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A 19th century advertisement for Blandy’s Madeira

My current correspondence and research inspired me to post this image from Blandy’s of Madeira.

Madères Blandy garantis d’origine. 1896. BnF Gallica [1]


[1]  Madères Blandy garantis d’origine. Blandy frères fondée en 1811. Funchal (Ile de Madère) : [affiche] / Maurice Realier-Dumas 96 ; Ducourtioux & Huillard. Bibliothèque nationale de France. URL: http://catalogue.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb39840456j

George Washington’s Food Supply Ledger

January 20, 2017 Leave a comment
Invoice for 2 pipes of Madeira from John M. Pintard to George Washington, November 20, 1793. Library of Congress.

Invoice for 2 pipes of Madeira from John M. Pintard to George Washington, November 20, 1793. Library of Congress.

As today is the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, I thought I would briefly focused on our first president George Washington.  George Washington’s Mount Vernon recently published a page from the Food Supply Ledger for the dates of May 19-25, 1794.  It is a fascinating, daily account with rows detailing the consumption of the Meats, Fish, Butter, Bread, Spices, Candles and of course Wines.

The wines are categorized as “Madeira”, “Claret”, “Champaign”, “Burgundy”, “Ven-de-Grave”, “Sauterne”, and “Sweet wine”.  On all but one day several bottles of Madeira were drunk.  In reviewing his wine orders it is possible to hazard a guess as to what type of Madeira was in those bottles.

The last Madeira order prior to May 1794, was acknowledged on November 20, 1793, when John Marsden Pintard, US Consul at Madeira, shipped “2 Pipes Old particular Madeira” at £38 Sterling each.  The pipes arrived via the sloop Lively at Philadelphia in January 1794.  We know from the Household Account Book that Joseph Sim was paid $484.59 for the two pipes on January 24, 1794.  The very next month on February 3, 1794, the final expense of $2 was paid for “putting in the Cellar”.

Madeira was classified according to quality with the best and most expensive being London Particular.  “Old particular” thus refers to London Particular most likely of two years of age.

 

“Sercial Sherman”: A look at the 1852 Sercial selected by General Sherman in 1871

January 12, 2017 Leave a comment

In December 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman completed his “March to the Sea” which involved widespread devastation not just of military targets but also industrial and civilian property.  Having reached Savannah, Georgia, his troops turned towards the Carolinas with the intention of reaching Virginia.  Thus at the start of 1865, residents of Charleston, South Carolina took action as General Sherman’s army advanced.

Residents of Charleston were careful to hide and disperse their treasured Madeira collections to avoid consumption by General Sherman’s troops.  Bottles were hidden between rafters, demijohns were buried in the ground and for the South Carolina Jockey Club, the Madeira was hidden in the South Carolina State Hospital for the mentally ill.  The Jockey Club’s Madeira remained untouched but for some families their entire collection was lost.  One family sent eight wagon loads of Madeira nearly 200 miles from Charleston to Cheraw, near the North Carolina border.[1]  The Madeira was captured by General Frank P. Blair before it could be hidden.

General Blair served a few bottles of the captured Madeira to General Sherman who found them “very good”.  General Blair shared the story of its capture and eventually sent a dozen bottles “of the finest Madeira” General Sherman had ever tasted.  The rest of the Madeira was divided equally amongst the army.

Surviving stocks of 19th century American bottled Madeira are exceedingly rare.  It is ironic then, given the widespread disruption and consumption of Madeira by General Sherman’s army that one of his own bottles was served at The Sensational Sercial Tasting held last year.

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Labeled “1852 Sercial Selected By General Sherman On his visit at Madeira, 1871” this bottle was part of a parcel of three bottles acquired by Roy Hersh, For the Love of Port.  The paper-wrapped bottles were purchased from a family on Long Island who had owned them for three decades.  Two of the bottles were labeled as Sercial and one Navy Reserve.  There is no known documentation for these bottles and outside General Sherman’s comments on General Blair’s captured Madeira, he himself wrote nothing else about specific bottles of Madeira.

It was at a dinner in August 1871, with Admiral James Alden and General William W. Belknap, that General Sherman made plans to visit Madeira.[2]  Admiral Alden had been promoted to rear admiral in command of the Mediterranean Squadron.  As General Sherman had never been to Europe he agreed to accompany Admiral Alden on his journey to Spain.  They were to first stop at Madeira.

Admiral Alden was to take the screw frigate Wabash as his flagship.  She was being overhauled at the time.  With repairs complete she left the Boston Navy Yard on November 17, 1871. Just a few weeks later she approached Funchal under steam on December 5, 1871.[3]

USS Wabash. c 1871-1873. Image from Naval History and Heritage Command.

USS Wabash. c 1871-1873. Image from Naval History and Heritage Command.

General Sherman wrote very little of wine during his life and little of the “Celebrated Madeira Wine” during his visit as he described it.  His only descriptions of wine relate to the “[b]light destroy the grapes” some 20 years earlier.  He described how “New Vineyards are beginning to reproduce the Same wine”.

