Really Old Madeira

 


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.


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Comments

  • ChipDWood

    Zarco the Blue-Eyed! Hoorah for Zarco, and then of course for putting the entire island to the torch ;).

    I LOVE Madeira, particularly for its history in the States. Untaxable to the Brits, the founding fathers (see: Th. J) bought it by the barrel to collectively give the royalty the “finga” as they toasted.

    This looks like it was a fantastic little tasting. Color me green.

    Feb 17, 2009 at 1:17 AM


  • Snooth User: ChipDWood
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    Repost:

    Zarco the Blue-Eyed! Hoorah for Zarco, and then of course for putting the entire island to the torch ;).

    I LOVE Madeira, particularly for its history in the States. Untaxable to the Brits, the founding fathers (see: Th. J) bought it by the barrel to collectively give the royalty the “finga” as they toasted.

    This looks like it was a fantastic little tasting. Color me green.

    Feb 17, 2009 at 1:21 AM


  • Snooth User: Philip James
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    Adam - nice new avatar pic of you i see…

    Feb 17, 2009 at 1:52 AM


  • Snooth User: Adam Levin
    Hand of Snooth
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    I figured it was time for an upgrade. Madeira is quite the inspiration.

    Feb 17, 2009 at 3:30 AM


  • Snooth User: Adam Levin
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    I tried finding this really great picture of a vineyard site on Madeira I had seen that really shows off the crazy topography, but couldn't locate it.

    Feb 17, 2009 at 3:32 AM


  • Snooth User: solomania9
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
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    The tasting was pretty extraordinary. Although in that particular photo, I'm marveling at how blurry the glass was.

    Feb 17, 2009 at 3:37 AM


  • Snooth User: Mark Angelillo
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
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    This was quite an experience. I spent a good portion of the evening just imagining 150 year old booze in my stomach. It's not every day I imbibe something that old.

    Feb 17, 2009 at 3:45 AM


  • Snooth User: Philip James
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    It looks like your witnessing the glass materialize in your hands

    Feb 17, 2009 at 3:47 AM


  • Snooth User: Adam Levin
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    Found the images with some help. These come from the Premium Port website:





    Feb 17, 2009 at 3:52 AM


  • Snooth User: GregAtchley
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    134235 82

    Wow, what a fantastic place. Beautiful island. I'm ashamed to say that I once sailed right past it on my way to Spain. Disrespectful yute, I was.

    Fast forward to now. This past year I became a huge fan of the California Madeira being produced by V. Sattui in St. Helena. I highly recommend it…but it's the only Madeira I've sampled. Sells for about $42.

    Here's a link:
    http://www.vsattui.com/index.cfm?me...

    Feb 17, 2009 at 11:31 AM


  • Snooth User: Rodolphe Boulanger
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
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    mmmmmmMadeira - one of my favorites. That looks like a spectacular “corridors of Snooth” tasting.

    I've always wanted to vacation in Madeira, but since the significant other can't stand the stuff, I've yet to make it there.

    E&N - Sattui is some good stuff. It's a bit different (and sweeter) than proper Madeira, but it's a very tasty beverage. I polished off my bottle at July 4th last year.

    If anyone is looking for more contemporary Madeira's to get their feet wet, I can't recommend the Rare Wine Co's historic series strongly enough:
    http://www.snooth.com/wines/rare+wi...

    Yes, these bottles are a bit pricy, but remember, you don't have to finish them all at once. They'll keep for months once opened.

    Feb 18, 2009 at 3:46 AM


  • Snooth User: GregAtchley
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    True, IF you have that level of super human restraint, they can last a while. I'll definitely try to hunt down the Rare Wine Co. selection recommended above.

    Feb 18, 2009 at 4:58 AM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
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    Actually the best wine that these vials were remnants of had been decanted for Christmas dinner 2007 but was served in November 2008. Madeira is as close to immortal as a wine gets.

    Feb 18, 2009 at 5:21 AM


  • Snooth User: Pymonte
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    So what's a good Madeira to go check out? I love Ports/Sherries, so I'm sure I'll be a fan, but I wouldn't know a good bottle of Madeira if I were hit over the head with it.

