Madeira: my highlights of the year



I’ve tasted some outstanding Verdelhos this year – this one, of course, but also a terrific 1979 from Blandy’s

Last week’s Port tips centred on wines which are ready to drink now.  Once bottled, Madeira is ready from the get go and will last for many, many years more.  The ultimate each way bet!  Below, you’ll find my ultimate examples from this year, with plenty to excite wine lovers.

With the season of splashing out upon us, if I was to single out one from each of the categories, it would be this super six:

Blandy’s Sercial Madeira 1975 – extreme sport – taste bud gymnastics – in a glass!

Blandy’s Terrantez Madeira 1977 or 1980 (depending on whether laser beams or mellow fellows are your bag)

Blandy’s Verdelho Madeira 1979 – a deserving Best of Show at Decanter World Wine Awards

Henriques & Henriques Tinta Negra 50 Year Old Madeira – a ground-breaking celebration of Tinta Negra

Blandy’s Bual Vintage Madeira 1966 – a fine vintage if I say so myself

Barbeito Vó Vera Malvasia 30 Year Old Madeira – an outstanding tribute to Ricardo Diogo’s granny

N.B.  My notes refer to Madeiras which were bottled last year or early this year.  Though I have endeavoured to identify stockists, please do check the bottling date.  For Blandy’s, it is also worth contacting Vintage Marque, which is owned by Blandy’s UK importer, Fells.

Sercial Madeira


Sercial – a taste of the sea

Blandy’s Colheita Sercial Madeira 2002

Aged for 14 years in seasoned American oak casks in Funchal.  As it opens up this Sercial hits all the right notes with its pretty mirin and geranium nose.  The attack is smoky, energetic and firm  with serrated acidity which lends no little velocity or dimension to this Madeira’s barley sugar-edged grapefruit peel/pith.  The finish is pithily dry and super smoky with contrasting pretty mirin and pungent iodine/kelp notes.  Great typicity and focus.  Try with smoked salmon or gravlax.

Blandy’s Sercial Madeira 1975

A super complex Sercial which contrives to deliver great delicacy and drive both – quite a feat!  A lifted nose reveals delicately sweet, fragrant notes of barley sugar, elderflower and white currant.  Entrancing, if fast overtaken by a super pithy, very clean,  rapier-like attack of steely, grapefruity acidity.  Wow.  With pulsing acidity, its iodine-edged, smoky yet surprisingly fruity palate builds and resonates for an age – it sets its own time-frame.  Is it an experience or a drink?  Extreme sport – taste bud gymnastics – in a glass!  £108/half bottle, £175/75cl bottle at Fareham Wine Cellar (who have this in large formats too – all 2015 bottling), £130 ex VAT at Turville Valley Wines.

Terrantez Madeira


Blandy’s Terrantez Madeira 1980

I’m a huge Terrantez fan and this one ticks all the right boxes.  Smooth on the nose with a smooze of light caramel and sweet café crème.  A lick of tobacco herbality – greener – lends appetising lift.  The saliva glands are at work already!  And so it is in the mouth – almost creamy on entry, yet penetrating too thanks to its lively, very persistent backbone of acidity.  Delicate staccato spices and a lick of toffee apple seduce.  That bottled electricity, v.a. accelerant, fires up a super long, reverberating finish, its delicious woody, mellow timbre deftly leavened by that light, herbal riff. Ding dong!  £150 ex duty & VAT at Fine & Rare

Blandy’s Terrantez Madeira 1977

A tickle of tobacco and cafe crème are writ through this Madeira like Brighton through a stick of rock.  Sweet, sour and savoury tamarind pulp – juicy and mouthwatering – characterises the mid-palate.  Going through, there’s a steady, mineral undercurrent (submarine volcano) of sulphur. Bracing, grapefruity acidity drives through a long, elegant finish of laser beam focus – this is a much less mellow fellow than the 1980.  Reverse spit territory again.  £105/half bottle at The Wine Society, £237 at Hedonism.

Verdelho Madeira

This pretty much sums up the response to Blandy's Verdelho 1979 - what's not to like!

This pretty much sums up the response to Blandy’s Verdelho 1979 at the Decanter World Wine Awards Masterclass at The Yeatman’s Christmas Wine Experience – what’s not to like!