He accompanied Admiral Alden on their very first visit ashore which was to a “Mr Walsh’s house”, the Admiral having known him in “former years”.  It is Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co., who first suggested that General Sherman perhaps visited Mr. Welsh of the Madeira shippers Welsh Brothers and that perhaps our bottle came from the Welsh’s.[4]

Prior to the Oidium, or blight that General Sherman wrote of, the Welsh Brothers were focused on “cheap light Madeira”.[5]  This succeeded in this business becoming the largest Madeira shipper by 1849.  By 1881, their focused changed to sending the “more costly growths” mostly in bottle to the United States.

That our bottle came from the Welsh’s is corroborated by an article published in Harper’s Magazine during 1919 by Major Charles Wellington Furlong.[6]  Major Furlong was an American explorer and writer who traveled around the world.  This particular article of his describes a hunting trip he took with Charles B. Cossart, Harry Hinton, and Mr. Welsh Jr on a deserted island off of Madeira.

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On the last night of the hunt, the party celebrated with a meal of curried rabbit and goat-meat stew accompanied by a bottle of Madeira brought by Mr. Welsh Jr.  It was none other than “a bottle of Sercial wine of a vintage of seventy years.”  This dates the wine to 1849 which essentially matches the 1852 vintage of our bottle.  Mr. Welsh Jr. explained that wine was called “Sercial Sherman” because at Christmas time “General Sherman sent for four bottles, and since then his daughter has followed her father’s custom.”

It seems unequivocal that our 1852 General Sherman Sercial came from the Welsh Brothers.  It is also possible that the Madeira Wine Association (MWA), in part formed by Hinton and Welsh, marketed wine under the name “Sercial Sherman”.  Since this bottle is not labeled “Sercial Sherman” it is possible it was shipped during General Sherman’s lifetime which means it arrived in the United States between 1871 and 1891.


[1] Sherman, William Tecumseh.  “Memoirs of General William T. Sherman”, 1876.

[2] Ibid.

[3] General William Tecumseh Sherman to Thomas E. Sherman.  December 5, 1871. CSHR 9/59. Sherman Letters. University of Notre Dame. URL: http://archives.nd.edu/findaids/ead/index/fulltext/cshr9_59.htm

[4] See Mannie Berk’s background information on the wine in the Sensational Sercial tasting booklet. April 30, 2016.

[5] Vizetelly, Henry. Facts About Port and Madeira. 1880.

[6] Furlong, Major Charles Wellington. “Hunting With the Lords of the Dezertas” Harper’s Magazine, Volume 138. 1919.

My favorite wines of 2016

December 31, 2016 Leave a comment

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It has been a busy year.  Not with wine drinking but with work, family, and the house.  I certainly spent a lot of time researching about the history of wine but this year my strong efforts in exploration produced less results.  As a result I published less historic pieces.  Still, it was a good year in all sense.  As for wine, what is memorable easily falls into five groups old Burgundy, old Chateauneuf du Pape, old Californian wine, old Bordeaux, and very old Madeira.

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Old Burgundy was consumed in the form of 1964 J. Mommessin, Clos de Tart and 1961 Drouhin, Domaine General Marey-Monge, Romanee St-Vivant.  I find these old bottles particularly hardy with sweet, old concentrated flavors that never fade.

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Chateauneuf du Pape was off to a roaring start thanks to a friend who not only opened 2003 Chateau Rayas, Reserve, Chateauneuf du Pape but also 2003 Henri Bonneau, Cuvee Marie-Beurrier, Chateauneuf du Pape.  The Rayas already exhibits “breath-taking complexity” whereas the Bonneau is structured for age.  At the mature end, a beautiful bottle of 1964 Domaine de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape proved the longevity of this type of wine.  This is the first vintage in which Jacques Perrin employed his vinification a chaud technique where he heated the grapes.  There were some mediocre vintages in the 1950s and early 1960s so it is possible Jacques Perrin was ready to use this new technique regardless of the quality of the 1964 vintage.  From the same vintage, though not quite the same level of experience, the 1964 Paul Jaboulet Aine, Les Cedres, Chateauneuf du Pape really highlights how negociants and growers successfully worked together.  I am also thrilled to have tasted an original release Mont-Redon, whose wines from the 1950s and 1960s have been widely praised.  With round, mouth filling sweet strawberries, the 1969 Domaine de Mont-Redon, Chateauneuf du Pape is drinking perfect right now.

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The 1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley expresses many of the traits I like in a mature American wine: dark fruit, earth, grip, and some of the concentration from age that just makes you want to drink the wine rather than figure out how to describe it.  There is quite a reputation for this wine so I am glad it lives up to it.  The biggest Californian surprise of the year is the 1969 J. Pedroncelli, Pinot Noir, Private Stock, Sonoma County which has no written reputation that I could find.  This is Pinot Noir with a hefty dose of Zinfandel, that together provide a vibrant and taut wine with fruit, leather, and animale notes.  I must, of course, include Eric’s big bottle of 1875 Isaias W. Hellman, Angelica Wine, Cucamonga Vineyard, San Bernadino County.  I will write about this wine in a separate post but to provide some context for this exceedingly rare 19th century Californian wine, there were only 37 stars on the America flag when the grapes were harvested.

