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February 18, 2019
Drink like George - Madeira 101
Drink like the birthday boy this Presidents’ Day!
Did you know that George Washington drank Madeira every night with dinner? In fact, our Founding Fathers toasted with Madeira after signing the Declaration of Independence. So we celebrate the versatile and unspoilable fortified wine Madeira in honor of Presidents’ Day.
No matter what the cost, you probably wouldn’t take a gamble at an 1850 Bordeaux, but some restaurants serve Madeira wine that old or older, by glass! Why? Because this fortified pleasure has a longevity that is simply remarkable. The powerful aromas and vivid flavors last for centuries, and upon open, the wine can still last for years without losing character. A grand wine, it was the drink choice of our founding fathers, popularity higher than Bordeaux and Burgundy…and a wine deserving our recognition 600 years after the Portuguese settled the island of Madeira.
RARE WINE COMPANY REVIVES MADEIRA
This fortified wine gets its name from the small island of Madeira, an autonomous region of Portugal off the northwest coast of Africa. During the 1600 and 1700s, Madeira was an important provisioning point for trade ships traveling to Americas and the East Indies, and shippers would load their boats with wine for the long trek. To avoid spoilage at sea, winemakers began adding a small amount of distilled alcohol made from cane sugar to stabilize the wine. Making their way through the tropics with this now fortified wine, sailors noticed that the intense heat in the hold of the ship deepened and developed its taste, thus ushering in a new era in Portuguese wine making. Today, Madeira wine makers employ temperature controlled barreling practices to replicate the holds of the ship.
As America’s leading merchant of rare, old Madeiras, The Rare Wine Co. has been a major force behind Madeira’s recent revival in the marketplace — introducing a new generation of wine lovers to the wonders of vintage Madeira. Through the efforts of Rare Wine Co., we are able to bring you the Madeira wines of Vinhos Barbeito, D’Oliveira and RWC Historic Series.
Vinhos Barbeito is a relatively young producer compared to other companies (established 1946), but has an impressive collection of vintage madeira. Family owned and operated, Ricardo de Freitas is the current owner who brings energy and dynamism to the company. His madeira undergo the canteiro process.
D’Oliveira is one of the greatest of the classic Madeira shippers, and one of the few to survive from the pre-phylloxera era. Founded in 1820, and today housed in cellars that date from 1619, this small jewel of a company is still owned by the same family, its vineyard holdings built up over time through a series of marriages with other wine-producing families. But what is really extraordinary is that D’Oliveira has held on to many of its most famous vintages, creating a unique, and irreplaceable, stock of old wines. And remarkably they are all D’Oliveira wines, not purchased from other shippers or growers.
RWC Historic Series represents affordable Madeiras that reflect the style and complexity of the great vintage wines. Rare Wine Company developed these wines with the dream to introduce Madeira to a broader market as well as teach Americans about the history of the wine. Right up until the twentieth century, Madeira was a popular wine in the upper class of American social life. Cities such as Boston, Charleston, New York, Savannah and Philadelphia had Madeira parties. Each city seemed to favor a particular style; therefore, Rare Wine Company named the nonvintage varietal Madeira after these American cities with a nod to the style historically preferred there. Ricardo de Freitas of Vinhos Barbeito produces the wine.
THE NOBLE GRAPES OF MADEIRA - SERCIAL, VERDELHO, BOAL, MALVASIA
Vintage Madeira, or Frasqueira, and the wines produced by the solera system are Madeira’s claim to greatness. These wines are not simply a selection of the best wines from the best years, but they are made from particular ‘noble’ grape varieties after which the wines are named. These names not only describe the grape variety, but also describe the style.
Sercial is the driest of the wines. It is light in color, full-bodied and refreshing.
Verdelho is a medium dry wine. It is golden in color.
Boal is a medium rich wine. It is full-bodied and fruity.
Malvasia is the richest and sweetest style of Madeira wine. It is dark in color, full-bodied and aromatic.
Finally, Terrantez. This wine can produce two styles of Madeira - rich and sweet or dry with a certain bitterness at the end. With most vines of this grape falling victim to phylloxera, Terrantez Madeira is hard to come by, but efforts are underway to replant the variety.