Saturday, May 14, 2011

Blandy's Bicentennial Madeira Tasting - Yum!

I am now completely sold on Madeira.

I had little experience with the fortified wine produced on the mid-Atlantic island until I had a chance last year to attend a trade tasting put on by the The Tasting Panel Magazine and notable wine advisor Anthony Dias Blue for the ancient & honorable house of Broadbent - recounted in my post "I Had No Idea It Could Taste That Good!"

It was an eye-opener on many levels. First, I found that I liked it a lot. Second, it actually does go with food -- many foods. Third, it's the only wine I've found that really does go with chocolate! (The delusion that dry red wine goes well with chocolate is one of those ineradicable urban legends.)
The Invite

So when 'The Tasting Panel' invited me to taste the wines of the equally renowned Madeira house of Blandy's, celebrating its 200th anniversay and hosted by Chairman Michael J. Blandy, I of course jumped at the chance. I hastened to the San Francisco hotel where the full range of Blandy's dozen Madeiras, in various vintages including, envy me!, a 1920 Bual, were being poured in a walkaround tasting.

I explained in detail the amazing origins of Madeira in my earlier post, so I will skip ahead to the tasting notes in this one.

We were treated to a vertical of Malmseys -- This requires a brief side note on the styles of Madeira, each made from a particular type of grape: Sercial, which is dry, good as an aperitif; Verdelho, medium dry and also suitable as an aperitif; Bual, medium-rich and good with cheese and desserts; and Malmsey, a "rich" dessert wine. There are also select versions: Vintage Madeiras are from a particularly fine year, from one grape variety, and casked for 20 years or more. A novel version introduced by Blandy in 2000 is the "Colheita," also a single-vintage cask-aged Madeira but released earlier than 20 years -- and thus more affordable than the vintage.

My reactions: The 5-year Malmsey was good. The 10-year was delicious, with a lovely caramel aroma. Teh 15-year was a "wow!"

We finished with a 1985 Malmsey (that we were told sells for $150 a bottle -- and even a cheapskate like me has to admit it was almost worth it: Absolutely stunning!

We went around the room retasting these and others in the lineup. Here are my brief, simple reactions to very complex wines. In general I prefer sweet, rich, round, and mild.

"Rainwater," a medium-dry Madeira aged in oak for 3 years; "C"
Sercial 5 Years - "C"
Verdelho 5 Years - "B-"
Bual 5 Years - "B"
Alvada 5 Years - This is half Bual and half Malmsy, so it was like the Bual but with more complex, yet priced at under $20 a bottle. "B+"
Malmsey 5 Years - "B+" - very nice, rich, mellow, balanced!
Malmsey 10 Years - Also "B+", rich, with sweet tones.
The Winemaker, whose name I idiotically didn't get.
Old Sercial 15 Years - Only a C; there was a sort of lemon tang to this that I didn't like.
Malmsey 15 Years - "A-" - Rich!
Malmsey-Colheita 1994 - A Malmsey from a single year: "A-" - smooth, wtih a nice tone, even-handed.
Malmsey 1985 - Wow! "A" - 24 years in the barrel, in this case in American oak - You can taste the grape (which oddly you often can't in wine).
Terrantez 1976 - This is a rare grape; I gave it a "B"
Verdelho 1968 - "B-" but it has a sharp edge to it.
Bual 1968 - "B" - fine; also sharp-edged
Sercial 1966 - "B" - OK, a little too dry for me; very pale.
Bual 1920 - History in a bottle, they said; hard to believe you're drinking a 90-year-old wine. It was fine; sorry, I thought it would be more noteworthy, but it only came up to a "B".

Madeiras can be surprisingly affordable considering their exotic nature and the long barrel times on some of these. The younger ones (5, 10, 15 year) can range at retail for under $20 to around $40. The ones from the 1960s get up into the hundreds of dollars a bottle, but then you have to ask yourself how much a Bordeaux from that era would cost you. And you can get Buals from 1948 for not much over $500; or a 1920 Bual for a thousand. In perspective, these are the least expensive high-quality aged wines you're likely to have in your cellar and bring out for guests.

Impressive. I like these far better than any Port or Sherry; I like them quite a bit more than some overpriced but underflavored Bordeaux I've had in my time.

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