First taste: Blandy’s & Cossart Gordon latest Madeira Vintage Releases
Beaming in from Blandy’s Wine Lodge in Funchal, Madeira last Thursday, Madeira Wine Company’s CEO Chris Blandy and Winemaker Francisco Albuquerque talked us through the latest vintage/colheita Madeira releases from Blandy’s and Cossart Gordon, with a word or two about the current 2020 vintage and fresh developments along the way.
Blandy described the vintage as “very complicated, with no winter this year.” Warm and humid, it simply wasn’t cold enough which, he went on to say, adversely affected Sercial. Terrantez on the north coast also suffered, Blandy added.
Fortunately, August brought excellent weather – very hot, with low humidity – producing a record early start to harvest. Blandy classifies 2020 as good for Tinta Negra, very, very good for Bual and excellent for Verdelho. I have no note about Malmsey – doubtless my omission, not his.
With a new Heritage Wine Collection label, the tasting culminated with the first 100-year-old bottling of Blandy’s Bual 1920, one of my picks (the 2011 bottling) at Blandy’s stupendous bicentenary tasting, reviewed in all its glory here. The aim of the Heritage Wine Collection is to celebrate past generations of the Blandy family and put the spotlight on life in Madeira during the year of that particular harvest.
In 1920, John Ernest Blandy was at the helm. He faced turbulent times, following the Great War, Russian Revolution and Prohibition (1920-1933) in the U.S.A (then the company’s biggest market). Apparently, total wine exports plummeted from around 3.3 million litres annually, between 1910 and 1916, to below 1.3 million litres, in 1917 and 1918.
And yet the 1920 Bual has become one of Blandy’s reference wines. Blandy reckons it was originally bottled by Cossart Gordon, whose stock came under the Madeira Wine Company umbrella after Blandys.
But Blandy is also mindful of the future – the need to stay a step ahead. With, he said, a lack of fresh blood and real estate pressure, the ongoing abandonment of vineyards is on his mind.
Coming up, his plans include single vineyard/estate Madeiras, principally from the family’s own properties. Having focused on cellaring wines, his next ‘Project Impact’ trials will have a viticultural bent. A focus which is already gathering impetus, thanks to the onward, upward quality developments with the company’s Atlantis label Madeirense DOP wines (unfortified wines).
With acclaimed winemaker Rui Reguinga consulting, I was impressed by the rosé and 2018 Verdelho I tasted earlier this year; the Reserva Verdelho 2018 was corked, but the step up in concentration and structure was evident. Watch this space!
New vintage releases
Meantime, four ‘new’ Madeira releases filled up my senses, the 5cl bottles pouring forth veritable genie in a lamp effusive aromatics and an improbable degree of intensity, indeed intense pleasure, for such a small amount of liquid. As we tasted, Albuquerque oft referenced the mouthfeel, the impact of the Madeira on the tongue, highlighting its visceral impact on the taste buds. If you think about about, the five basic tastes are hard-wired into the wines – sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. Without more, there follows my report on the wines (all from 5cl sample 2020 bottlings), which are imported into the UK by Fells.
Cossart Gordon 2008 Colheita Verdelho (Madeira)
By some distance, the baby of the tasting, this Verdelho represents Madeira’s Colheita category – a wine from a single year which has been aged for at least five years before bottling. Although this was bottled at 12 years, the profile is much more primary. Indeed, I detected the breadfruit and passionfruit flavours in this 12 year old wine which I had found in the unfortified Atlantis Verdelho 2018 – 10 years younger! Albuquerque explained that, at this stage, he is looking for freshness, not the balsamic notes – the umami characters – which come from lengthy cask ageing. In line with Cossart Gordon’s slightly drier house style, it is fine, firm, very persistent, with classic pronounced salinity and nuttiness – toasted, salted almonds and rounder hazelnuts. Apricot/peach kernel too. Medium-dry, it has a restrained barley sugar sweetness. Nice clarity and persistence of flavour, with fresh acidity and a lightly nutty/ground kernel texture neatly anchoring the flavours. Mostly sourced from the north of island – Seixal – where the vineyards are close to the sea and ocean spray. 19% alcohol by volume, Total Acidity 8.24 g/l, pH 3.41, Residual Sugar 65g/l, Volatile Acidity 0.42 g/l, Volumetric mass 1011.63 g/l. Guide price under bond £243.00 (per 6 x 50cl). Contact Fells for stockists.