    Feb 18, 2009 at 9:35 AM


  • Snooth User: Adam Levin
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    Vintage dated madeiras are fantastic but can be pricey. A nice 15 year old Bual is a good intro to the world of madeira and shouldn't be to expensive.

    Feb 18, 2009 at 9:45 AM


  • Snooth User: gscubba
    138598 2

    A question for the board. A bottle of 1900 Old Bual has been floating around my house since I was a kid. My father got it from someone, etc etc. The bottle/seal looks to be in relatively decent condition. Is anyone familiar with this one, and if so……drinkable?

    Feb 19, 2009 at 5:19 AM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
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    Hey GS,
    That sounds like a Solera bottling. Anything else written on the label or printed on the bottle? I would guess you have either the Borges or the Justino Henriques. It should be just fine, in fact it should be delicious. Please let us know.

    Feb 19, 2009 at 5:26 AM


  • Snooth User: Rodolphe Boulanger
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    @GDP - Can I ask how you made the logical leap to Solera bottling? Why couldn't it be a 1900 Bual?

    @GS - As noted before on this thread by multiple people, this stuff is virtually immortal. If it's your first bottle of Madeira, you might want to try a glass of Madeira at a good wine bar beforehand so you know what you are in for!

    Feb 19, 2009 at 5:41 AM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
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    Hey Rodolphe, Old Boal with a vintage date sounds like a solera to me. A vintage bottle would just say Boal 1900. I've had Old Boal or Old Malmsey from both Borges and JH and they were solera bottlings so I'm just going from that.

    Feb 19, 2009 at 6:14 AM


  • Snooth User: Rodolphe Boulanger
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    Thanks Sherlock! I was just geekily trying to follow the deduction.

    Another of Madeira's intricate pleasures is that since the wines last almost forever, you need to be aware of the labeling language 4, 5 & 6 generations ago. Moreover, there are substantial amounts of wine floating around from producers who closed up a World War or two ago. And then there's Terrantez and Bastardo, grapes that have packed up and all but quit! Damn, I'm getting thirsty!

    Feb 19, 2009 at 6:31 AM


  • Snooth User: Adam Levin
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    Can anyone (Rodolphe?) shed some light on Terrantez? I've tried this varietal before but couldn't find much info on it just now.

    Feb 19, 2009 at 8:14 AM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
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    I have to second Rodolphe's recommendation. The Rare WIne Company's Historic collection is the best place to start. These are really wonderful wines. Each a great representation of a particular style. You can't go wrong with any of them and trying them all is a great way to get an understanding of what Madeira is!

    Feb 19, 2009 at 11:07 AM


  • Snooth User: Rodolphe Boulanger
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    The island of Madeira was hit very hard by Oidium and Phylloxera in the late 19th century. This also coincided with the demand for Madeira dropping off pretty sharply in the UK and USA. When they replanted, like many vignobles of the world, they used American vines and hybrids - leading to the production of much lower quality wines. Trying to make cheap wines was pretty silly (I think Tom Stevenson comes out and calls it downright stupid in the Sotheby's) because of the absurdly high production costs and fragmented vineyard holdings, Madeira was never going to prosper as source of cheap wine! But, hey, it's many stubborn small farmers growing grapes on the a tropical island - what can you do?

    The almost simultaneous Russian revolution and Prohibition in America really damaged the island's wine industry even further. The maligned RED Tinta Negro Mole, a vinifera, was replanted in many sites. It is still the basis for most basic Madeira. In the 1970s and 1980s, the traditional 4 noble styles: Sercial, Verdelho, Bual/Boal, Malmsey/Malvasia were resurrected somewhat and plantings of those 4 WHITE grapes have been on the rise. Hat's off to the government of Portugal eventually outlawing hybrids and changing appellation laws to protect this historic wine treasure.