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For some reason I did not get around to opening any wines from the 1966 vintage this year.  Still, I did not miss the 50th anniversary of the vintage for the 1966 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien proved to be an excellent representative.  From the sweaty nose to the cranberries and red fruit this wine is nothing but fun.  Also pleasurable, particularly for the mouth feel, is the 1979 Chateau l’Evangile, Pomerol.  In fact, Lou and I managed to drink this twice.  It is round, weighty, and injected with fat.  Great stuff!  I also managed to taste two bottles of 1962 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac.  The first bottle, with the highest fill, was the best being very aromatic with beef and blood.  The second bottle had a much lower fill so I opened it up an experiment.  It was simply a more compact representation, attesting to the staying power of Lafite.

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As for very old Madeira, I was fortunate to taste 20 pre-Phylloxera bottles this spring.  If I simply pruned out the fake(s), off bottles, and ones that are not so good I could probably list 10 more wines.  But my favorites can be narrowed to include the 1875 Blandy’s Grabham’s Sercial1864 Henriques & Henriques Sercial, 1808 Braheem Kassab (BAK) “SS”Sercial, and NV Henriques & Henriques Reserva “H.H.” Sercial.  For me, these wines balance the high acidity natural to Sercial with some sweetness.  They offer a diverse range of styles from tobacco and cedar wood to pungent, sweaty aromas and even smoke with minerals.  An empty glass of Madeira will still smell great the next morning.  A few errant drops on your skin will perfume yourself.

Eric Ifune’s 2016 Fortified Wines of the Year

December 27, 2016 Leave a comment

Eric Ifune returns this winter to describe his favorite fortified wines of 2016.  I first met Eric at the annual Madeira tastings organized by Roy Hersh (For The Love of Port) and Mannie Berk (The Rare Wine Co.).  As you can see in his post, Eric drinks some rather amazing and rare wines, so I am excited to present his thoughts.

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I’ve had the great fortune to attend multiple tastings of fantastic fortified wines this year. These are my most memorable in chronologic tasting order.

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Henriques & Henriques Boal AB
A wine from the stock of the late John Cossart, the former head of H&H. This is a distinct wine from the famous H&H duo of the Grand Old Boal and the WS Boal. Probably from the early 19th century. Recorked in 1952 and 2011. The bottle itself is very old, a three part molded hand blown bottle approximately 150 years old.

A pale gold, green, amber color. Beautifully iridescent. A lovely, delicate floral fragrance with almonds and pralines. Just the barest hint of VA. Very, very long with limes and pralines on the finish. Just a lovely, gentle old Boal. Really beautiful. Not as dense as the WS or Grand Old Boal but fine and delicate.

The hand written labels are by Ricardo Freitas of Barbeito who reconditioned the Cossart Wines.

1898 Barbieto MMV Verdelho
Bronze gold green color. A meaty, savory aroma of cabbage, nuts, pralines. It smells better than it sounds! A very lean, acidic style of Verdelho which I love. Flavors of lemons and tangy pralines. A very, very long lemony finish. Just mouthwatering.

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1863 Barbeito MMV Malvasia.
These wines originally belonged to Ricardo Freitas’ mother, Manuela Vasconcelos, who ran Barbeito before Ricardo.

Bronze green, gold in appearance. Very fragrant and floral. Just the barest hint of VA. Savory and delicate on the palate. High acidity with wonderful balance. Did I say I like a lot of acidity in my Madeira? A gentle style of Malvasia. Very long with a finish redolent of tangerines.

1880 Barbeito MMV Malvasia.
This was commercially available via the Rare Wine Company. The majority of this wine was the mother wine of Barbeito’s excellent 40 year old Malvasia “Mae Manuela” blend that Ricardo Freitas created in honor of his mother. The remainder was bottled as a straight 1880.
Very dark, almost opaque with an olive oil meniscus. Dense and rich aromas with iodine, saline, savory and sweet flavors. Very dense, intense and rich. A complete contrast to the 1863. Musky, caramel and toffee. A great, concentrated Malvasia if somewhat monolithic.

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1795 Barbeito Terrantez
A very famous wine. I’ve been fortunate to have tasted this on several occasions over the past several years. Originally the property of the old Hinton family on Madeira, then owned by Oscar Acciaioly. Half was obtained by Barbeito and placed back into wooden casks for oxygenation. It was bottled a few at a time and slowly released to the market. The last of it was 23 bottles filled and sold in 2006. This particular bottle was from September 2000.

Dark bronze color with a green, gold rim. Huge and complex aromas of limes, oranges, toffee, and toasted nuts. On the palate, intense and electric. Great acidity. Not particularly sweet but beautiful balance. Huge depth and complexity. A long citric finish. Just wonderful!

1895 D’Oliveiras Malvasia
This was bottled in 2014. D’Oliveiras has the largest stocks of really old wine left on the island. They still have some of the 1850 Verdelho in cask! They will bottle wine as they need it. This was very dark, opaque in appearance. Smoky and dense aromas with citrus and molasses. On the palate, dense but not particularly sweet. Nice acidity. Flavors of grapefruit, lemons, honey, nuts, and toffee. Long, musky finish.

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1810 Borges Sercial
This was one of the famous wines that Henrique Menezes Borges purchased in the mid-19th century and passed on down to his descendants and not as part of the company holdings. These family wines were thought to be in wood for approximately 100 years. They were bottled from demijohn in 1989. Two demijohns of this 1810 Sercial yielded 45 bottles.

