Monday, December 13

Letter to Madeira

Dear Truffle,

I was thrilled to read about your Madeira tasting at the hotel. I really learned much from your post (see earlier post by Truffle). Even though I left work later than usual today, I stopped at Total Wine to get a bottle for myself. I was thrilled to find, not just any bottle of Blandy's, but it's the Malmsey grape and has been aged 10 years in oak casks! It was a little more expensive than I expected, but worth the $40.

Sipping this lovely wine brings to mind a number of memories. But, before that, I am sure you already know that a number of Mediterranean countries produce some sort of fortified wine. The Spanish produce Sherry (as you have already mentioned), the Italians Marsala (which has unfortunately been permanently relegated to the kitchen like the barefoot pregnant), and the Portuguese Port, my favorite. What do the French produce? Cognac? Hmmm, not certain if that is considered a fortified wine. It is made from grape... I suppose the French always want to be different. Interestingly, they are all named after the regions/cities they come from. Although the city Sherry is from is Jerez in Spanish.

The Madeira is much sweeter than I expected. Prince Charming and I both tasted it with Parmesan cheese (would have preferred Stilton but Parmesan was all I had) and he thought it was quite similar to a white port we had a few years ago. It is more of a sweet Sherry or a sweeter version of Tawny than the more traditional Ruby Port.

This really reminded me of my six months in Lisbon, more than a decade ago. When I was wandering around a local grocery store looking for Sherry, known as Xerez in Portugal to complete a chicken dish. In my youth, I followed recipes doggedly. Now, I would have poured in a slosh of cognac or even whisky. Hey, even old red wine. Anyway, the grocer snorted as I asked for Xerez and he waved me away to a long row of many varieties of Port, at the end of which stood one single bottle of Xerez. That was my first lesson in the Portuguese-Spanish rivalry. Well, this bottle of Madeira, produced in the Portuguese colony of the same name, reminds me of their rival wine.

Saude, my dear sister! Relax and enjoy yourself with your husband. I look forward to your next post from the sunny Isle of Madeira.



Cinnamon and Truffle said...

Dear Cinnamon

First of all - great photo! And I'm so excited that my little post from Madeira resulted in you and Prince Charming holding a tasting of your own.

After your report that the Malmsey was very sweet, I investigated further in the airport shop (obviously the hotel marketing event was a success). I inspected the bottles and their labels and asked the shop assistant a few questions, and I figure this is the story:

The four grapes that are used for madeira are Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and Malmsey. We were told that they don't strictly relegate each grape to a type/sweetness, as it depends on the year. But in the shop, all the Sercial was dry, Verdelho was medium dry, Bual was medium sweet and Malmsey was sweet (I also discovered that 'rich madeira' just means 'sweet madeira').

So, when we were told at the tasting that the Alvada (which is a Bual/Malmsey blend) was medium sweet (even though it's labelled 'rich madeira'), she must have meant that it wasn't as sweet as the pure Malmsey. At the airport shop, we tasted a pure Bual (from the same range as the bottle you bought), and it was a little drier than the Alvada.

As for French fortified wines, I haven't been able to find any... But, Readers, it reminded me of the interesting story about the origins of port wine. Port wine became popular in England when the English were warring with the French and were unable to import its wines. Port had to travel a bit further, so it was fortified with brandy to preserve it for the voyage to England. Generations of formal hallers thus have the French to thank!



Vanessa said...

Dear Cinnamon & Truffle,

Cin - I'm partial to a bit of port and Manchego myself, although it's really very hard to get the good stuff (Manchego) down our way. Waitrose do a passable version, but whenever I visit my cousin in Greenwhich I pop down to the specialist cheese shop and treat myself.

Truffs - Hubby and I have been priviledged to have some of that formal hall port you speak of, via my brother who spent a year at St John's (next door to you at Balliol, I believe?) doing his BCL. The six bottles he gave us as he was leaving St John's are long long gone. We've never been able to get our hands on better port, well certainly not at £10 a bottle anyway! I always wondered if it was a good port, heavily subsidised, or just a good priced port, very well chosen.

Cinnamon and Truffle said...

Ah, good old St John's! My bet's on heavily subsidised. Out of interest, do you remember what it was? You might have tried this already, but one of my decently priced favourites is Warre's Otima (which is, I suspect, the inspiration behind Blandy's Alvada). Otherwise, if higher education funding keeps going the way it is, colleges just might start auctioning off their stores...




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