La Paulée de KFC: A Celebration of Four Decades

The Colonel & I

Kentucky Fried Chicken was the apotheosis of my childhood culinary diet. I cannot recall the exact date of Southend-on-Sea’s manna from heaven, that is to say, when the first KFC branch opened and changed the seaside town’s restaurant scene forever. It must have been the early 1980s, when fast food chains with their Trans fats and tetra-calories invaded the only country whose cuisine they could actually improve. Like Father Christmas, KFC came but once a year, which placed it in the same class as white truffles and grouse in so far that I spent 364 days fantasizing about the moment of consumption. Then, usually as a birthday treat, I would finally have suppurating drumstick in hand and my olfactory bulb would be flashing on and off as the intoxicating aroma concocted by Colonel Harland Sanders overwhelmed the senses and made me slightly giddy.

Once I had untied the strings of mother’s apron and fled to University, it was inevitable that my dietary regimen would consist of one thing and one thing only…and it was not Brussels sprouts. My parents feared I might O.D. and end my days in a fetid squat with permanently closed nicotine-stained curtains, sharing a mattress with a hopeless bunch of KFC-addicts shooting up a two-piece Colonel’s meal with a side-order of beans. Fortunately, the liberty to frequent KFC whenever I wished (Monday to Friday with alternating Saturdays) somewhat dampened my ardour. The Colonel lost a little recherché and in any case, I had picked up an equally pernicious addiction to chicken korma.

(Matthew Perry. Does seem to have aged rather…)

When I moved to Tokyo I feared that I would be estranged from my beloved KFC. Surely my diet would soon be walrus blubber and kelp (with no side order of beans). Thankfully, Commodore Matthew Perry, long before Friends, opened Japan to Western Civilization and demanded the Emperor sanction KFC franchises from Hokkaido down to Okinawa. The Japanese have a knack of taking foreign cuisine and improving it (the exact opposite of us Brits) and KFC was no different. A couple of days after landing at Narita, I ran like a screaming, pig-tailed schoolgirl within snogging distance of Justin Bieber, into the KFC Shinjuku branch and with bated breath ordered…ordered…bugger this…it’s all in flippin’ Japanese. I searched for a kanji that looked vaguely similar to a drumstick, but to no avail. Ten minutes and much hand signage later, I sat down and devoured my KFC three-course meal with their coup de grace…a scone! Escoffier had nothing on this heavenly match between the eleven secret herbs and spices and a mortal scone.

Genius, it was genius!

I was in nirvana.

Returning from Japan, I spent a number of years working within walking distance of a KFC in Oxford Street. Unfortunately it tended to be populated by feral gangs of spotty, hoodie teenagers taking a break from mugging, divvying up their spoils between Zinger Burgers and mega-sized-up Cokes. Contemporaneously, my vocation in wine began to open up a new epicurean vista, one that could be described as “healthy”, a new horizon that welcomed green things with leaves and eschewed reprocessed meat pebble-dashed in luminous orange breadcrumbs. I developed a weakness for Pierre Koffman’s pigs’ trotter that imparted as much gustatory pleasure as KFC, but without need of a small tub of baked beans. And my palate was becoming attuned to wine. I found it difficult to accept that although 95% of food and wine matching is hokum, it was patently clear that KFC and Château Mouton Rothschild 1982 do not mix or rather, cancelled each other out.

I had often fantasized about the marriage of fast food and wine, my two incompatible loves and I had experimented with the bedfellows on several occasions, as recounted in early Wine-Journal articles. So it came as no surprise to see Miles popping his Cheval Blanc 1961 in an American fast-food diner. I could relate. But hey…had Alexander Payne been reading my website when writing Sideways?

In recent years, perhaps my passion for KFC has dimmed to a white dwarf of intermittent craving. My middle-aged palate is a lucky chap, tucking napkin into collar at Michelin-starred restaurants or eating at home with a wife armed with a diploma in French cuisine. So where does that leave the Colonel?

Well, you can leave the Colonel, but he never leaves you.

I recall the very first conversation with Robert Parker, sitting cross-legged in Hanover Square under a grand elm, London calling Baltimore. Asking what editorial control I could expect, I uttered the immortal line: “Can I still write about KFC and…err…stuff like that…?

Even before I had finished the sentence, I could not quite believe the words coming from my mouth. Did I just say that? I mean, how many times had KFC appeared in Hedonist Gazette?

His answer is evidenced in the article you are reading.

Then later, I was at the Athenaeum bookshop in Beaune, idling the time away by flicking through Helena Aghostini’s book about my boss. I was perturbed to find my name in the index and leafed through to the relevant pages. I could not be bothered to translate the French, but floating in the sea of acute accents were three capital letters.