Bright copper, gold, green color. Spicy aromas, a bit spirit. Toast, nuts, and apples on the nose as well. Rich and fruity on the palate. Almost black fruited. High acidity. Beautiful balance. An almost Verdelho level of sweetness due to the extreme concentration. A long, scintillating finish. A bit atypical for Sercial but still a real beauty.

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Herdade do Mouchao Licoroso 1929 Solera
Herdade do Mouchao is an Alentejo estate with an almost cult status in Portugal for their table wines. They also make a vinhos licoroso which is the generic Portuguese term for a sweet fortified wine. Mainly Alicate Bouchet grapes. I think of them with penultimate organic viticulture. No monoculture here, the estate is a patchwork of vineyards, old forest, cork oak groves, pasture for sheep and poultry. Lots of biodiversity.

This particular wine is tasted at the estate from cask. It was refreshed several times, hence the solera designation. The average wine age is 45-50 years old. Impenetrable dark color with a browning rim. Very fresh aromas of walnuts, citrus fruit, figs. The barest hint of VA. Very thick and viscous on the palate, but fresh with great acidity. Not overwhelmingly sweet. Lots of lime, grapefruit, brown sugar and toffee. A very long nutty, figgy finish. Just wonderful stuff!

Quinta do Mourao San Leonardo “60” White Port
Quinta do Mourao is a Port producing Douro estate. Known in the industry for their large stocks of old, superb wood aged Ports. The famous houses would purchase old, wood aged wines from them to beef up their own stocks. The Quinta releases their own wines under the San Leonardo label. Not seen in the States until just recently when they obtained an importer based in Los Angeles. Their range of Tawnies of indicated age: 10, 20, 30, and Over 40 are among the best in their respective categories. They have older stocks as well. This is one of White Port. Technically, this is a White Tawny Reserve since there is no official category older than over 40 years. It is over 60 years in average age and so has the proprietary name “60 White.” This is not released in the States yet, probably this coming year. Tasted with the importer. Amber, gold color shot through with green. Spicy aromas with orange and toffee. Almost like a Christmas cake. Waxy on the palate, almost like an old Chenin Blanc. Very rich with huge complexity and depth. Lots of balancing acidity. A long finish with honey, limes, and tangerines. Eye opening as to the heights of White Port.

Quinta do Mourao San Leonardo “100” Port.
Another release tasted with the importer. This is wood aged with an average age of 102 years. Also a Tawny Reserve with the proprietary name of “100.” Very dark color with a gold green rim. Toffee and roasted nuts. Almost painfully concentrated. Huge and intense but balanced with huge acidity as well. Toffee, caramel, brown sugar on the palate and finish. This is a wine to be savored in small amounts it is so rich and concentrated.

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1970 Taylors Vintage Port.
Oporto bottled. Decanted a few hours before and tasted single blind. Dark core, just starting to go tawny at the meniscus. Spicy with leathery, citrus, and strawberry aromas. I really like the smell. On the palate, dense and rich. Sweet, but perfectly balancing acidity. Very long with tangerines and other citrus fruits.

1970 Dows Vintage Port
Tasted side by side with the Taylors, also decanted a few hours beforehand and tasted single blind. Also Oporto bottled. Even darker than the Taylors. Ruby rim. Young, spicy, plummy aromas. Black fruited, smoky. Very powerful, rich, and tangy. Tasting much, much younger than a 1970. Great balance. I think I like the Taylors a hair more to drink now, but might prefer the Dows in some years.

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Cockburn’s Crusted Port bottled 1929 by Averys.
I’ve not heard of a crusted Port from 1929 let alone seen one. Now I can say I’ve tasted one!

A crusted Port is a bottled aged Port from several years. This was bottled in 1929 so presumably it is a blend of several years prior. Decanted approximately an hour or two beforehand. Beautiful iridescent rose, tawny colored. Still fresh aromatics, savory-sweet with red fruits. Rich and velvety mouthfeel. Indeed the mouthfeel was exceptional! Dense with glycerin. Not a heavy weight, but a beautiful elegant wine. Bright, firm, and vigorous despite the age. Great balance and length. Conversation about the table is convinced there is a lot of 1927 vintage in this wine. 1927 was a very high quality, long lasting, and prolific vintage. Indeed, not all of it was bottled as vintage port; hence the consideration this bottle contained much of it.

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1900 Jose Maria da Fonseca Moscatel de Setubal
Very dark with a brilliant gold-green rim. Musky and savory aromas. High toned and minty. On the palate it is dense, rich, and sweet but with excellent acidity to balance. Sweet, long, rich finish. Textbook Moscatel. IMO, Setubal makes the best Moscatels in the world.

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1937 Warres Colheita Port
Bottled in 1997. Dark, opaque core fading to a tawny then olive oil rim. Smoky aromas with lime zest and a hint of VA. Rich and concentrated on the palate. Buttery mouthfeel. Limes and brown sugar flavors. Great balancing acidity. Long and concentrated.

1961 Krohn Colheita Port
Bottled in 2008. This was before Taylors, Fladgate bought out the Weise & Krohn company. Dark, tawny colored. A bit of VA on the nose, but lots of toffee and citrus as well. Very rich and sweet. Not the concentration as some of the older Colheitas, but beautiful and perfect balance. Long and satisfying. If you can find any of this still on the market, I’d snap it up!

