The 1974 Warre’s, Late Bottled Vintage is at a state where it drinks perfectly. There are mature wine flavors, spices, and wood box delivered with a seductive round mouth feel. The structure is fully resolved with enough acidity to leave a fresh impression. In short, there is no reason to hold onto this Late Bottled Vintage any longer. You may pull the cork and start drinking to satisfaction but if you give it a bit of air, it will improve a notch.
1974 Warre’s, Late Bottled Vintage Port
Imported by Robert Hass Selections. Alcohol 20%. There is an ample volume of round, berry fruit with quite a lot of body present from the very beginning. It is in a fully integrated state with vintage wine flavor, christmas spices, wood box, and some ripe brown sugar flavor. Perhaps there is a softness to the round quality but the wine is still very fresh. With air the sweet cream and Christmas spice is carried with a glycerin mouthfeel. The rounded structure is fully resolved. **** Now but will last.
The leaves are falling and so are the temperatures. This is perfect weather for a glass of Port at the end of an evening. With an eye to drink beyond our typical 10 year old tawny favorites I started the season off with a bottle of 1977 Quarles Harris, Vintage Port. Quarles Harris is a very old Port house dating back to 1680. Under this name the wines have been available in America since at least the 1840s. Nearly 100 years ago it was bought by the Symingtons and now represents inexpensive vintage Port.
I have not drunk a bottle of Quarles Harris since my Bristol days but I had no fear about trying one from the stellar 1977 vintage. This bottle peaked on the second night proving that at the right price this berry flavored, textured Port is a pleasing alternative to a young tawny.
1977 Quarles Harris, Vintage Port
Imported by French Regional Wine Shippers of London. Tobacco on the nose. In the mouth is a round start with candied fruit before the drier middle. It responds well to air. The berry start develops integrated grainy textured fruit with a sweetness that clings to the mouth. It is spiced in the finish along with some wood notes before the simpler aftertaste. *** Now will certainly last but not improve.
Lou and I gathered last night to taste through five different bottles of mature Bordeaux and California wine. Three of the wines turned out to be of interest. The 1974 Louis Martini, California Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon falls into that category of mature, yet very stable, classic California profile. It still has fruit, body, and some supporting structure. It will not knock you over but it is a good drink from a great vintage. The 1980 Beaulieu Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa Valley moves into the modern spectrum. This is also from a strong vintage which is reflected in the dark color and youthful robustness. If the Martini is mature, old-style Cali then the Beaulieu is clean, robust, and modern. Well-stored bottles will drink well for many years. The final bottle we opened turned out, as I hoped, to be the best. The first indicator of the potential for our bottle of 1979 Chateau l’Evangile, Pomerol was the long, legibly branded, clean cork. After tasting the wine I soon became fixated on the texture and the flavor. This round and weighty wine is infused with fat yet balanced by lively acidity. The mouthfeel is gorgeous. If you move beyond texture there is ripe fruit to be relished too. Lou likened this wine to old Burgundy which Robert Parker echoed years ago with a specific Chambolle-Musigny descriptor. It is a beautiful wine of which I made sure none of my share was left over by the time I went to bed.
1974 Louis Martini, California Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon
Alcohol 12.2%. Very top-shoulder, bottom neck fill. There is a sweet cedar/old wood nose that still retains that vintage Cali signature. The slightly round, red fruit has some body and modest grip. The middle is almost minty fresh followed by a slightly short finish. This gentle wine mixed old-style flavor with vintage perfume and modest aftertaste. The nose fades a bit with air but remains surprisingly stable in the mouth. *** Now but will last.
1980 Beaulieu Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. Bottom-neck fill. This has a relatively deep garnet color. In the mouth are clean fruit, spices, and weighty citrus. The fruit becomes sweeter in the finish. This is a youthful, robust wine with good acidity, and ripe structure. A good, clean wine. *** Now – 2021.
1970 Chateau La Gay, Pomerol
Mid-shoulder fill. This is a simpler wine with tangy red fruit, livey acidity, and citric tannins on the gum. The finish is dry and mineral, leaving tannins on the gums. Definitely mature but still sports an ethereal sweet red and citric fruit in the aftertaste. Unfortunately, this is marred by a musky, dirty note. The cork smells musky too. Robert Parker writes that until 1982, the ancient barrels used to store the wine shared space with chickens and ducks. Hmmm. * Now.
