The Tasting Panel magazine

May 2011

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MILESTONES Better with Age MADEIRA PRODUCER BLANDY’S CELEBRATES ITS BICENTENNIAL IN STYLE by Christopher Sawyer / photos by Allison Levine task is not easy, and each year there is a lot on the line,” he says. The winery still owns no vineyards, instead sourcing fruit from more than 1,600 growers who own small boutique vineyards planted on red and grey basalt bedrock soils on steep terraced hillsides. The rarest of these exquisite gems was the 1811 F At the Blandy’s tasting in San Francisco: (left to right) Rupert Symington, Joint Managing Director of Symington Family Estates; Blandy’s winemaker François Albuquerque; sixth- and seventh-generation fam- ily members Michael and Chris Blandy; Madeira Wine Company Sales Director Ricardo Tavares. Bual Solera, the winery's first wine, still drinkable (after two rebottlings) 200 years later, highlighted by aromas of bright candied fruit, roasted nuts and fine leather. On the palate, layers of ripe peach, nectarine, citrus peels, shaved white chocolate, honey and lively acidity that danced in the mouth. In contrast, the 1822 Verdelho was much more sublime. Aged for 78 years in seasoned American oak casks, it showed concentrated flavors of dried apricot, hibiscus, roasted nuts, earth and a hint of smoke. or wine connoisseurs, the fine fortified wines made on Madeira, a mountainous Atlantic island southwest of Portugal, represent freshness, complexity, natural richness and bracing acidity over sweetness. Theses prestigious offerings also happen to be some of the most resilient and age-worthy wines known to mankind. In late March, the grace and beauty of fine aged Blandy’s Madeira wines were explored at a series of exclusive vertical tastings held at The Cooper Square Hotel in New York City and Hotel Monaco in San Francisco. To celebrate the brand’s bicentennial anniversary, the tastings were led by Michael and Chris Blandy, sixth- and seventh-generation family members who earnestly follow the winemaking tradition started by their ancestor, John Blandy, who settled on the island in 1811. To further expand brand presence in the global market, Blandy’s joined forces in 1989 with the Symingtons of Oporto, in a partnership through the newly- named Madeira Wine Company. Vintage Madeira is made with the best fruit from a particular year, produced solely from one of the traditional grape varieties and aged in the cask for a minimum of 20 years. Blandy’s winemaker François Albuquerque admits that there is a lot of risk in selecting the best reserve barrels to set aside for vintage Madeira. “The 28 / the tasting panel / may 201 1 Additional focus was on two separate vin- tages of Terrantez, a rare white grape now vir- tually extinct on the island. The 1870 Terrantez is one of the last great wines to be made in Madeira before phylloxera destroyed most of the islands’ vineyards; the 1899 Terrantez is a post-phylloxera wine made with fruit harvested at the very end of the 19th century. Another thought-provoking wine was the 1920 Bual, the oldest wine still in wood. Fresh flavors of exotic fruit, vanilla custard, roasted almonds and layers of savory spice still resonate from start to finish in this well-crafted wine. The elegant delights of Sercial, a grape known for its high acidity, were explored as well. The 1950 Sercial, made primarily with grapes grown on the coolest part of the island, was highlighted by magnificent aromas of roasted almonds and complex flavors of dried cranberry, black tea, dark chocolate nibs, cinnamon, and a long dry finish. The youngest wine poured at the tasting was the 1994 Malmsey Colheita, the inaugural release from Blandy’s innovative single-harvest program. Like a late bottled vintage port, the new “colheita” style wines are made with high- quality grapes from a single year and cask aged for five to 18 years. Once bottled, these tasty entry-level wines are released young, fresh and balanced at an affordable price.

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