Quinta do Mourao San Leonardo “60” Port.
Another wood aged Port from Mourao. I was fortunate to try this on two separate occasions about a week apart. Again, a Tawny Reserve, this time over 60 years of age. This is the red version in contrast to the white one listed above. Similar notes for the two times. The first taste was from a limited edition 750 ml bottle. The second from the regular release 500 ml bottle. Dark, opaque center with a copper-gold rim. Smokey and citric nose. Dense and sweet with huge complexity on the palate. Toasted nuts, lemons, tangerines. High levels of balancing acidity. A long, lemony finish. These old wines from Quinta do Mourao are a revelation as to the heights great wood aged Ports can achieve. One might think they could use them to beef up their Tawnies of Indicated Age, i.e. 10, 20, 30, and Over 40 years; however, their Tawny Ports are terrific as they are, and these older wines are extra special.

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The Sensational Sercial Tasting 1875-1800

December 23, 2016 Leave a comment

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On April 30, 2016, I attended The Sensation Sercial Tasting in New York City. This was the fifth in a series of definitive annual Madeira tastings organized by Mannie Berk (The Rare Wine Co.) and Roy Hersh (For The Love of Port).  It was only one year prior that I was fully immersed in the world of fine, old Madeira when I attended The Majesty of Malvasia tasting.

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A single glass of old Madeira can perfume a room for hours.  Some 400 glasses containing 20 different wines for 20 people is downright intoxicating.  However, tasting Sercial can be a bit difficult for the naturally high acidity level combined with lower residual sugar can produce a trying wine.  Some of the wines would have been better with food for the sheer quantity of piercing acidity.  Other wines were quite sweet, leaving one taster to jokingly comment that perhaps the “S” does not stand for Sercial.

My four favorite wines spanned the century and also support the notion that either a purported single vintage or a blend can produce outstanding wines.

1875 Blandy’s Grabham’s Sercial
1864 Henriques & Henriques Sercial
1808 Braheem Kassab (BAK) “SS”Sercial
NV Henriques & Henriques Reserva “H.H.” Sercial

All of these wines are historic but two of them have particular American connections. The 1810 Monteiro Old Sercial Reserve is mid 20th century bottling of a house whose wines were imported into America since at least the late 18th century.  There is also the elegantly bottled and labeled 1852 Sercial Selected by General Sherman on his visit at Madeira, 1871.  It is not the most exciting wine to drink but certainly one very important to taste.  There are but few surviving American bottled Madeira in existence.  As a result there are no living experts experienced with this type of Madeira.  I will follow up with a short post detailing a bit more history behind the Sherman Sercial.

Advertisement for Monteiro Madeira from 1796.

Advertisement for Monteiro Madeira from 1796.

It is also important to point out that at least one of our wines was fake.  The 1869 Blandy’s Sercial is not known to have been at auction.  Though the red lead capsule bore the Blandy’s name, it covered both a T-stopper and a contemporary paper seal.  There is also some question about the 1825 “S” Sercial.  It is purportedly a Braheem Kassab (BAK) Madeira but it lacks the embossed capsule.  I shall focus in on these bottles in later posts.

You will find my tasting notes below in the order tasted.  Though we sat down to all of the wines, we tasted through them in flights.  As usual, we silently tasted through the flight then openly discussed the wines.  For me, far more important than the tasting descriptors, are the unique insights provides by a handful of the attendees.  While the provenance of a wine in general speaks to the legitimacy of the bottle and storage conditions, with Madeira it also speaks to how the wine was raised.  Great old Madeira is not the product of one person, it is the result of multiple generations.  From the original blending of wine from multiple families to the different people or families who cared for the wine from cask to demijohn to bottle and perhaps back to demijohn before final bottling.  Unlike 19th-century example of ex-chateau Bordeaux, Madeira may also purposely spend portions of its life in different buildings, gently influencing its character.

While my tasting notes will clearly reflect my preferences, it is the bottle histories that are more important.  Mannie Berk compiles these histories in the tasting book we each receive.  You may find excerpts from these histories in Richard Mayson’s notes in his post Sensational Sercial.  Roy Hersh publishes his tasting notes from in The World of Fine Wine Magazine.  More of the histories will appear in his article. I will update this post once he has done so for this tasting.

Tasting organizers Mannie Berk and Roy Hersh.

Tasting organizers Mannie Berk and Roy Hersh.

Flight #1

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1875 D’Oliveira Sercial
Amongst the darkest of this flight but still brilliant. The pungent nose was finely articulate with underlying sweetness balanced by fresh, high-toned aromas. In the mouth is piercing acidity at the start which returns on the throat in the aftertaste. There is a fine, developing flavors with a certain earthy accent and dried herbs in the aftertaste. It is very acidic in the end. It is a little bit rough right now suggesting the need for further development. ****

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1875 Blandy’s Grabham’s Sercial
The aromas are lower lying with web tobacco, inviting one to take another sniff of the complex and long-lasting aromas. There is a sweeter start with fine cedar and wood intertwined. There is watering acidity which carries the butterscotch flavors through the sweeter, tobacco accented aftertaste. This is a fine, old Madeira with very good balance leaning towards some sweetness. ****(*)

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1870 Ricardo Vasoncelos Sercial “RV”
The nose is funky, sweat which is not pungent, and dark and sweet aromas. It responded with air becoming more properly pungent. There is a rounded, glycerin marked start with integrated acidity. The wine tastes older but sports a racy end just as the acidity shows through. With air the wine does improve leaving a sense of fruit at the start and a wood note. ***(*)/****

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1869 Blandy’s Sercial
This has the lightest color of the floor but is almost slightly cloudy. It smells like old wine mixed with lactic funkiness. In the mouth are the leanest and driest flavors encountered. The flavor lacks through the aftertaste when heat comes out. Not Rated.

