Madeira, Ancient and Modern
presented by Charles Metcalfe and the Instituto do Vinho da Madeira
London, 17th May 2006

The main grapes for Madeira are sercial, bual, verdelho, malvasia, and negra mole.  The grapes tend to be harvested before they are fully ripe, though the minimum legal potential alcohol of the grapes is 9%.  Malvasia is usually grown at lower altitudes: because it is a sweeter variety it has even less requirement for ripeness.  It is the very high acidity in the grapes that really makes Madeira, along the estufado cooking process and the barrel ageing.  All the oak used for Madeira is old wood: it is there just to provide a medium for ageing, not to add flavour.


NV Reserva Meio-Seco Ė Lote 1, Vinhos Barbeito (Madeira) Lda
Vinhos Barbeito are a forward looking company, half owned by its Japanese distributor.  The Reserva Meio Seco Lote 1 is a blend of 50% verdelho and 50% bual and has 28g/l of residual sugar.  It has a light caramel colour and an attractive nose with salted nuts and hints of toffee.  It has a buttery, semi-sweet flavour with a slightly honeyed feel.  Thereís lots of acidity on the finish, together with some lovely fruit of an almost riesling purity before a layer of light caramel seals the wine. 

1995 Colheita Harvest Sercial, H.M. Borges Sucrs, Lda.
Traditionally, Sercial is the dryest form of Madeira.  This has a more austere nose with hints of French polishing and a hint of fishiness.  Very open, round palate.  Very long and very fresh after.  This would make a very nice aperitif.

NV Alvada Doce, Madeira Wine Company
Of the two bottles of this opened for the tasting, one was corked.  It has a shocking pink label that makes it easy to spot on the shelf.  It is a blend of 50% malvasia and 50% bual, has around 130g/l residual sugar, and would retail at £8.49 in the UK.  It has an old oak colour, and a nose to match, redolent of sweet old furniture.  Rich and fairly full on the palate.  Thereís a touch of acidity on the finish, and builds after with great length.  By far not the most impressive of todayís Madeiras.

1998 Colheita Harvest Malvasia, H.M. Borges Sucrs, Lda.
This has around 114 g/l residual sugar.  It has a raisiny-toffee nose, more treacly than the previous wines with dried fruits like figs and raisins, together with a green note.  Quite fresh on the palate.  This is a very fine wine.

1995 Fine and Rich Single Harvest, Henriques & Henriques
This has 100g/l residual sugar and is made from the tinta negra mole grape, which Charles Metcalfe characterised as making a ďbeginnerís Madeira.Ē  It has a very savoury nose with a hint of polished old oak furniture.  Good easy palate.  A nice wine, but a bit overshadowed by some of its compatriots today.

1996 Colheita Doce, Vinhos Justino Henriques
This is made entirely from red grapes: 95% tinta negra mole and 5% from other Madeiran red varieties.  It has a deep teak colour and a sweet toffeed nose with dried fruit.  Somewhat sweeter on the palate, but very clean.  This has great power and depth and is very long indeed.

1981 Frasqueira Verdelho, Vinhos Barbeito (Madeira) Lda
In 1982 this went into old barrels of French oak.  Two barrels were blended in 2004 and then bottled in 2005.  It has 77.5 g/l residual sugar.  In the glass, this has a mid teak colour.  The nose is light and quite fresh with a hefty dose of volatile acidity, but itís all nicely balanced.  It has a lovely fresh palate: very open and approachable with a good complexity behind and some nice citrus peel flavours.  Thereís a lovely bracing acidity towards the finish.

The previous wines were in a more modern style; the next six are more traditional Madeira wines.

1978 Terrantez, Vinhos Justino Henriques Filhos Lda
With c. 50g/l residual sugar, this was only bottled only two weeks previously.  A deep teak colour.  It has a nutty, fairly sweet, very attractive nose with some green melon fruit.  Lovely palate, with hints of the bitterness that is the hallmark of terrantez.  Round and very open with lots of lovely edgy acidity.  Thereís a veritable firework display in the mouth.  A stunning wine.

1976 Terrantez, Henriques & Henriques
This has 72.5g/l residual sugar.  Itís a slightly lighter teak colour, tending towards a greenish tinged tan.  A little muddy on the nose and very figgy.  On the palate, itís very much in the shadow of the 1978 and quite simply in a different league.

1977 Bual, Pereira DíOliveira Vinhos Lda
A lightish old polished oak colour.  Itís a touch beefy on the nose, with direct fruit and old furniture polish.  Rich and a touch sweet on the palate, yet it has lovely balance.  Very fine.

1987 Malvasia, Pereira DíOliveira Vinhos Lda
This has 142.7 g/l residual sugar and around 9g/l acidity.  It is has a deep reddish teak colour with a yellow rim.  The nose is slighter and more closed than the 1977 Bual, with some lovely old furniture and fig notes.  Very full on the palate and quite sweet.  It has a very bracing acidity on the finish.  Very fine indeed.

1964 Bual, Blandyís, Madeira Wine Company
This has spent 40 years in old American oaks, has 61.5g/l residual sugar and was this particular batch was bottled in March 2004: the vintage Madeiras are bottled regularly rather than there being a big one-off release.  This has a lightish teak colour with a limey yellow rim.  The nose is fascinating: dried fruits, agrumes and dried figs.  Very fine palate.  Perfect balance.  A superb wine.

Back to Andrew Stevenson's web page

Last updated: 11 July 2007