Madeira For The Holidays
By Roy Hersh © 2004

700 miles off the coast of Morocco is an island oasis known for producing bananas and one of the world's finest dessert wines, Madeira. I love the dry and sweet wines produced on this island every bit as much as Port wine ... after all, Madeira is Portuguese as well. It is one of my favorite pairings with dessert, but it brings a unique flavor, for accompanying cheese or even a salad with aged Balsamic vinegar!

In my next FOR THE LOVE OF PORT e-newsletter, I will be penning an article on an amazing array of Vintage Madeiras (VMs), most of which are Malvazias and a large majority are from the 19th century. This is a far more humble narrative though. But for those who are into Madeira, it is just to whet your appetite, just in time for the holiday season.

As many wine lovers know, Madeira is a fortified dessert wine and is nearly indestructible. Once you open a bottle, it can last for literally months on end and may be the only wine that can boast this type of longevity. Madeira is heated to temperatures that would destroy any other wine and has full frontal contact with oxygen in cask, for an extended period of time ... sometimes more than a century.

These two factors alone make the wine from this rustic island, unique. In the old days, the Estufagem method of heating Madeira in the attics of ancient buildings in the Funchal (the capital of Madeira) surrounds, is all but an anachronism today, although there are a few exceptions. It is a process that must be seen to be believed. Currently, most of the Madeiras that are vinified today are heated with specially designed heating coils, in tank, at nearly 115 degrees. About the only way to destroy the wine in a bottle of Madeira, is by dropping and breaking it.

One detail to remember about Madeira: the quality and taste of Vintage Madeira is inherent on how long the wine has aged in cask; since the aging process literally stops when the Madeira is bottled. So the date of bottling is nearly as important as the vintage date of the wine itself. For this reason, you can have dissimilar experiences with the exact same wine, which came from lots that were bottled decades apart!

There are many ancient names that we don't get to see much of any more on old bottles of Madeira. Oscar Acciaioly comes to mind as does Quinta do Serrado and others too. The most familiar names in terms of recognition and popularity are Barbeito, D'Oliveiras, Henriques & Henriques, Blandy's, Leacock's and a comparative newcomer, Broadbent.

Broadbent's Madeiras have been on the market in the USA for about five years now. Along with his father Michael, Bartholomew Broadbent is both a Port and Madeira expert, and together they launched their own brand of both Portuguese dessert wines. Few if any, have had the broad experience of either gent when it comes to tasting the vast quantities of Madeira that they have. Both father and son are looked at as experts on Madeira (and Port of course) around the world, and they ventured to Madeira in the 1990s to find stocks of old Madeira. Michael personally chose the wines for their own Broadbent Madeira label. Along with Mannie Berk, the proprietor of The Rare Wine Co., Bartholomew Broadbent is one of the leading individuals in the US, to spearhead the revival of this noble dessert wine.

Although most of my own Madeira collection as well as those consumed have come from the Rare Wine Company, Bartholomew who is the owner of Broadbent Selections, Inc., held a tasting at which I had the great opportunity to try a number of delicious Madeiras from his portfolio. He imports a variety of top quality, family-owned wines that are brought into North America, as well as the Port and Madeira under the Broadbent label. ( In fairness to those reading here, I must disclose the fact that Bartholomew and I are good friends, but this does not stop me from being an objective reviewer of his wines. Just ask him, and he'll tell you that I am tougher on his wines ... just to prove that I am being objective!

The tasting notes below are listed in the order in which the wines were poured:

Broadbent Rainwater Madeira - A very small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon is blended into this wine ... otherwise, it is "as pure as rain water." This is a lighter style of Madeira and is normally made from high yielding vines in order to maintain grapes with that lightness of being. These grapes see a minimum of three years in oak casks. Most people drink this as a dessert wine, but others prefer to sip it beforehand, as an aperitif. For my palate this showed some delicacy and a light body, somewhat simple, yet attractive with a distinct note of dry figs. It is smooth and a fine QPR wine. He'll hate me for saying this, but it also makes for an excellent wine to cook with (try sautéing medallions of veal and wild mushrooms in this wine). 87 pts.

