Sunday, December 19, 2010

No, Madeira is an island, entire of itself - with thanks to Mannie

Mannie Berk is a nice guy. The other day he dropped off a bunch of Madeira samples that he thought I would like to try. All kinds of goodies were in the bunch, including a range of both Barbeito and D'Oliveira dating back to the mid-19th century. Not such a bad deal for me, I must say.


But there was a question of timing. It is not every moment that lends itself to tasting through 20 or so high alcohol fortified wines. What if you have to do work later that day? Or talk on the telephone? Or walk to the next room without falling? One does have to think about the consequences. I mean, it is probably no coincidence that the man credited with discovering Madeira was known as O Zarco The Cross-Eyed.

I put off the Madeira-a-thon for awhile.

But when I found myself in the possesion of a plump panettone recently, I knew the right time had come. Madeira says winter holidays. Panettone says winter holidays. I figured it was destined to be.


Someone from Milan would probably be shocked and dismayed that I ripped this panettone apart with my hands, instead of cutting it into neat wedges with a knife. That's okay, I'm more of an Manchester United fan anyway.

I decided to go at the "city" Madeiras first off. That series is a group of Madeiras that Mannie partnered with the folks at Barbeito to produce. Each is named after an American city, such as Boston, New York, or Charleston.


Both the Boston Bual and the New York Malmsey were nice with the panettone, but the New Orleans Special Reserve was my preferred pairing. Made from the rarely seen Terrantez, the N'Orlins had a dense, chocolatey richness about it that was just about panettone perfect. The Charleston Sercial was nice to try, but much too dry for my baked repast. I imagine the Savannah Verdelho would have been too dry as well, but I'll never know, because I would have needed a vice-like grip to get the top off that bottle. Next time, Savannah, next time.

That is my friend Bubble Monkey in the background of the last photo, btw. Bubbles came over to help me taste through the Madeira goodness.

Bubbles is the author of From Bual to Bananas: One Monkey's View of the Good Life
Next up, we decided to tackle the Madeiras from D'Oliveira. I thought it would be best to go by producer, dividing the D'Oliveira bottlings into one flight, and the Barbeito bottlings into another. Each time I went in order from youngest to oldest.

The D'Oliveira bottlings I tried were from the grapes associated with sweeter styles of Madeira, Malvasia and Bual.
One of the things that I really took away from this evening was a seeming grasp of the house style at D'Oliveira. It isn't a flashy or blowsy lineup. There is a level of restraint, of stiff upper lip entrenchment, that reminded me of Taylor's port. There also seemed to be a firm cord of structure running through these wines, in the same way that graphite runs through a No. 2 pencil.

The style of Barbeito offered a real contrast to the firmly tailored wines of D'Oliveira.


The lineup from Barbeito also focused on the sweeter styles.
The offerings from Barbeito were to my palate much blowsier and more viscous than their D'Oliveira counterparts. Much easier to like at first sip as well, I think. Kind of like the difference between Spatlese Riesling and Spatlese Trocken Riesling. As a result of all this, I tended to prefer the Barbeito bottlings with my panettone. After going through each of the wines, it occured to me that Barbeito's 30 year old Malvasia offered a very good and representative bottle of what for me approximates the Barbeito style, for what I would imagine to be a somewhat more modest price than some of the older vintages that were also sampled. One aspect that should be kept in mind, though, is that Barbeito, unlike D'Oliveira, purchased wine from other stockholders when it began as a company. So I wonder if my sample set had included other bottlings from Barbeito if I would have seen greater stylistic diversity. I wonder if all of my Barbeito Malvasia bottles, for instance, came from the same original producer.

As you can infer from the amount left in the bottle, this Barbeito Malvasia was a particular favorite.
All in all it was a fine December evening, and I want to thank Mannie Berk for making it possible.


I also want to thank Bubbles the Monkey for being there!

1 comment:

Do Bianchi said...

I'm not from Milan but I am dismayed at your ripping of the Panettone. No Anna Maria Clementina for you! ;-)