Blandy’s 200th Year Anniversary Tasting, NYC
What an opportunity to try some wines I’ve never experienced! Blandy’s Madeira celebrates its 200th Anniversary this year, and is hosting a series of tasting events to share their history and wine, including some older vintages, not commonly seen. They came to the Cooper Square Hotel Penthouse in NY on March 24, 2011.
I must admit, that Madeira had not been familiar to me, except for having read that it is a fortified sweet wine, capable of long life as a result of a solera aging process, use of estufas (hothouses) and very volcanic soil. In my mind, I imagined a more sherry like wine, with perhaps the sugar levels of a Pedro Ximenez. I also have to state, that I am not a big fan of most sherry, finding most, perhaps with the exception of Olorosos, too austere and out of balance.
I really liked these wines, and after having a long chat with their award winning winemaker, Francisco Albuquerque (Left), I think I know why. As he pointed out, flor is never allowed to develop and the casks are kept topped up, so that all the oxidation takes place very slowly through the wood. This not only maintains, but concentrates the acids, along with the sugars, so balance is maintained. More than that, they only use old wood, so as not to over oak the wine. They have stockpiles of new wood, but prefer to remake and repair older barrels, usually combining the staves of several old ones to make a “new” one. All cooperage is done in house, with several coopers on staff. This way, they have complete control, and after many generations, they clearly know what they are doing.
Another interesting fact is that the age on the label is actually a weighted average of the ages of the wine in the glass. For example, if the blend was 50% each of both a 5 and 15 year old wine, the bottle would qualify as a 10 year old wine. Keeping track of the ages and inventoried casks must be difficult, with a library that goes back so far.
As far as specific wines are concerned, I have to go entirely by memory, since all my tasting notes of the 20 or so bottles available seems to have disappeared, either left on the train coming home, or at the Cooper. If they turn up, I’ll update this blog. My hopes are not high, however.
Four white grape varietals are used, each fermented separately from free run juice. They are Sercial, lightest in color and lowest in RS. The 5 year old was on the hot side, but the 10 and 15 were much mellower and more enjoyable. Very much like a Pineau des Charantes, but with much more acidity. Verdelho is darker and had more substance, with a touch of spice. There was not too much difference between the 5 and 10, but the 15 showed a jump in intensity. Bual had some banana notes along with a very cognac like nose. This, along with the Malmsey (the sweetest, up to about 8% RS), seemed to me to be fine at any of the ages poured. The intensity appeared to take the biggest jump at 20 years. All this said, from a price point of view, the “sweet” spot is in the 5 and 10 year olds, which seem to be selling at under $30.
Several older vintage wines were poured, including a 1920 Bual. Though a bit cloudy, it was vibrant, tasting of toffee, vanilla and spice. Sweet, to be sure, but with acidity that made it sing. Not close to being over the hill. When you consider that loss of volume can be up to 95% after 20 years, the angels are getting a lot of great wine. My memory of the other intermediate aged wines is not clear.
If you would like to try introductory versions selling in the low $20, two blends are available: a very light Rainwater, mostly Sercial it would seem and Alvada, depending more on the Bual and Malmsey. Madeira vinification has the ability to concentrate the essence of the grape, combining it with patient contact in old wood to produce a unique wine that can be savored as you might a fine cognac, or single malt whisky.
A final thanks to Michael Blandy, Chairman, for his hospitality, who I spoke to briefly as I was leaving. Maybe that’s when I left my notes?
Bernard Kenner email@example.com