Broadbent Three Year Fine Rich Madeira - similar to the wine above in the way it is vinified, aged and the use of the Tinta Negra Mole grapes. Yet this Madeira is a slightly more "serious" wine with considerably more intense flavors. It is richer and has greater depth and more body weight as well. It would make for a great pairing with an array of cheese, while just sipping this in front of a fireplace with someone special. 89 pts.

Broadbent 1995 Colheita Madeira - Colheita is a new term used for Madeira, but those who know Port, are familiar with Coleheita. In Madeira speak, it means that the wine is a blend of grapes from a specific vintage year and is bottled after spending at least seven years in oak casks. A true Vintage Madeira must be a minimum of 20 years old. This Broadbent is an elegant yellowish-amber color and tastes much older than it is. If offers a round and refined mouthfeel with great viscosity. The '95 has great balance, a pungent aroma of mocha and almonds and offers a long, tantalizing dry finish. 90 pts.

Broadbent 1940 Sercial Vintage Madeira - Sercial is a native grape to Madeira and in the spectrum of grapes used for Madeira production, it provides one of the driest flavor profiles. A little known fact about Sercial, is that it is a cousin to the noble Riesling grape! The 1940 Sercial offers a golden color with a slightly darker rim, intense aromas of walnuts and caramelized sugar. I enjoyed the slight salinity to this wine and the piquant acidity that accompanied the sweet molasses and nutty flavors. 90 pts.

Broadbent 1954 Verdelho Vintage Madeira - I liked the above wines more than this one. It is not as forthcoming on the nose and has a slight bitter nuance on the aftertaste. I expect more from a great Verdelho of this age. It was a medium-bodied wine, with a delicate nutty aroma and very dry, mid-length finish. 85 pts.

Broadbent 1934 Verdelho Vintage Madeira - Now we're talking, this is a fine Verdelho. The acidity is lighter and less tangy (than the 1954) and it shows much greater depth and complexity as well. This Madeira is far more typical of a top notch Verdelho for my palate, and the bittersweet chocolate, toffee and hazelnut flavors were terrific. The finish on this wine has great persistence and palate presence. Yummy! 92 pts.

Broadbent 1964 Boal Vintage Madeira - Boal (or Bual on some labels) is one of the sweeter styles of Madeira along with Malvazia (a.k.a., Malvasia or Malmsey). This '64 version is scintillating, vibrant and belies its own age. It exhibits a dark coffee color and is lush and viscous in the mouth. This smooth operator attacks the taste buds with rich crème brulee, spice and sweet toffee. The great flavors are balanced with a level of acidity that is like setting off an alarm clock, as you surely won't sleep through this great Madeira. I loved this wine! 94 pts.

Broadbent Terrantez Old Reserve Madeira - Although this wine was aged in wood for over ten years, it is somewhere between forty and fifty years old overall. Terrantez grapes are slowly being replanted as they were almost extinct on the island of Madeira until recently. Some of the greatest and oldest Madeiras I have ever tasted came from this grape, including the 1795 Barbeito Terrantez and 1802 Acciaioly Terrantez which are both, quite memorable. This is my first non-vintage Terrantez and the Broadbent's chose this wine wisely. The exquisite fragrances of orange peel, toffee and prunes leaped out of the glass. But it was the flavor profile and texture that showed the great complexity of this wine with velvety smooth layers of caramel, Armagnac and figs intertwined. The finish was outstanding and I need to buy a case of this one! 90 pts.

This was an excellent tasting of young and old wine from the various grapes of Madeira. I wish there had been one example of a well-aged Broadbent Malvazia, but hopefully I will get to try one next time. Sadly, Madeira is very rare nowadays as the ancient bottles from the 19th century, are almost impossible to find and the prices reflect the scarcity. The Broadbent lineup is quite impressive and all of the wines reviewed above are readily available today (at least in the USA and Canada). Check the website above, for the location of the distributor or retailer in your area.

Please look for my upcoming review of seventeen fantastic Malvazia and Moscatel Madeiras in my upcoming FOR THE LOVE OF PORT e-newsletter. If you would like to sign up for a free subscription, please email me at and include your first and last name, as well as the city, state, province and country in which you reside.

Muito Obrigado!

Dec. 5, 2004

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