limited quantities of old wine, he has a difficult task in searching for the right balance of components to achieve the end result. It would be a waste to constantly use old wine to produce experimental blends. Ricardo might taste a few casks or demijohns to refresh his memory before his mental blending begins.

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Madeira is a wine with a rich history that cannot exist without America. Ricardo feels that the Historic Series brought Madeira back into American history. It also uniquely binds Mannie and Ricardo together as they share new adventures working on blends inspired by historic research. For this celebration, we not only tasted the earliest collaborative blends but we explored wines that were not originally owned by the Barbeito family, some of which came back to Ricardo by accident. There was a great amount of information relayed by both Ricardo and Mannie which adds important context for each of the wines. I have organized any relevant information and my tasting notes by flight.

The First Flight

 

The first flight of wines highlighted Ricardo’s earliest wines and two of the early collaborative blends between Ricardo and Mannie. The 1992 Barbeito, Sercial is Ricardo’s first vintage wine and one of his very first wines in general. He loves this wine because it went against the grain. Grapes were traditionally picked with a minimum potential alcohol of 9°, which was regarded as the minimum level required to make a good wine. Ricardo feels that is not the case pointing out how well the 1992 Barbeito, Sercial is developing in the bottle. Today, a 9° potential is a requirement, so he aims for 9° -9.5° to have extra acidity. Acidity is everything to Ricardo. The NV Barbeito, Terrantez Reserve marks Ricardo’s first blend for America. Mannie wanted a blend of Terrantez so this was produced from wines 25 years of age when bottled. Our third wine, is the first bottling of the NV The Rare Wine Company, New Orleans Special Reserve and first special bottling in the Historic Series. A year after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Mannie wanted to create a wine to raise money for culinary and cultural activities in the city. He wanted the wine to be Terrantez and was particularly keen on a specific 60 liter demijohn. Mannie soon created a problem because he wanted 50 cases of wine which is nearly 8 times the amount represented by that demijohn! In the end the New Orleans blend contains 25% of the very same Terrantez used in the 2000 bottling of NV Barbeito, Terrantez Reserve. There are just a few other Terrantez blended in for there was not much available to work with at the time. Ricardo even bottled some of the original demijohn for Mannie to compare the blend to. Incredibly, the blend tasted very similar to the original and the wine became legendary.

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1992 Barbeito, Sercial
Bottled one or two years ago. The nose is brighter and pungent with dried herbs. In the mouth, there is gobs of acidity which grabs the back of the throat. The wine then shows some weight with bright and tart flavors, lighter tea notes, and simpler herbs. It wraps up with watering acidity and an earthy/foxy aftertaste. ***(*)

NV Barbeito, Terrantez Reserve
Bottled in 2000. This wine is sweeter, darker, and creamy with an element of cola-like freshness. The rounded start bears ripe flavors on the sides of the tongue before softly draping the tongue in flavor. Definitely an attractive mouthfeel. There are notes of dry wood. It finishes with a sense of freshness. ***(*)

NV The Rare Wine Company, New Orleans Special Reserve
First bottling. This is bright and pungent on the nose, certainly more aromatic and complex. There is a round, rich start before drier flavors and acidity comes out hitting the back of the throat. Though lighter in style, the wine has attractive tension between the combination of acidity and richness. It shows more perfumed flavors. ****(*)

The Second Flight

 