Flight #2

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1865 Torre Bella Sercial
This is just lightly the darkest of the new flight. The nose offers up some must then a combination of dried and fresh floral aromas, perhaps lavender, and eventually sweet potpourri. The wine is salty and savory with rapier like acidity. The acidity almost hurts the mouth, overpowering the lavender flavor. Both spirity and hard to drink. Poor.

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1864 Torre Bella Camara de Lobos Sercial
There is a piercing nose of sweet fruit with a touch of wood. This wine is richer with a core of concentrated flavor. The piercing acidity moves through the dry, citric finish only to return on the back of the throat. The wine offers more acidity than fruit but shows substantially better balance than the 1865. In fact, it comes across as lively. ****

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1864 Henriques & Henriques Sercial
The pungent nose is complex with sweeter aromas that are gently sweaty and not distracted by a lactic hint. The wine is tangy with a fruity start. There fruity weight continues with dry floral notes and a mid level of acidity compared to the others. This emphasis the fruit before the very dry finish. It has a hint of wood. It reminds me of the Grabham and is clearly the best of the flight. ****(*)

Flight #3

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1862 D’Oliviera Sercial
This wine is pungent and fully aromatic, bringing forth articulate sweet fruit. This is a full-bore wine with a fruitier start and a fair amount of acidity before the wine rounds out. The sweetness seems separate from the wine leaving a sense of oddity. Despite the wood note the wine is simpler by the middle. ****

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1860 H. M. Borges Sercial
The high-toned nose is hard to describe with a menthol-like and floral set of aromas. Haunting in a way. There is a sweet start to this round wine then a tobacco and floral accented middle. Caramel flavors come out in the finish as well as a little tannic and grippy personality. The acidity hits the back of the throat leaving an aftertaste which is sweeter than expected. ****

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1860 Avery’s Sercial
The nose low-lying with dense aroma eventually becoming more pungent with air. There is a vigour start with savory flavors that become drier towards the finish before acidity marks the path down the throat. The start is great with some fat that makes for a great promise. But the wine shows less balance in the end. Better in flavor than in aromas. ***

Flight #4

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1855 Adegas do Tormeao “S”
The nose is a little lactic with some tea and sweet aromas eventually smelling like an old wine. The nose is consistent with the soft and simpler start and even the short finish. There is a little sweet black fruit with some texture on the sides of the mouth. Better in flavor. **

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1852 Sercial Selected by General Sherman on his visit at Madeira, 1871
The nose is higher-toned with leather and peat notes suggesting spirit. The peat follows through in the mouth where the wine is thicker than expected. It is gently fading and short in finish but managed a savory note and some balance. Curious. **

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NV Henriques & Henriques Reserva “H.H.” Sercial
This wine is clearly in good condition with attractive, pungent aromas. In the mouth this flavorful wine builds in power with wonderful integration. There is a citric grip in the middle with a very fine, racy mineral note. The acidity is only noticeable in the finish. This is ultimately exuberant with sweet concentrated and a slightly short finish. ****(*)/*****

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1810 H. M. Borges Sercial
The lightest of the four in this flight. The nose is freshly pungent, aromatic and strange. The nose is echoed in the mouth with tangy, rather salivating acidity, and a bright, alcoholic finish that continues into the hot aftertaste. This is the most powerful wine of the flight but is unfortunately becoming unknit in the end. Wood hint. ***(*)

Flight #5

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1827 Perestrello Sercial
A unique nose of sweet pizza crust. Again, the nose echoes in the mouth but in rounded, soft form. The softness and low acidity continues for a bit but the wine eventually tightens and becomes a little racy. ***

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1825 “S” Sercial
There is a subtle nose of menthol, tea, and funk. This is a ripe, rich fine wine with a complex blend of wet and dry florals before the stemmy, short finish. The flavors clearly taste older with unique brighter fruit leaving a bizarre impression that is still tasteful. ***

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1810 Monteiro Old Sercial Reserve
There is some sweetness followed by a lactic hint, butterscotch, and foxy aromas. The wine is a little chewy with noticeable acidity, a short finish, and a tobacco note in the aftertaste. **(*)

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1808 Braheem Kassab (BAK) “SS”Sercial
The nose is fresh but not rich with some smoke. The saline start bears sharp acidity. The wine is powerful with both mineral and citric flavors. It is a little short in the finish but a beauty to drink. ****(*)

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1805 Teixeira Sercial “Roque”
Perhaps the darkest wine of all this nice. The somewhat pungent nose mixes heavy aromas of butter and sweet cookies. The wine is saline and almost salty with powerful pungency. The acidity burns through this potent and piercing wine. There is some prune flavors too. ***

