Last Tuesday it was time for that annual highlight, G's Madeira dinner at the Savile Club. This year the theme was Terrantez, a rare grape variety. We tasted 12 wines altogether and I had the privilege of attending the pre-tasting a couple of weeks earlier so have two sets of notes to draw on. I didn't look at the first set of notes while writing the second, but I liked and disliked the same things both times. Good to know I agree with myself even if nobody else does...
This was the line-up - not as many novelty bottles this year and a disappointing absence of wicker baskets!
1. Henriques & Henriques 20 year old. On the nose G got figgy pudding while I got seville orange and wood varnish. It was very pleasant on the palate, perhaps sweeter as time went on, but generally not particularly sophisticated or complex. Still, I have to withdraw my snotty comment from years ago about non-vintange madeira not being worth drinking. At £55 from Tesco this was quite a bargain compared to some of what was to follow... We awarded it 3 stars out of a potential 5.
2. Justino's Old Reserve. G said "anecdotally 1930s" but there appears to be some doubt about this. At the pre-tasting I thought there was something not quite right with it, and not much seemed to be going on. It had improved slightly by the time of the dinner, and my notes say "not disgusting" but at £145 we won't be going back for more! G gave it one star which is his lowest rating. Fair enough.
3. D'Oliveiras Colheita 1988. This was bottled in 2011, so spent 23 years in barrel. It had a savoury nose, was quite dry on the palate and had a wonderful finish. More serious than 1, but not too different in price at approx £65. While G had given it only 3 stars I felt it possibly merited 4. T was also favourably impressed, which takes some doing where terrantez is concerned.
4. ABSL (Barros e Sousa) 1979. I found this very sharp on the palate both times, almost bitter - actively unpleasant. G tactfully said "not as immediately pleasurable as some of them" and gave it 2 stars, while for me it could only be one. It's not available here in the UK but retails for £85 on the island.
5. Cossart Gordon 1977. If I thought 4 was bad, this was worse. I took one sniff and it went straight in the bucket. It wasn't just bottle sick but smelt of actual sick on both occasions. At the pre-tasting, G made me have a sip and it didn't taste as bad as it smelled, but given that it costs £160 retail in the UK, my advice is avoid! It has to be said other people present seemed to be drinking it quite happily and appeared not to have noticed the vomit on the nose thing. G only gave it one star on this occasion. I'd give it nul points, if that was an option.
6. Blandy's 1976. This was more like it. G thought it wasn't terrantez, as it was quite rich and sweet, but it was enjoyable to drink at least. We polished the rest off with our cheese last night and again it went down well but I wouldn't have said it was worth anything like £160. Three stars.
We sat down to eat at this point, with the next two wines accompanying the chicken consomme, then the last four with pudding and cheese.
7. D'Oliveiras 1971. This was a definite step up in terms of quality. It had it all going on - dry and complex, with a finish that lasted for ages. I liked it very much both times. It's £110 retail in the UK but might actually be worth it. Four stars.
8. Blandy's 1969. This was slightly richer than 7, and very herbaceous - the real deal. It was excellent, well-balanced, again with a great finish. But the last time it was available it cost £300 so compared to 7, not such great value. Four stars.
9. Henriques & Henriques 1954. This was big, rich and smooth, with notes of fruitcake. Being in a pretentious mood, I detected panforte. "H&H are the bollocks" read my notes. It was a dramatic leap up in quality and a clear five stars. Not available in the UK but was £450 last time G saw it - ouch. Nice to get to drink it as I don't suppose we ever will again!
10. ABSL (Barros e Sousa) 1905. At the pre-tasting, the nose had a pungent, chemical quality reminiscent of something you'd find in the woodshed. Alas, it was also congruent i.e. it tasted how it smelled, which in this case wasn't a good thing. I didn't find it pleasant, and on re-tasting, again it wasn't really my bag. Disappointing. G gave it 3 stars but I thought it was only worth 2 max. It's probably no longer available but I can't say I'm shedding any tears.
11. Leacock 1881. Now this was a very interesting wine. The nose was big and enticing, while the palate was dry and had become razor sharp ("like sucking a stone") by the time of the dinner but there were also notes of creamy vanilla fudge. Seriously amazing, a clear 5 stars. Sadly no longer available and cost £750 last time it was, so a privilege to drink.
12. D'Oliveiras 1880. The final wine of the evening, this bottle was provided by D and as usual he came up trumps! It was much sweeter than 11, and I detected treacle toffee which led G to speculate that it had a rum base. Magnificent, delicious wine. "D'Oliveiras rocks!" I have written, over-excitedly. Another clear 5 stars. This costs £620 in the UK.
Once again, thanks to G for finding such an extraordinary range of rare wines for us to taste in one evening. I don't believe anyone has ever put together such a collection as this. As usual there was a spectrum, both in quality and style - the last two wines in particular were both wonderful but completely different from each other. Another fascinating tasting - roll on next year!