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Tinta Negra is often added to a blend, frequently to bring acidity. After several years in bottle, the other components will dominate the savage parts of Tinta Negra bringing harmony to the wine. Since 1995, Ricardo treats Tinta Negra like any of the white varieties, taking care of it as it ages. He came about this realization after finding aged Tinta Negra in his grandfather’s and the Favilia family’s inventories. The NV The Rare Wine Company, The Wanderer is pure Tinta Negra sourced from the last 60 year old liters owned by Ricardo. When Mannie first tasted the wine he told Ricardo he would kill him if he blended it away. So instead it was bottled for Mannie! The 1889 Barbeito, Verdelho is a wine that originated with Ricardo’s mother and one he never expected to drink. There were 100 bottles of this old Verdelho, carefully treated, labeled, and sold by his mother in the name of Christopher Columbus. What we tasted represents the last few bottles and it is an interesting wine. Old Verdelho is typically sweeter because it has concentrated in wood. This wine is medium dry, which is unusual, because it was stored for some unknown duration in demijohn until Ricardo’s mother bottled it in 1989. The 1912 Barbeito, Bual, Quinta do Sao Joao was cloudy which marred the nose. It was produced from a property owned by his brother-in-law in a very small village at Jardim do Mar. Located near the sea, this area produced good wine in the 19th and early 20th century. When his brother-in-law and sister passed away, there was still some wine left in demijohns. Completely forgotten about, this wine was bottled 15 years ago.

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NV The Rare Wine Company, The Wanderer
The vibrant, dense color makes way to a stinky nose. It is rich and creamy in the mouth with a lipstick note. It exhibits power with a lovely middle before gently approaching the finish. Quite different with no hard edges. ***

1889 Barbeito, Verdelho
This piercing wine is both zippy and spicy with the acidity noticeable on the tongue. The acidity is in fact incredible, mushrooming through the aftertaste. There is fruit and ripe flavors that bear out in the end. The acidity is prominent but the sweetness balances it out before the citric and tart aftertaste. It became more piercing with air. ****

1912 Barbeito, Bual, Quinta do Sao Joao
It has a dark, cloudy color. There are ripe fruit and tobacco notes evident on the nose. This is more wine-like with hints of red fruit, a burst of ripeness with expansive mouthfeel, and integrated, very pure acidity. Both cream and cola builds until there is a ripe texture in the finish. It wraps up with tea, tobacco, and old wood notes. ***

Third Flight

 

The 1891 Barbeito, Bual, Favilia Ribeiro Real is a wine that came from a few demijohns owned by the Favilia family that were only bottled three months prior to tasting. The Ribeiro Real is a very large property for Madeira, located in Cama de Lobos in the south. Many farmers worked that area which has become one of the best places for Tinta Negra. The property once belonged to Count Ribeiro who did not have any sons. He left the property and all of the wine to his lawyer who was the first of the Favila family. The wine, which was in casks and demijohns, was moved to an old warehouse in front of the family home in Funchal. It is a special place to age wine but more importantly, one of the best private winemakers took care of the wine. The wine was in demijohns since the 1960s. Ricardo found a slight imbalance in the wine and suspects the winemaker noticed this and realizing he might lose the wine if kept in cask any longer. Thus it was transferred to 12 liter demijohns. These beautiful demijohns are still used for emptying bottles into before rebottling. Ricardo found that the 1882, which we tasted later on, bore a similarity, partially due to terroir and partially due to the upbringing of this great winemaker. The 1866 Barbeito, Bual came from a demijohn that Ricardo brought to his tasting room. It was slightly cloudy so he used a manual filtration system invented by his mother. The 1837 Barbeito, Bual came from his sister’s collection. She had 30 or 40 various bottles from his mother’s and grandfather’s favorite wines. His nephew’s sold the wine when she passed but there were a few leftovers including this one.

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1891 Barbeito, Bual, Favilia Ribeiro Real
There is a deep, lovely nose both sweaty and pungent that is remarkably fresh. In the mouth are rich, concentrated, powerful flavors that become spicy and dry towards the finish and tobacco accented aftertaste. It is a bit electric from acidity. *****

1866 Barbeito, Bual
The nose is primarily perfumed with floral aromas but the pungency is there as well. This is a harmonious, balanced with lively acidity, dry texture in the finish, and a pervasive aftertaste. ****(*)

1837 Barbeito, Bual
The nose is the shyest of all the wines. The wine itself is the most mature. It picks up sweetness in the gentle and simpler finish but does become more vibrant. It has some cream-cola hints and a tobacco smoke note. ****

Last Flight of Six Wines

 