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1800 (believed Araujo) Sercial
The gentle yet good nose smells like old wine and leather. The wine starts with a little pungent vibrancy with lively, old flavors. The watering acidity carries through as the wine settles down to a foxy finish. The finish is a little short but the wine is balanced and enjoyable. ****

Eclectic by Any Measure, a Dinner with Mannie Berk

November 29, 2016 1 comment

The wax seal of the 1947 Marchesi di Barolo, Reserva Della Castellana, Barolo

The wax seal of the 1947 Marchesi di Barolo, Reserva Della Castellana, Barolo

With Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co, in town for the Unveiling of the George Washington Special Reserve Madeira we decided to get together for a small dinner.  The theme was eclectic both in region and particularly in vintage.  I do not know if it is more interesting that there were wines from the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s to write the least or that two were from the venerable 1955 vintage and two from 1969.  The quality of the wines in the glass varied but the individual personalities spoke, creating such interest that we stayed up very late that night.

All of the wines were opened at the table to be drunk in any desired order.  I have organized my notes in vintage order first by white then red and finally the sole Madeira.  Finally, I have limited my comments to a handful of wines for brevity.

We kicked things off with the 1985 Laurent Perrier, Grand Siecle, Champagne.  Grand Siecle was conceived in 1955 as top cuvee to be blended from three of the very best vintages.  So our bottle is a particular anomaly being from the single, outstanding 1985 vintage.  The cork was firmly seated, refusing to budge, and ultimately twisted into two pieces which were then dug out.  Perhaps the tightness of the cork ensures an impeccable seal for the quality of the bubbles is outstanding.  This is no recent disgorgement.  At best it is savory, complex, and racy.

The 1955 Chateau Carbonneiux, Graves solicited many remarks as the bottle exuded promise.  The fill was high, the color youthful, and the cork well-seated against the neck.  From the last vintage before the Perrin family purchased the estate, this mostly Sauvignon Blanc based wine was fermented and raised in oak.  The nose did remind me a bit of gasoline before it righted itself.  With clean, floral flavors of lemon and even some weight it is in fascinating shape.  It is a bit simple and short making it more of an academic reference point than quenching old wine.

Inside of the tag for the 1947 Marchesi di Barolo, Reserva Della Castellana, Barolo

Inside of the tag for the 1947 Marchesi di Barolo, Reserva Della Castellana, Barolo

Moving back in time, the oldest red wine came in a squashed 66 cl bottle.  The 1947 Marchesi di Barolo, Reserva della Castellana, Barolo is from one of the greatest Barolo vintages of the 20th century.  The Reserva della Castellana represents a supposed secret stash of top wine secured behind a lock of which there was one key.  Quantities of wine were released each year with the serial numbers recorded in a book.  Bottle #2506 improved in the decanter.  This salty, zippy wine is in the stage beyond fruit of bottle aged flavors.  It is enjoyable, though not remarkable.

I suspect our bottle of 1955 Torres, Gran Coronas, Gran Reserva does not represent the heights this wine can achieve.  A bit of nail-polish and oxidation is present both on the nose and in the mouth.  Beyond that, though, the wine is quite rich and savory.  Time in the decanter broadens the wine.  I would certainly drink this wine again.

The pair of wines from the 1969 vintage were great fun.  The 1969 Domaine de Mont-Redon, Chateauneuf du Pape adds to my recent experience with 1960s Chateauneuf du Pape.  Unlike the examples I have tried from the 1978 vintage, this is an original release.  Mont-Redon from the 1950s and 1960s are praised by Rhone lovers.  John Livingstone-Learmonth found them to have strength and concentration with Robert Parker writing they were amongst the finest wines of France.  During this period the wines were 80% Grenache, 10% Cinsault, and 10% Syrah.

The back label of the 1969 J. Pedroncelli, Pinot Noir, Private Stock, Sonoma County

The back label of the 1969 J. Pedroncelli, Pinot Noir, Private Stock, Sonoma County

The second wine from this vintage came from California.  J. Pedroncelli was founded in 1927 was John Pedroncelli planted 135 acres of vines on hillsides near Dry Creek.  According to Robert Lawrence Balzer, the site reminded him of his native Lombardy.  The vineyard would receive the fog that moved up the Russian River which then receded to provide sunshine.  The coolness and warmth was found to make “grapes richly concentrated with flavor” when Robert L. Balzer first visited in 1975.  According to Charles L. Sullivan, this was the first vineyard to be planted with Pinot Noir in Northern Sonoma after the Repeal of Prohibition.

Robert L. Balzer’s visit was prompted both by his enjoyment of the wines and the fact that they tended to place well in competitions.  Nathan Chroman was chairman of a few competitions who noted the difficulty of growing Pinot Noir in California.  In 1972, when Nathan Chroman tasted through 23 California Pinot Noirs, he found the 1969 Pedroncelli Pinot Noir a wine to lay down.  Robert L. Balzer found the 1972 vintage in need of age as well.  I doubt either of them expected the 1969 J. Pedroncelli, Pinot Noir, Private Stock, Sonoma County to be drinking with full vigor nearly 50 years later.

The Pedroncelli is a fun wine to taste with the Mont Redon.  They both smell of similar age and a traditional style of winemaking.  The Mont-Redon is more round, with sweet fruit whereas the Pedroncelli is vigorous and grippy with the addition of leather and animale flavors.  John Winthrop Haeger offers one possibility for the longevity of the Pedroncelli, in the 1960s the Pinot Noir bottles included a hefty dose of Zinfandel.