Blandy’s 1976 Verdelho (Madeira)
Full blown ‘Vintage’ or ‘Frasqueira’ releases must be aged for a minimum of 20 years. For Blandy, it generally takes 28-30 years in cask for Vintage Madeira to hit the perfect drinking window (and, he added, keep ageing, hence different bottlings, now easily identified because, lately, producers have been legally obliged to put the bottling date on labels). Blandy’s 1976 Verdelho makes for a terrific contrast with the Cossart Gordon, both by reason of its age and, to coin the CEO’s description of Blandy’s house style, its “explosive” palate. As Blandy went on to point out, the volatile acidity is “pushing the limit,” but I loved the energy and edge to this wine. A deep, complex nose reveals hints of lavender and beeswax (a touch high-toned furniture polish), with smoky guava. Rapier-like, an energetic ‘whoosh’ of acidity, lays bare and extends the flavours – guava, tamarind, concentrated black treacle, like a ‘reduced’ sauce – very concentrated, pungent even. The finish is spicy, with a tang of burned sugar. The acidity holds firm. With time in glass (and finishing off the bottle that evening), the ‘reduced’ character blows off and you feel closer to the core of the wine, with its ozone/pungent saltiness, guava and grapefruit oil, lick of barley sugar and richer, spicier Madeira Honey Cake lingering dried fruit, clove and nutmeg intensity; the woody, lavender and beeswax now undertones. It has terrific back-palate resonance. Blandy reckons it is still settling down and recommends broaching it after another month or two in bottle, when it has adapted from cask to bottle and rounded out. But expect it to remain gloriously punchy – for Albuquerque, it is rare to have such freshness in a wine with 86g/l residual sugar. 21% alcohol by volume, Total Acidity 10.25 g/l, pH 3.56, Residual Sugar 86g/l, Volatile Acidity 1.26 g/l, Volumetric mass 1014.24 g/l. Guide price £1,320.00 under bond (per 6 x 75cl). Contact Fells for stockists.
Cossart Gordon 1975 Terrantez (Madeira)
Produced in a medium rich style, Terrantez – a variety which, in a niche way, is on the up – is usually found on the south coast of the island, mainly in Calheta, Câmara de Lobos and Funchal. The smoothness is marked after the ’76 Verdelho’s explosiveness – the Terrantez neither shaken nor stirred, versus the Verdelho’s shaken and stirred! Cedar and cigar box notes with hops and tobacco, bring lift to nose and palate. Seamless, sweet, fine-milled baking spices – vanilla, cinnamon – contrast with the Verdelho’s more strident, pungent whole clove and nutmeg. Red apple skin, dried apples and dates roll out on a silky palate, together with candied citrus notes, the finish saline-edged, with Bourbon nuance. Poised – debonair of delivery – with great line and linger, a firm but insinuating backbone of grapefruity acidity makes for an intricate, yet smooth, palate, with delicious retro-nasal spicy, cedar-inflected timbre. Very complete. 21% alcohol by volume, Total Acidity 9.44 g/l, pH 3.40, Residual Sugar 95g/l, Volatile Acidity 1.14 g/l, Volumetric mass 1023.65 g/l Guide price £1,390.00 under bond (per 6 x 75cl). Contact Fells for stockists.
Blandy’s Heritage Wine Collection 1920 Bual
Blandy´s Bual 1920 is the first wine to be associated with the Heritage Wine Collection. Wondering if this bottling represents a lifetime pinnacle, Albuquerque remarked on the marriage of spirit with the wine. Though 21% alcohol by volume, it has a high dry extract – more than 33g/l of mineral salts, tannins and other elements (once you exclude the residual sugar, the winemaker observed). Only 1,199 individually numbered bottles will be released. Aged for 100 years, it was transferred from 1,800-2,000l American oak casks to glass demi-johns on 1st of March 2017. This 2020 bottling comprises 1,199 individually numbered bottles; 840l remains in glass demi-john – for the next generation to bottle, said Blandy. A shrewd move to preserve the freshness of this mighty Madeira, which has a woodier, more savoury, beeswax dimension than the 2011 bottling, tasted that year. Rich ruddy brown in hue, with a golden amber edge, it has a gorgeous nose – honeyed, spicy, nose- tingling, with citrus acidity and a sense of the untrammelled power to come. In the mouth, it is super intense. Eye-popping, bracing acidity spears the palate from the off. With the concentration to carry it off, the flavours build – a dial turning up the thrum of citrus, salt, black cardamom, beeswax, saffron, carraway, clove – a veritable spice box explosion, with smoky, citrus oil and Madeira Honey Cake. Tightly wound, yet profound, it is a glorious assault on the senses. 21% alcohol by volume, Total Acidity 10.74 g/l, pH 3.53, Residual Sugar 110g/l, Volatile Acidity 1.44 g/l, Volumetric mass 1027.69 g/l. £1,