Barbeito Verdelho Single Cask 4 d+e Madeira 2000

Pale golden/tawny.  Wed to a racy, citrus acidity, this Madeira’s concentrated palate of spicy chutney-edged tropical guava and passionfruit knows no bounds, pushing out a long, very persistent finish laced with lifted mirin notes.  £36.95/50cl bottle at Vintage Wine & Port

Blandy’s Colheita Verdelho Madeira 1998

Aged for 15 years in seasoned American oak casks in Funchal; a release of 3000 individually numbered bottles.  Great pungency and tang of tropical green fruit – guava, green mango – to nose and palate.  In the mouth, the Verdelho – classically fruity, as it opens up, a little nutty – is almost creamy on entry.  Going through, the fruit dances  – a slower dance than the Sercial, seamless not serrated.  Building relentlessly to a mouth-watering, tongue teasing finish (think tart mature Cheddar bite), it has a deft lick of demerara and complexing quaff of sweet cigar – café crème – to the back palate.  Really vibrant and on song.  Dispatch with the chutney and match this with your hard cheeses instead.  £50.99/50cl bottle, The Wine Library

Blandy’s Verdelho Madeira 1979

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to enjoy this stunning Verdelho again this month at the Decanter World Wine Awards masterclass I co-presented at The Yeatman’s Christmas Wine Experience. The 98 pointer bagged the Platinum – Best in Show: Best Sweet Fortified over £15 award.  It is a particularly elegant, complex Verdelho with knife-edged tension between its sweet, spicy, sour and mineral notes.  Exuberantly spicy tropical chutneyed fruit, dried fig, tobacco, tamarind, jaggery, iodine and salty kelp nuances, vie for attention – colour pops on the palate.   Yet it never loses focus or harmony.  With superb length, it is bottled electricity.  I could not bear to spit one little bit of this vinous elixir of life.  £110 ex VAT at Turville Valley Wines

Blandy’s Verdelho Madeira (Rare Demi-John Selection) 1887

This mesmerising, remarkably old, remarkable Madeira comes from Blandy’s rare demi-john selection. A deep hue, it was bottled from demi-john in 2013. Wow – great charge and intensity to its mouth-watering, aromatic, very spicy, still round and deep, chutneyed fruit – amazing energy,  again the v.a. accelerant adding wonderful lift and pace. Notes of coffee grindings, fresh hazelnuts, struck match and earthy tumeric emerge going through. Rapier-like acidity makes for a swashbuckling finish of great persistence, resonance and panache. I make no apologies for all the superlatives and tumult of ‘adjectivitus.’  This is an utterly compelling Madeira and an immense treat.  Turville Valley Wines have a bottle of Blandy’s 1887 Verdelho but no details are provided about bottling date/whether it is part of the rare demi-john collection.  £945 ex VAT, Fareham Wine Cellar do have it at £1270/bottle.

Tinta Negra Madeira

Taking Tinta Negra to new heights - Henriques & Henriques stunning 50 Year Old

Taking Tinta Negra to new heights – Henriques & Henriques stunning 50 Year Old

Henriques & Henriques Medium Rich Single Harvest Madeira 1998

Though it’s not advertised on the front label, this is a Tinta Negra.  Very good too. Rich but very balanced with a smooth, generous mid-palate of dried fig and malty chocolate orange.  A complexing tobacco and dried herb-laced finish with welcome edge to its roundness.  Nice persistence.  19% £19.59 at Noel Young, £22.45 at Cotswold Port Co.

Barbeito Tinta Negra Madeira 1997

A spicy, vigorous Tinta Negra awash with savoury, soft spices, mulchy fenugreek, malt, chicory and milk chocolate orange flavours – real savoury/sweet push and pull.  A tug of war which is ably abetted by this wine’s incisive acidity which push, push, pushes out a long finish.  £18.95 at Flagship Wines

Henriques & Henriques Tinta Negra 50 Year Old Madeira

This all new release from Henriques & Henriques is a sign of encouragement along the lines of ‘old(ish) dogs new tricks’ – 50 is, after all, the new 30!  A deep toffee apple hue belies a lively, lifted nose and palate rife with sweet herbal/pot pourri and deeper, delicious cafe crème and bourbon vanilla riffs.  In the mouth it’s very well focused; punchy acidity lends great vitality – lift, line and length – to its medium dry palate of black cardamon and tamarind spiked chutneyed apple and citrus fruit.  Spice and tobacco notes linger.  Thoroughly delicious and surprisingly zingy and youthful. You can find out about a bit of background about the provenance of this impressive Madeira here.  £149.45 at Cotswold Port Co, £149.95 at Saxty’s, £165 at Fraziers, £179 at The Wine Society.