1978 Chateau Gruaud Larose, Saint-Julien
Imported by Chateau & Estates Wine Company. Top-shoulder fill. It turns out the cork was floating in the wine. Lou took one sip, spit it out then dumped the bottle. Not Rated.
1979 Chateau l’Evangile, Pomerol
Shipped by Beylot & Co. Imported by Majestic Wine and Spirits Inc. Alcohol 12%. Very top shoulder fill. This is a round and weighty wine with subtle, dense hints of glycerin. The sweet and coating flavors quickly show good mineral structure. What is glycerin turns to be seductive fat which does not slow the wine down for there is lively acidity. It is quite lifted in the end. **** Now.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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+.
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.
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.
Lou and I gathered in his kitchen last week to drink through a range of Sangiovese based wines primarily focused in on Ruffino, Riserva Ducale. We always start with a white wine but this time the bottle of 1999 Savary, Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume was drinking too advanced. A few sips were fine for curiosity but I soon moved on. I did not miss a beat in tasting (and drinking) the 2010 Carpineto, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva. After recently loving a bottle of 2010 Carpineto, Chianti Classico Riserva the Montepulciano did not disappoint. Let me just say that this is a great wine which is already complex and will clearly develop over the next several years. I would buy several to lay down. I then moved on to the 1998 La Sirena, Sangiovese, Juliana Vineyard, Napa Valley. This tasty wine will have broad appeal. It is a hypothetical mix up of Sangiovese made in a Rhone style in California. Perhaps this sounds bizarre but it will not after you knock back a glass or two.
1999 Savary, Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume
Imported by Kermit Lynch. This wine is 100% Chardonnay sourced from 30 year old vines on Kimmeridgian Limestone that was fermented in stainless steel. Alcohol 12.5%. The attractive autumnal amber color looks quite mature which the nose confirms with fallen orchard fruit signaling the wine is past its peak. The wine is younger in the mouth with hints of apple cider, fresh acidity, and nice tannins making for attractive grip. There is even a citrus hint. But with additional air I just can no longer get past the nose. * Past.
2010 Carpineto, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva
Imported by Opici Wines. This wine is 90% Sangiovese and Canaiolo Nero that was aged for over 2 years in oak. Alcohol 13.5%. The nose is quite pretty and complex with leather and floral aromas. This youthful wine has flavors of black fruit supported by structure and acidity. There is a hint of minerality and an inky quality with a layer of red, floral flavors on top. It is even savory with a touch of fat in the aftertaste. This is well balance for aging. ***(*) Now – 2026.
1998 La Sirena, Sangiovese, Juliana Vineyard, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13.6%. The robust nose offers up some roasty, toasty aromas in a style evocative of California. The wine is drinking surprisingly well with a fruity, dense and rounded start. The watering acidity moves the wine along as it takes on some glycerin for body and offers tart black fruit on the sides of the tongue. It becomes softer with air with some dark cocoa flavors but it remains tasty. A hypothetical Rhone-styled Sangiovese. *** Now.
Our main flight of three wines was focused in on Ruffino in Chianti. Founded in 1877, this estate did not produce their first Ducale Riserva until 1927. The Ducale Riserva with the beige label is produced only in good vintages with the gold label only produced in the very best vintages. The best grapes from estate vineyards are used for Ducale Riserva. The gold label is a selection of the best lots of the beige label from the very best vintage and was first released in 1947. The Riserva Ducale has appeared in American newspaper advertisements since at least 1960. Over the subsequent decades, Ruffino was considered one of the best known names in Chianti with the Riserva Ducale Oro expensive but considered an age-worthy wine. In this vein, A&A Wine & Spirits of Washington, DC, listed 11 vintages of Riserva Ducale Oro for sale in 1987. From the 1977 at $23.99, their selection went back to the 1949 vintage at $199.99 per bottle. Only the 1964 Biondi Santi, Riserva Il Greppo was more expensive at $399.99 per bottle.
The beige label spends three years in various vats and oak casks with the gold label spending at least four years in oak. There was no gold label produced in 1961. The 1961 and 1971 vintages are a blend of 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, 10% Malvasia and Trebbiano, 5% Colorino, Ciliegiolo, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The 1993 is a blend of 90% Sangiovese, 7-8% Canaiolo, and 2-3% white grapes.