The longevity is also, of course, due to the winemaking.  This wine was made by the sons of the founder John Pedroncelli who followed the traditions and styles set by their father.  It was only in 1968 that Pedroncelli purchased their first French oak barrels and began switching their old Redwood tanks to stainless steel.  This was the start of the American wine boom that would see a year after year increase in vineyard acreage and number of Californian wineries.  Thus the Pedroncelli marks the end of a phase and so does the Mont-Redon for the winemaking changed in the 1970s towards producing an early drinking style.  After tasting these two wines I naively wonder why change?

I have become a firm believer that when a tasting of old vintages is finished with a dessert wine, it should be of similar or older age.  What a treat then to have a glass of 1934 Cossart Gordon & Cia., Bual, Madeira.  From an excellent vintage, this is a Madeira that excels on the nose.  Old Madeira fills your nose and the air around you, transporting you to a traditional period without the need to actively smell your glass.

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1985 Laurent Perrier, Grand Siecle, Champagne
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  The very fine, lively bubbles are crisp, precise, and vigorous.  With a bright entry, this saline and savory wine mixed baking spiced flavors with a racy body.  With air the bubbles remain undiminished but the complexity comes out and the wine develops even more racy body, wrapping it all up with a mature finish.  Drinking fantastically right now.  **** Now – 2021.

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1955 Chateau Carbonneiux, Graves
Shipped by Alexis Lichine.  Imported by Clairborne Imports.  An excellent looking bottle.  The light amber color defies age and matches the lemon and floral tree flavors.  The wine has weight, drapes the tongue, and almost becomes racy.  I think the Semillon is coming through.  It is, though, a bit simple with a short finish.  ** Now.

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1996 Nicolas Joly, Savennieres Coulee de Serrant
Imported by The Rare Wine co. Alcohol 14%.  This is a round wine with perfumed flavors of apple and mature lemon.  It is round, fairly clear, and mature with a racy vigor in the finish.  It seems to be all about the fabulous texture. **** Now – 2022.

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2004 Domaine Leflaive, Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru
Imported by Wilson Daniels.  This somewhat complex wine mixes lemon flavors with unintegrated oak.  It is taut in the middle, leaning towards the acidic side of things before taking on some cream in the end.  It is, perhaps, in need of time.  ***(*) 2020-2025.

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1947 Marchesi di Barolo, Reserva della Castellana, Barolo
Imported by T. Elenteny Imports.  The dark core hints at life.  In the mouth this salty wine reveals how it improved with time in decanter.  It is all about bottle aged flavors with tangy acidity giving a zippy personality.  The mouth remains but the flavors ultimately thin out.  *** Now.

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1955 Torres, Gran Coronas, Gran Reserva, Penedas
Imported by Forman Bros. Inc. Alcohol 12.65%.  The color is deep.  The nose offers up barnyard and some not-quite-right aromas of nail polish but is still enjoyable.  Slightly oxidized in the mouth this is clearly from a rich wine.  It is savory with acidity and even improved a touch in the decanter.  But the oxidized hint is there and the finish is short.  It is easy to imagine other examples being very good.  *** Now.

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1969 Domaine de Mont-Redon, Chateauneuf du Pape
From a Belgian cellar.  Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 13%.  A proper set of aromas which are animale.  There is round, mouth filling sweet fruit with a subtle hint of Kirsch, and wood notes.  The fruit resolves to be sweet strawberries.  This is clearly a beautiful wine in fine shape which tightens with air.  **** Now.

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1969 J. Pedroncelli, Pinot Noir, Private Stock, Sonoma County
Alcohol 12%.  This smells proper and of a wine-making style that no longer exists.  With air this old wine smells of leather.  In the mouth this is a vibrant wine with taut, grippy flavors of complex red fruit, leather, animale, and more sweetness.  It has fine texture and life. Our bottle is in fine shape and capable of drinking at this level for years to come.  **** Now – 2022.

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1988 Fattoria dei Barbi, Brunello di Montalcino
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  With one of the youngest profiles this wine offers attractive, fruit driven flavors which focus in on violets.  I would say it became younger with air. ***(*) Now – 2026.

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1990 Chateau de Fonsalette, Syrah, Reservee, Cotes du Rhone
Shipped by Allyn & Scott Wines Ltd. Imported by Wine Cellars LTD. Alcohol 14%.  Ah, there is some of that Rayas character on the nose!  This is a mature wine with youthful vigor.  It is a little round but still possesses tannic grip.  With air this exhibits spectacular body with articulate and textured flavor.  The acidity is spot on as this wine enters its second, mature phase of life.  After a few hours of air this is lovely.  **** Now – 2022.

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1934 Cossart Gordon & Cia., Bual, Madeira
Shipped by Allyn & Scott Wines. Imported by Wine Cellars LTD. Alcohol 20%.  A lovely nose of moderately pungent aromas of caramel, orange, damp campfire, and hints of sweet leather.  Flavors of leather mix with a focused, weighty body but the acidity builds until the finish where it becomes prominent and almost searing in the aftertaste.  The aftertaste is of citric flavors and a persistent sweetness. ***(*) Now – whenever.