Does anyone drink Madeira wine? I am fairly confident that in all of the time I have been writing about wine I’ve never once mentioned it and I’m equally sure that since I sampled some as part of my wine exams (a distant memory) I haven’t tried it since. Shoddy me.
So, it was a bit of a surprise (yes, I was a last-minute sign-up) to find myself in a seminar/tasting last week of Blandy’s Madeira wines.
I was sat next to some bigwig in UK wine sales who told me that his company sells ten of thousands of cases a year.
Wow, I thought and then I asked whether people were cooking with it or drinking it. He reckoned that a 80/20 split, in favour of the cooking was probably cautious.
Madeira is a fortified wine made on the Portuguese island of the same name. It’s a sod of a place to grow grapes given the steep terraces on which the vineyards are planted and the subtropical climate that is a haven for all those nasty fungal diseases that are so problematic for vines.
It is Madeira’s altitude that is its saving grace.
What distinguishes Madeira from other fortified wines is its piercing acidity and maderized aromas. It is an acquired taste and whilst it comes in all styles — from sweet to dry — there is definitely a common theme to the aroma profile.
Blandy’s are, I understand, the only family of the original Madeira founders that continues to own and manage their original wine company.
The tasting was an opportunity to get to know their wines better and to verify Madeira’s claim that they are amongst the most robust (in terms of durability) wines in the world.
A 1920 Bual (this the name of the grape) impressed with its rich fig and date fruits, all kept fresh with that hallmark acidity.
Better still was the 1968 Verdelho, which I thought had the most attractive aromatic profile — chocolate, a little spice with baked black fruits — and balanced palate. The latter can be bought from www.slurp.co.uk for £134.55 a bottle, whilst the 1920 retails from the same online store for £349.95. Ouch!
A slightly more attainable Madeira experience would be the Henriques & Henriques 15-year-old Verdelho (£18.99 www.waitrosewine.com) which is sweet in style and has those rich, stewed fruits and bright acidity. It’s certainly enjoyable, but I need someone to show me if Madeira has flexibility.
Port and Sherry have a presence before, during and after mealtimes in this house (albeit not all at once!) but I am struggling to see a place for Madeira other than at the end of a meal — unaccompanied. As such, it sadly seems a bit superfluous. Ideas on a postcard please . . .