Boal/Bual Madeira

1966 vintages 036

Another terrific 50 Year Old – this time of the Vintage variety

Henriques & Henriques Boal Single Harvest Madeira 2000

With a scorched earth tang, walnutty undertones and rich, figgy mid-palate (bruised, dried and toffee apple, dense breadfruit too), this is a super classic Madeira.  Though powerful, quite dense even, a well-judged cut of acidity paddles doggedly away beneath the fruit, lending the island’s hallmark elegant persistence to the palate.  £34.95 at Cotswold Port Co

Blandy’s Colheita Bual Madeira 2003

Aged for 13 years in seasoned American oak casks in Funchal.  This Bual is a much deeper, russet hue, with a singed tatin edge to its rich, dried apricot, malty, chocolate orange/orange peel fruit and jaggery.  An ever-present edge of acidity brings definition, balance and length.  This super user- friendly Bual has a lingering, spicy finish with tamarind, clove, star anise and dried ginger (think German Christmas biscuits).  Scorched earth – its Madeira stamp – too.  Delicious.

Cossart Gordon Bual Madeira 1987

Cossart Gordon is a drier, firmer style than Blandy’s – racier – and this Vintage Madeira is no exception.  It is a tawny, russet hue with a lively grapefruity nose and palate of spicy orange peel and black cardamom with great scorched earth tang.  A dash of v.a. ‘accelerant’ makes for a pacy, punchy reverberating finish.  It’s a mite dusty, but I like this Bual’s edginess, reverberation and bite.  £100 ex VAT at Turville Valley Wines

Blandy’s Bual Vintage Madeira 1966

I reckon Bual has to be my favourite of the classic Madeira grapes.  This is benchmark stuff, with great tension to its sweet, spicy and sour palate of lively, chutneyed apricot and lemon pickle fruit.  Black mustard seed, cardamon and tamarind spice build in the mouth. Insistent, very racy acidity carries a long, tightly focused lip-smacking finish with a pleasing tang of burnt sugar/jaggery and walnutty depth.  Fabulous intensity, yet incredibly drinkable and moreish.  Magnum – £1,450 ex VAT at Landmark Vintage, out of stock but advertised at £230/bottle at Fareham Wine Cellar – can that price be right?

Cossart Gordon Bual Madeira 1962

A rivetingly racy palate, spicy, savoury and saltily piquant.  Again, very true to the drier Cossart style.   A mouth-watering palate carries subtle waves of spice – fenugreek, saffron and tamarind, with spicy tropical and citrus chutneyed fruit to the core.  A sense of great dry extract is highlighted by its pithy acidity and salty finish.  Very long indeed with great smoky, edgily sulphorous resonance.   £190 ex VAT at Turville Valley Wines

Malvasia/Malmsey Madeira

honours Richardo Diogo's grandmother in style

Vó honours Richardo Diogo’s grandmother in style

Barbeito Single Cask Cask 719 D+E Malvasia Madeira 2001

Enjoyed with sticky toffee pudding, the Barbeito’s nutty, citrus peel and caramel flavours complemented the pud perfectly, whilst the island’s bracing acidity alleviated the richness.  Okay it’s not a miracle worker, but the pud did feel less calorific!  Can it work that magic with Christmas pudding?  Go for it.  £34.80/50cl at Richard Granger Wines

Barbeito Single Cask 416 C&E Malvasia Madeira 2002

A rich, complex nose with dancing, pretty fruit – pink grapefruit and sweet but tangy tangerine.  Vibrant, very persistent.  Delightful.  £34.99 at Amps Fine Wine (though please note cask numbers not specified on Amps’ site).

Blandy’s Malmsey Madeira 1999

Rich, ripe and luscious with dried fig and chocolate/orange peel – Christmas/panforte in a glass.  A charge of ripe, well integrated but insistent acidity teases out a long, lingering, finish.  And prepares you for the next delicious sip.

Barbeito Vó Vera Malvasia 30 Year Old Madeira

A golden saffron hue with a tight, lively nose, this wine is piquant and lip-smacking even before you’ve broached it. In the mouth it’s very concentrated, tightly coiled and energetic, with flavours of marmalade.  But it’s grapefruit marmalade, so the sweetness is tempered by lip-smacking acidity. There’s smoke and salt in abundance too, crashing around the back palate and sustaining this wine’s pungent and powerful wave of flavour.  Terrific! You can read up on the background to this atypically racy Malvasia here.  £270/bottle at Berry Bros & Rudd

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