Monday, December 13
The bolo de mel made another appearance today, at the Madeira Wine Tasting we signed up for at the hotel. I know a bit about port, but not much about madeira. And so, I was hoping to learn all about the different varieties and the production processes, but sadly the event was more of a quick sales pitch to the gathered OAPs (and us) that ended in a reminder that there is a madeira wine shop at the airport, so that you can buy more than a hundred mls of the stuff...
Nevertheless, we did learn a little something. We tasted one medium dry wine (on the right in the photo above) and a medium sweet (pictured on the left). The medium dry was very traditional and pretty indistinguishable from most medium dry sherrys I've tried before (it even came in a bottle that looked like it belonged in one of those unventilated liquor cabinets). The medium sweet, on the other hand, came in a young, slim bottle, and it tasted modern and smooth - to make this Alvada, they broke the madeira wine-making rule of not using more than one grape variety and blended Bual and Malmsey grapes.
A few other interesting facts:
* Age - If the bottle indicates a number of years (e.g., 5 years), that's not actually the age of the wine in the bottle. Madeira wines are typically blends of wines of different ages (but of one grape variety), and the age on the bottle is actually an average of the ages of the different components that have been blended to make that particular wine. If, however, the bottle states a particular year, that means the wine in the bottle is not a blend, and the year on the bottle is the year of harvest and bottling.
* Ageing - Madeira wine is aged in American oak barrels, not in the bottle. Port wine, in contrast, is bottled within about 2 years of harvesting and aged in the bottle. (So are all these madeira wine producers sitting on a bunch of unsold stock?!) The youngest is Harvest (5 to 10 years), followed by Colheita (10 to 18 years), followed by Vintage (the oldest Vintage is apparently 115 years old).
* Origins - All those days ago, wine was transported from Madeira to the West Indies by ship, and they realised that the wine had a special bouquet and flavour by the end of the journey. Initially, they put it down to the sea air, but it was discovered that it was the higher temperatures during transit that were responsible for imparting that special something. As a result, the best wines (which will go on to become Vintages) are stored in the producers' attics, not the cellars.
* Types - Madeira wines come dry, medium dry, medium sweet and sweet. We were told that, despite the reputation of madeira wine as a fuddy duddy dessert wine, the dry varieties can actually be had with sushi and salad. If anyone dares to try this, please tell us how it is!
* Production - Much like port, madeira wine is made by fermenting grapes and stopping the fermentation process at a certain point by adding an alcohol which kills off the yeast. Now, grape alcohol is used, but in the past, they used to use a rum made from sugar cane (a variety of aguardente). Sugar cane was widely cultivated in Madeira after it was introduced to the island by Henry the Navigator.
* Storage - Where port needs to be stored sideways, madeira wine should be stored upright. If you have a vintage, the cork should be replaced every 20 years or so. Once opened, it can be kept for 18 months.
The most well-known producer of madeira wine bears the most uninspiring name of Blandy's. Blandy's is now getting a leg up in the export world with the help of the Symingtons, who own famous port names such as Dow and Warre.
There you have it. If you feel like trying some madeira wine, grab a bottle of Blandy's Alvada and have it with a sweet molasses cake. If your taste is more for dry, try a Verdelho with some cheese.