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The NV Malvasia, 40 year old, Mae Manuela is a blend Ricardo made four years ago as an homage to his mother. Of the blend, 7% came from a 60 liter demijohn of Malvasia from 1880 that belonged to his mother. For the second time Ricardo was almost killed, this time by the great Madeira expert Paul Day, who thought Ricardo was crazy for blending in such an old wine. But Ricardo felt it was a good wine, not great, and he wanted to make a blend that bore the mark of an old wine with more maturity than he had even done. It was difficult to blend. He worked with wines 40 to 60 years of age, first creating the idea in his head then blending four or five wines together. These were then finished off with a further three wines to complete the blend. The 1955 Barbeito, Moscatel is the youngest Moscatel that Ricardo has tasted because Moscatel has not existed on Madeira for some time. This wine was bottled 15 years ago. It is not as sweet as those on the continent and it has more acidity. The 1950 Barbeito, Malvasia, Favila Veiira is owned by the Favilia family just like the 1891 and 1882. The fruit for the 1950 came from different vineyards located on the north coast. This area is well known for Sercial and Verdelho. The 1926 Barbeito, Malvasia, Vasconcelos was owned by Ricardo’s brother-in-law and as such was aged in the same old warehouse in the center of Funchal as the 1912. It was made with fruit sourced from a different vineyard but more important it was made in a manner unique amongst all of the wines we tasted. The family who made the wine owned a traditional sugar cane plantation from which they also produced rum. This very rum was used to fortify the wine!

We moved back in time again for our last two bottles of Madeira. The 1900 Barbeito, Malvasia highlights one reason why Ricardo moves a wine from cask to demijohn. It is the sweetest wine of the tasting with 200 g/L of sugar in it. It is both extremely sweet and also very high in acidity, both of which are perfectly balanced. It is also the darkest wine that we tasted. This color is due to both the high caramelization of the sugar and the concentration of the wine from time in casks. It would only get darker with further cask age. It was then, for Ricardo, the perfect time to move this wine from cask into demijohn. This is the oldest wine that Ricardo has bottled the most of.

Finally, the 1882 Barbeito, Malvasia “RR” came from the same family as the 1891 Barbeito, Bual, Favilia Ribeiro Real. Both of these vintages were moved from cask to demijohn during October 2014 then bottled three months later in January 2015. There are unfortunately only 140 bottles or so.

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NV Malvasia, 40 year old, Mae Manuela
The soft aromas mix tobacco with sweet, sweaty notes. The wine begins with subtle spicy flavors, tobacco, and watering acidity. The rounded orange-citrus and tobacco return in the finish right before the acidity kicks in during the aftertaste. ****

1955 Barbeito, Moscatel
The candied flavors with cream are piercing, showing less balance and a shorter finish. **

1950 Barbeito, Malvasia, Favila Veiira
The stinky nose is pungent with fruit. There is a sweet bit at the start before lively flavors build in power. It is a lovely wine, with vibrant texture, lemon citrus flavors, and density that almost reaches a glycerin level. ****

1926 Barbeito, Malvasia, Vasconcelos
The nose really is like rum. The flavors are an interesting mixture of tobacco, smoke, and spicy notes. It wraps up with caramelized and spirituous flavors. ***(*)

1900 Barbeito, Malvasia
An explosive start bring a dry, dusty, old tasting frame of a wine. It turns a little hollowing with heat in the dusty finish. The sugar and acidity are balance. ***

1882 Barbeito, Malvasia “RR”
This is a heavy, sweaty, pungently aromatic wine. With a familiar smell it is articulate in its youth. There is a core of flavor throughout, picking up sweetness, sugar, and dark flavors. It is a wine for the ages. *****

Extra Flight

 

In true Madeira party fashion, Mannie presented a blend made from the remnants of the 2010 tasting in homage to Ricardo’s grandfather.

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Mannie Berk private blend, lees from the 2010 tasting
A little cloudy. The wine has prominent acidity, a little hollow in the mid-palate, as it turns dry and old tasting. Spicy.