In 2019 Madeira celebrates 600 years as a populated island. This report examines the history of Madeira wine and why its apparent agelessness. Focused on a momentous tasting of 19th-century Terrantez and augmented by additional notes, with a combined bottle age of 6,000 years, it is a veritable journey through time.
Portugal, Verticals & Retrospectives, featured, Fortified Wines & Spirits, Fortified Wines & Spirits
“Port is for life, not just for Christmas.” True, though I am sure sales figures would confirm that more bottles of port, in all its multifarious forms - Vintage, Ruby, Tawny, Single Quinta, Colheita, White or Crusted - are ceremoniously passed to the left over the festive period than at any other time of the year. So it would be remiss of me not to offer Vinous readers an early Christmas present in the shape of a port-themed article.
Portugal, featured, Fortified Wines & Spirits
One of the highlights of any year is the rare instance in which the major Port houses come together in unison around St. George’s Day to declare. Unlike Bordeaux, where you have barely recovered from the last primeur when the next one arrives, general Port declarations tend to arise approximately three times per decade, thereby avoiding fatigue. So, whilst the dazzling 2011 Vintage Ports remain fresh in my mind, the 2016s arrive at a time when I am ready for more.
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There is Vintage Port and then there is the 1948 Taylor Fladgate. It remains a monumental Port that towers over the 20th century. Nineteen forty-eight is perhaps one of the lesser-known declarations compared to 1945 and 1963, although nine houses declared that year. Michael Broadbent described that as an “error of judgment” given the quality of the vintage in retrospect. I have been fortunate to taste the 1948 Taylors on several occasions, encountering one or two perfect bottles along the way. “Christopher & Co” bottled my most recent encounter in 1950, British merchants bottling a lion’s share of production in those days.
Portugal, cellar favorite, Cellar Favorites, featured
My love affair with Madeira began whilst holidaying on the namesake Atlantic volcanic island in 2003, where in a pique of curiosity I ordered a 1927 Bual. Afterwards I understood why those with good taste revere this profound, time-buckling, ethereal and enigmatic wine. Madeira is so unfashionable it is the epitome of cool. These are the latest releases from Blandy's.
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One area I am particularly looking forward to getting my palate round once again are the great fortified wines of the Douro Valley: Vintage Ports, Colheita, Tawny and who knows, even those Crusted Ports.
“I am sorry, but I hope you understand that we can only taste a few wines from the 1700s and 1800s,” says Richard Hales as he escorts me into the tasting room. Right. That’s how most of my tastings usually begin. Hales is the Wine Director of Asiate, the restaurant in New York’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel, and a longtime veteran of the company. Hales has prepared an incredible assortment of rare Madeiras for us to taste, many of them recent auction purchases. Few, if any, wines are as evocative as Madeiras, as it is nearly impossible not to wonder what was taking place in the world when they were being made. Readers who enjoy the complexity of fine, aged wines will find much to admire in these sublime, compelling Madeiras.
A surprising number of the top table wines coming out of Portugal today, especially from the Douro Valley, are priced at a level approaching and sometimes surpassing that of top Bordeaux crus and many of Napas cult cabernets
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It is clear from my early tastings that 2003 will take its place among the outstanding port vintages of recent decades, along with such stellar years as 2000, 1997, 1994, 1977, 1970, 1966 and 1963
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I approached the 2000 vintage ports with some skepticism, figuring that the millennium vintage would be widely declared even if it was a good rather than outstanding year for Portugal's Douro region.