Wednesday, November 12, 2008

WBW51: Madeira

Wed 12 Nov 2008

Ooooh, I think this is the toughest Wine Blogging Wednesday yet! Joe, the 1WineDude, chose Baked Goods. By this, he meant Madeira but he widened the field to fortifieds in general, recognising that Madeira may not be readily available.

I really wanted to source a high quality Madeira for this exercise, but Madeira has a rather poor reputation. Unfortunately, this poor reputation means that, in Leeds at least, you're a little stuck for choice. So, I ended buying a Blandy's Duke of Clarence Rich Madeira, available online from Oddbins at £11.49, or from Latitude Wine, Leeds, at £12.99.

It's a bit hard to know where to start with Madeira. I think the best place to start is that it's pretty much indestructible! This means you can buy a bottle now and next Christmas ... it will taste the same (certainly can't say that about Port!). This is all thanks to the wine's production: it's oxidised and, effectively, heat treated. After fortification the wine enjoys the estufagem ageing process: it's left to cook - either in the sun, in temperature controlled wine saunas, or in large warehouses (estufa) where it's stored high-up to be kept as warm as possible (the island of Madeira, while part of Portugal, is off the north coast of Africa). Temperatures easily top 40°C.

This interesting approach to wine making is all about emulating Madeira's origins. Fortified wine was used as ballast in ships stopping at Madeira and crossing either to the East Indies or to the New World. Sailing through the tropics, the wine was heated over a long period of time, sloshed around, oxidised ... and then it turned out that everyone liked it better after it had done its world tour.

Now, with Madeira being part of Portugal, the wine is subject to EU labelling legislation - and this has meant changes. Madeira used to be labelled according to style: from Sercial being the driest, to Verdelho, Bual and Malmsey. The problem is that these are all grapes ... and often some (or all) of the wine in the bottle had been made from other grapes (most commonly Tinta Negra Mole). Today - a bottle labelled with the grape variety will still fit that sweetness profile but it will actually be made from the grape. No grape variety - you'll have to rely on descriptors on the label for style (for example, sweet or rich) and the wine is likely to be made from mostly Tinta Negra Mole.

One final fact before we move on to the wine itself - unlike many wine producing areas Madeira is very fertile. Not only is it a volcanic island but, supposedly, early Portuguese settlers burnt the island's woods. The fire lasted for years and the fertile volcanic soil was further enriched.

So - today's wine was a rich brown colour, with a nutty, raisin nose with just a hint of chocolate. On the palate it was sweet, but not cloyingly so, and the sweetness was cut through with some good solid acidity which quite surprised me. The palate was all about raisins, nuts, chocolate: I'd describe this as half way between a Christmas pudding and a bar of fruit and nut chocolate. The length wasn't bad but it was dominated by the acidity - in itself quite refreshing - and the heat from the alcohol (19% abv). I found this alcohol a little too aggressive and persistent, but then, if I were drinking this with coffee and chocolate, or cake, I doubt I'd notice.

The surprise of the evening was Andy announcing that it wasn't too bad at all. Coming from someone who doesn't like, and actively avoids, sweet wines this is high praise indeed.

I think Joe's done really well with combining topic and timing for this WBW: as we head towards Christmas, seriously consider buying a bottle of Madeira instead of Port. Given you don't have to polish it off quickly, see if you can track down one of the varietally labelled examples (online, Laithwaites sell a Malmsey). You might have to spend a little extra, but it will last you through the year in a way no other wine can!

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Blogger Joe Roberts said...

The power of Madeira creates another convert!


10:06 pm  
Blogger Alex said...

I think 'convert' might be too strong a word, but hopefully I'll be able to use this experience to encourage a bit of experimentation around other Madeiras and fortifieds in general!

4:18 pm  

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