Friday, January 27, 2017

Madeira dinner, 26th January

Not the usual suspects

Last night, it was over to the Savile Club for G's last ever Madeira dinner. The theme this year was Malvasia aka Malmsey, and I was invited to participate in the pre-dinner tasting to enable compilation of tasting notes and determination of running order. Most of the photos here come from the pre-tasting and in a rare exclusive, some of them are actually in focus!

For the record, the report on last year's tasting is here which also includes links to reports on the previous tastings back to 2010.

G would pass the sommelier exam, no problem
When I arrived, just as the clock was striking seven, the room was empty except for G pouring the initial six wines with a practised hand. But various old friends and familiar faces soon appeared to join us and we got down to business.

1. 2002 Malvaisa from ABSL (Barros e Sousa), bottled in 2012.


This was amber in colour and clear with little sediment, as one would expect from a recent bottling. I detected toffee on the nose and it was young and relatively light. A good lunchtime Madeira, but if we're honest, not particularly exciting, given what was to follow. We gave it three stars at the pre-tasting but in hindsight I think that might have been rather generous and would revise it down to two.

2. Vinho da Volta from Justino Henriques, believed to be a solera of youngish wines.


Now it says something, given my terrible memory for wines I have drunk, that as soon as G told me this was from Justino Henriques my heart sank, even before he'd decanted it. Past experience did not bode well. You can see from the photo that it was a most peculiar colour, cloudy and pale, and not exactly inviting. "Let me give you the large glass," said G after sniffing the decanter. Thanks very much. In the bottle, it had a really horrible sediment. I'd never witnessed the bottle-rinsing process before and hope I won't have to see anything like that ever again. Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised that it didn't smell of vomit, in fact it didn't smell of anything. I was still nervous about tasting it, but it turned out not to taste of anything either. However, it had an unpleasant powdery quality that caused G to suspect the use of aspartame. Something definitely went wrong here, and after one sip the rest went down the sink. Nul points.

3. Barbeito special reserve 20 year old Malvasia, bottled in 2001.


This was a clear light brown colour. On Sunday night I wasn't getting much on the nose ("nose a bit dumb" said G) but last night a hint of varnish had emerged. It was a step up from the first wine, with more intensity and some butterscotch, burnt toffee, Werthers Originals type of flavours and a nice weight. Worthy of three stars.

4. HM Borges 30 years old Malvasia, bottled around 2013.


This was a significantly darker colour, clear, and with very little sediment. I found a hint of the potting shed on the nose (i.e. turps) which G refers to as "high toned" and I enjoyed the seductively gloopy texture but G pointed out that it was not well-integrated. It's not a single wine of 30 years of age, but rather several different wines with an average age of 30ish - apparently this is allowed under new regulations. The components hadn't had enough time in barrel to come together properly, leading to an incoherent wine, with a decidedly spirity finish. Two stars.

5. LML (Lomelino) 1962 Malvasia, bottled around 1990.


This was a dark brown colour with loads of sediment - there's a reason the level in the bottle is so low, and it's not because G and I were necking it! On the nose, it was pungent, like over-ripe fruit. It wasn't nice to drink either, which was a shame, because there was something treacly hidden underneath the nasty bit. G had his doubts about its authenticity and bought it thinking it could be dodgy but interesting. It turned out to be dodgy and not interesting. No stars.

6. Pereira D'Oliveira 1955 Reserva Malvasia, bottled around 1990.


This was a very dark colour and had improved a lot since Sunday. It was thick, rich and treacly, like Christmas pudding, with a remarkable finish. Lots of prunes and dried fruit going on. We gave it four stars.

At this point, we sat down to dinner. With our starter of smoked salmon we had some white Pernand-Vergelesses but G also advised trying the next wine.

7. Leacock, Malvasia Velhissima, 19th century, bottled no later than 1920.


This was a relatively light colour and I didn't get much on the nose but G described it as "papery". It wasn't sweet, causing us to think it might be Verdelho rather than Malvasia. This came from the Leacock sale in 2008, and apparently G bought a case which was described as Malvasia but it turned out that not all of it was. An honest misreprentation by the auctioneers, who can't taste every bottle they are selling. Three stars.

We saved the remaining five wines to go with cheese and pudding, and drank some of Henri Audiffred's delicious 2011 Beaune Gauffriots with our main course.

8. Malvasia Faja, 1934, bottled around 1980.


G thinks this was probably made by the Fernandes family who owned this famous vineyard at the foot of a cliff, but was bottled by ABSL. It was a lovely clear mahogany and a bit dumb on the nose, with a slightly thinner texture and intense, drier style. It was elegant and well-balanced with a marmaladey, Seville orange thing going on. It had a great finish, and G loved its restraint. Four or five stars - I suspect four for me, five for G.

9. Henriques & Henriques Century Malmsey, solera 1900, bottled around 2002.


This was a very dark colour and I got turps on the nose whereas G detected figgy pudding. It was like a fruit cake in a glass - raisins, sultanas, prunes - and great concentration due to the long time in barrel. The finish was amazing and went on for minutes. Big and rich but not exactly subtle. I thought this would be a real crowd-pleaser and indeed that turned out to be the case. Five stars.

10. HM Borges Malmsey solera 1880, bottled around 1970.


When we tasted this on Sunday, it was seriously bottle-sick and I really hoped it would improve by last night as there was clearly something very nice underneath. And it was much better, thanks to G's diligent work redecanting many times during the week. Treacle toffee was evident once again. Four stars.

11. Blandy Malmsey 1880, bottled around 1960.


This is a rare single vintage wine. Unfortunately, due to a loose cork, it had an accident on the train leading to G's luggage trebling in value, but fortunately there was enough left for us to taste. It was eye-glazingly good, intense, with marmalade and liquorice. I loved its precision and focus, it had a lovely texture and again a finish that went on for minutes. Absolutely stunning, and the wine of the evening in my opinion. Six stars!

12. Tarquinio T da Camara Lomelino Malmsey, solera 1853 bottled around 1970.


An amazing rarity here - a magnum of Madeira! I didn't think such things existed, and they were until recently unlawful in Madeira, but this was an English bottling by "Simon the Cellarer". Nice work, Simon.



This was absolutely lovely too, with notes of creme brulee (we were actually supposed to be having creme brulee with it, but strangely that metamorphosed into a ginger steamed pudding, still very nice). There were notes of caramelised sugar and it was again very seductive. We think it had a rum base which contributed to the touch of molasses. Five stars. 


Here they are, wine 11 on the left and 12 on the right. Some of us took ours outside for the traditional post-dinner gathering and a good time was had.


Thanks very much to G for hosting yet another unique event. It has been a real privilege to taste these amazingly rare and precious wines with you over the years, and as was noted last night, each year seemed to surpass the last. We certainly went out on a high and now on to the next thing!

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