I have a thing for Madeira. I've never bought a bottle, but I have been lucky enough to taste some pretty cool stuff and each time I'm blown away by the complexity and enjoyment I get out of these wines. Greg was kind enough to dig up some treasures from his cellar to mark the occasion of me trekking over to frigid New York from my base of San Francisco. If 150 year old Madeira is served each time I'm in town (no I'm definitely not counting on this) I'll be sure to visit often.
This tasting included 4 identifiable wines and one unknown
1. 1880 D'Oliveras Terrantez Reserva
2. 1898 Blandy's Terrantez Reserva
3. 1910 Barbeito Sercial
4. 1863 Blandy's Solera
5. Something older than 1863 that, judging from the color in the picture, is much older. Apparently the bottle this originally came in was a 3 part cast glass bottle such as the one detailed on the external site included below.
Needless to say these wines were Killer, Rockstar, Fantastic, and then some. Each of us in SnoothHQ got one sip of each of the wines and each one was vastly different than the previous. I'm a huge fan of the caramel, earthy, sweet/acidic, and salt water notes commonly found in Madeira and this tasting did not disappoint.
I have always found these wines hard to describe in words, so instead here's some background info on Madeira to hopefully encourage some discovery.
Basics: Madeira is an island in the Atlantic that belongs to Portugal. The island itself is a horrendously difficult place to grow grapes with poor soil and very steep topography. Trellised vines are planted on terraces, called poios, that are carved into the rock ranging from sea level up to over 3000 feet. The best vineyard sites have a Southern exposure.
History: Early 1400's - Portuguese discover a wooded island off the coast of Northern Africa. Madeira means wooded in Portuguese. In the 1500's, the main port on Madeira is used as a way station on the trek to the Americas or around Africa to Asia. Wine is sold to these shipping expeditions which happens to better as the boats sail around the world. By dumb luck taking these simple wines and exposing them to heat and many other disturbances people go to great lengths to avoid with their regular wines turns these into caramelized goodness. Consumers like the way these wines taste, so farmers on Madeira start purposely heating their wines, estufagem, to replicate that twice around the world on a boat flavor.
Similar to Port, Madeira is a fortified wine made in a variety of styles. I'll let you research the various styles and grapes used on your own, but what's amazing about Madeira is its ability to age for what seems like forever and its ability to last once opened.
These are tortured wines, so there is pretty much nothing you can do to harm them. These are great for those of you that keep your wine stored in your kitchen or in another less than ideal location. If you've never had really good Madeira, do yourself a favor and try it out. You don't necessarily need to go buy a bottle (although it will keep forever even after it's open), but your local quality wine bar should have an interesting choice or two.
I would love to get comments about any really old Madeiras people have tried or if you know of a particularly great spot to taste them.