    Now that we've established the context, there are many “historic” styles of Madeira that have been all but lost during the crises of the last 150 that saw wholesale replantings mutiple times and the number of shippers drop from 30 to 20 to 6). The two best examples were based on the noble WHITE Terrantez and RED Bastardo grapes - they are extremely rare. I believe Terrantez had some real trouble with American rootstocks at first and was almost wiped out on the island. Moreover, it has a reputation as being a pain to grow and has super low yields like Viognier - again you try getting the Madeira farmers to grow it!

    Fortunately a miniscule amount survived extinction and its acreage is on the rise (same story as Viognier) . Terrantez makes sweet grapes so in style its somewhere between Bual & Malmsey. But wait, nothing in Madeira is ever simple - Terrantez can also make rich, dry wines that fall somewhere between Sercial & Verdelho in style! It has characteristic burnt, bitter, coffee and even salty notes which you guys mention in the tasting notes for the 2 Terrantez wines above. A sizable number of Madeira enthusiasts insist that Terrantez is the greatest Madeira grape so we should be thankful that it is on the rise again. Maybe our grandchildren will be able to enjoy the fine 2020 Terrantezs in the year 2095!

    Oh, and in case you got all that, there are some more lesser grapes grown on the island and put in blends (but you'll almost never see them on the label) including Moscatel, Listrao, Complexa, and Triunfo.

    Feb 20, 2009 at 1:04 AM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
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    Just FYI the Rare Wine Company's New Orleans Special bottling , which is getting harder and harder to find, is based on 60ish%, from memory, Terrantez. It's good if grapy, I think it's a blend of 30-60 year old wines. A chance to try one of the styles without going broke, but we're all going broke anyway so scratch that.

    Feb 20, 2009 at 1:23 AM


  • Snooth User: Adam Levin
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    Thanks for the history. Very interesting.

    Feb 20, 2009 at 1:54 AM


  • Snooth User: Rodolphe Boulanger
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    You are correct Greg - Also a portion of the proceeds go to post-Katrina redevelopment of the arts which is why the bottles are 50% more expensive.

    Too bad the RWC New Orleans bottle is impossible to find! It's the only one I've never seen.

    Feb 20, 2009 at 2:23 AM


  • Snooth User: Pymonte
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    Alright, started off my experience with Madeira with a bottle of Sandeman's Fine Rich.

    Rich brown color with burnt orange peel, molasses, and melted turbinado on the nose. Starts off somewhat dry, finishes with huge notes of dark brown sugar and cooked dates on the palate. Gingerbread on the finish, with raisins.

    Me likey.

    Feb 23, 2009 at 1:53 AM


  • Snooth User: Rodolphe Boulanger
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    Excellent - because Sandeman's Fine Rich is one of the better bargain ones on the market.

    Wait until you start moving up the ladder to the 10 and 15 year old versions. Before you know it, a nice chunk of your income will be sunk into this nectar from the middle of the Atlantic.

    Feb 24, 2009 at 3:16 AM


  • Snooth User: GhostLemur
    303526 118

    Excellent info guys. I found a bottle of 1975 Blandy's Terrantez for sale. Might have to grab it with both hands now.

    Dec 21, 2009 at 5:18 PM


  • Snooth User: ThinkTank
    346573 1

    Hi, I have vintage 1793 Malmsey Reserve Bottled by companhia regional de exportacao de vinhos da maderia, LOA. Imported by the Greenland Inc. Chicago Ill. These bottles have been in my family for at least 40 years. Can you tell me everythign to know about them or direct me to an expert on such old wine? I can post pictures of the bottles if you can instruct me.

    Jan 05, 2010 at 1:46 AM


  • Snooth User: mcnaimi
    545082 1

    I have a bottle of 1880 Boal Reserve, which we tasted last night. it leaves a earthy nutty after taste,
    like pecans. It is wonderful with goat cheese and olives. I still have half the bottle. I love this wine and I would like to know more about it it has very complex flavors.please feel free to e-mail me @............................ mikemcnair@hotmail.com
    I also make wine and am trying to duplicate the flavor somewhat anyway.

    Aug 01, 2010 at 9:09 AM


  • outstanding

    Sep 24, 2013 at 9:19 AM


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