In last week’s column, I wrote about the basics of Madeira, the fortified wine made on the subtropical island and Portuguese province of Madeira. What led me to write about Madeira in the first place was attending a Spanish-themed dinner party featuring tapas and three different paellas: rabbit, seafood and vegetarian. What better opportunity for a Madeira tasting? In attendance at this informal Madeira tasting were a bevy of chefs and restaurateurs, all with formidable palates. Yet likes and dislikes varied widely.
Much like its cousins Port and Sherry, Madeira isn’t designed to be drunk in volume. It’s higher in alcohol than most wine and although some styles of Madeira make for good food and wine pairings, I don’t think I’d want to drink Madeira throughout an entire five-course meal. The six Madeiras we sampled are all readily available in Utah.
Leacock’s Rainwater Madeira ($14.35): This is a light style named for the rain that seeped into Madeira casks awaiting transport by ships during the Colonial period. This particular Rainwater Madeira is aged in casks for three years, and made from Tinta Negra Mole grapes (often used for inferior quality Madeira). There’s a hint of caramel and hazelnut in this wine but I’d only serve it very well-chilled as an aperitif with a salty cheese like Pecorino or Asiago. This level of Madeira is more commonly used for cooking and adds brightness and depth to soups and sauces.
Blandy’s 5 Year Sercial Madeira ($21.05): Made from the Sercial grape this is a very dry, crisp style of Madeira. Like Rainwater, I’d suggest serving Blandy’s 5 Year Sercial chilled as a pre-dinner drink, along with Manchego cheese or a rich soup like lobster or shrimp bisque'anything that could benefit from a dollop of acidity.
Blandy’s 5 Year Verdelho Madeira ($19.95): The Verdelho grape thrives in warmer vineyards than Sercial and ripens more easily. So as you’d expect, Blandy’s 5 Year Verdelho is a little more full-bodied and slightly less dry than Blandy’s 5 Year Sercial. There’s a touch more rich fruit flavor to boot, but this wine still has good acidity. It’s a versatile wine that you could serve chilled before dinner or alone as a dessert wine.
Cossart Gordon 1990 Colheita Bual Madeira ($31.50): This was the only single-vintage Madeira (as opposed to blended from various vintages) we tasted, and it was definitely a crowd-pleaser. Made from the Bual grape, this medium-sweet wine is aged in casks for 15 years where it develops complexity and a gorgeous, golden hue. One chef at our Madeira tasting called it “crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e in a bottle.” Crisp, with a wonderfully long finish.
Blandy’s Alvada 5 Year Rich Madeira ($16.05): According to the folks at Blandy’s, this is the only blended Madeira available in the U.S., a combination of Bual and Malmsey grapes. Blandy’s Alvada is a medium-sweet, yummy concoction tasting of nuts and caramel. I’d be tempted to serve this alongside nutty biscotti or pecan pie, although it would also make a good match with full-flavored cheeses on an after-dinner cheese plate. Generally speaking though, treat this as a dessert wine.
Blandy’s 10 Year Malmsey ($35.65): A clear favorite of the wine aficionados at our Madeira tasting. Madeira made from ultra-ripe Malmsey grapes results in the sweetest, richest style of Madeira. A number of folks who sampled Blandy’s 10 Year Malmsey commented on the rich raisin and walnut flavors. I’d serve this solo after dinner or, you know, with a plate of raisins and walnuts.