The gold label is interesting in that it is made with 6-10% governo. Governo is a second fermentation caused by the addition of dried grapes, dried must, or concentrate. The governo used for the gold label is based on grapes dried on mats for two months. Ruffino feels it helps encourage malolactic fermentation. The Wasserman’s are of the opinion that wines made with governo can actually age quite a long time, particularly the gold label. Another example is the Chianti Classico of Monsanto which used governo until 1967.
Given our small sample set, it is impossible to draw any conclusions about the use of governo. The Wasserman’s rated the 1961 vintage in Chianti a zero out of four stars with Michael Broadbent three stars out of five for Tuscany. The Wasserman’s rated the 1971 vintage two out of four stars (commenting that the 1971 Ducale Oro was fading when tasted in 1989) and Michael Broadbent rated the vintage five out of five stars.
A general opinion appears to exist that Chianti, outside of the spaghetti joint flasks, does not age to extremes due to the large percentage of white grapes. Our bottle of 1961 Ruffino, Ducale Beige, Chianti Riserva was certainly past prime. I managed a few satisfactory swallows but there was nothing that could improve its state. Perhaps the governo and the strong 1971 vintage worked together for the bottle of 1971 Ruffino, Ducale Oro, Chianti Classico Riserva kept supplying great glasses of wine all night long. It smelled and tasted like old-school Italian wine with lively acidity and good weight to the flavors. This bottle was clearly well-stored and I suggest that fans of old Barolo try out this Ducale Oro if you can find one. Our final bottle of 1993 Ruffino, Ducale Oro, Chianti Classico Riserva was clearly a wine of a different era. It did have attractive leather, vintage perfume, and a sweaty note but it did not have vibrant acidity, making it softer and more advanced than I would expect. A solid bottle. Based on my experience with the 1971 I will continue to carefully look for other old bottles of Chianti.
1993 Ruffino, Ducale Oro, Chianti Classico Riserva
Imported by Schieffelin & Somerset. Alcohol 13%. The nose has some VA to it, mixing with hard cherry aromas that become grainier with air. The wine is immediately softer in the mouth and more advanced than I would expect. This mature bottle sports tart cherry, leather, and vintage perfume flavors. It has weight and an attractive sweaty component. I keep thinking it is softer than it should be. ** Now.
1971 Ruffino, Ducale Oro, Chianti Classico Riserva
Imported by T. Elenteny. Alcohol 12.5%. The good nose remains aromatic with mature, old-school aromas reminiscent of Italy. The vibrant, acidity driven start shows good weight to the red fruit with good presence in the mouth. There are ripe, dusty tannins in the aftertaste where a citric grip returns. The wine responds well to air taking on a persistent flavor of old-school perfume. The fruit is dry but there are no hints of raisins (from the governo). *** Now but will last.
1961 Ruffino, Ducale Beige, Chianti Riserva
Imported by T. Elenteny Imports. Alcohol 12.8%. The nose is full of roast earth indicating the wine is past its prime. In the mouth is good, edgy acidity with a core of dense, old fruit. It is more of a core of tired fruit that tastes old by the end. There is some menthol. Drinkable as a relic. * Past.
The 2006 Cadence, Bel Canto, Cara Mia Vineyard, Red Mountain represents the first bottling of Bel Canto where all of the fruit came from the Cara Mia Vineyard. This 10.5 acre vineyard was planted on Red Mountain in 1997. The wine itself is an homage to Cheval Blanc given the blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. I cannot speak to any similarity in flavor, I have only drunk Cheval Blanc once or twice, but there is certainly no shortage of flavor! It takes a few hours for the wine to show better flavor definition but it still pleases from the start. The blue and black fruits provide plenty of mouthfeel which lets you experience the generosity a wine from Washington state may have without dialing it to 11. This wine was purchased many years ago in Seattle.
2006 Cadence, Bel Canto, Cara Mia Vineyard, Red Mountain
This wine is a blend of 52% Cabernet Franc and 48% Merlot. Alcohol 14.4%. There is a juicy fruit start followed by ample ripe, dense, and almost grainy fruit. It is Cabernet Franc on steroids. With air, the cool blue and black fruit shows variety character with some ripe greenhouse notes. It is a powerful wine but not overdone. The structure of sweet ripe tannins with spiced flavors is only apparent in the aftertaste. *** Now – 2018.
“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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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. ***
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.
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
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.
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. *****
In true Madeira party fashion, Mannie presented a blend made from the remnants of the 2010 tasting in homage to Ricardo’s grandfather.
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.