Was that my legacy?

One of the most prolific essayists upon Bordeaux and all I will be remembered for is a weakness for KFC?

I have to confess that in the last twelve months, the Colonel has received my patronage on one solitary occasion and that was only because we had just moved into a new house and needed something quick and simple. And as any KFC aficionado will tell you: it never tastes the same at home.

And so on 12th February 2011 I arrived at my 40th birthday. Thirty years ago I would have been feverishly waiting dad to return in his Talbot Alpine with a bucket of unbridled joy. Surely it was time to mature, to accept the fact that I am now a serious wine critic that ought to be celebrating his milestone at The Waterside Inn or La Gavroche with a bevy of birth-year beauties?

And perchance some wine?

A Case Of Brett

I needed a plan, a plan so cunning and audacious that I would have to patent it. Then it came to me…La Paulée de KFC, a cross between two institutions, one celebrating the end of harvest and the other celebrating Colonel Sanders serendipitous discovery of eleven secret herbs and spices and a chicken.

Brett Graham looking cool, although this was before he prepared the KFC)

I could not do it alone. I needed help. I dispatched a secret communiqué to no less than Brett Graham at “The Ledbury”. You know when composing certain e-mails, it can be difficult finding the right vernacular? I mean, how does one ask a two Michelin-starred chef to forget all he has learnt from “Big Cook, Little Cook” and create a dish provisionally entitled: “Homage à KFC”?

Brett stepped up to the challenge, after all, he is Australian and they cannot resist danger. I would have been content with just a hint of familiar herbs and spices, then two weeks before D-Day I received a telephone call from their sommelier.

“Look mate,” he told me, “how far do you want us to take this KFC thing?”

I could tell by the breathlessness in his voice what he wanted the answer to be.

“All the way mate, take it all…the…way.”

What transpired after that phone call will never be known. It certainly would have involved covert missions into the Notting Hill branch of KFC, I suspect under the ruse of a famous chef undertaking research for some ironic television show. In the small hours under flickering candlelight, the covenant of the KFC would gather round the workstation to analyze and experiment with the secret herbs and spices. I assured Brett that I was not expecting him to match the Colonel. Realism had to prevail. But who knows, it might give him his third Michelin star? Then again, they could strip him of his two stars for such impudence and he’ll end up on Big Cook, Little Cook teaching pre-schoolers how to make broccoli.

So my mortal coil reached four decades, a point that for most of my life had seemed so distant but was now so very near. I divided my celebrations rather than organizing one enormous knees-up.

Firstly, a dinner at “Thai Terrace” in Guildford for friends with a passing interest in the minutiae of a fine wine, who would rather spend a joyful evening in ribald banter rather than coming to blows over the malolactic fermentation of an Albanian Zinfandel. We enjoyed two champagnes: a crisp, floral Veuve Clicquot Reserve Rosé 2004 that was appreciated by all and a non-vintage Bollinger Rosé that was delicious, although I failed to pen a note. It was heart-warming to spend an evening with friends who I had first met at an infamous house party in Shoeburyness back in halcyon days of ‘87. Little did I know, as we spun the bottle with Eric B & Rakim at ear-deafening volume in the background, that 23-years and a few marriages, kids and divorces later, we would be just as good friends and still discussing sex.

Then my actually birthday was spent chez nous, wife and kids and a perfectly baked lasagne (pictured). There was only one champagne I wanted to drink, but since the Clos d’Ambonnay was not available at Tesco, you cannot go wrong with the best non-vintage rose money can buy, the Non-Vintage Billecart-Salmon. Of course, I needed a birth-year wine for the special day and a Chateau Brane-Cantenac 1971 was cautiously opened since it was not a great decade for the Margaux estate. However, it performed well above expectations, leafy and autumnal but with sufficient decayed fruit and balance to render this enjoyable from start to finish.

The following day I drove down to Leigh-on-Sea for a family meal at a local restaurant: “Barnacles”. Not exactly El Bulli save for its coastal location, it was rather like walking into a condemned residential home. There was an elderly gentleman reading a dog-eared Penguin paper-book staring at his roast dinner. Had he passed away? Even though the average age was 79 and the wine list did not carry Mouton ’45 in large formats, it was a lovely day and you cannot go wrong with scampi and fries.

La Paulée de KFC

Finally, La Paulée de KFC. I arrived in plenty of time, dropping off a bottle of Las-Cases ’90 at The Square en route for an impending vertical. Alas, Brett had to scoot off down to his other restaurant by the time I arrived, nevertheless, I asked whether I could inspect the kitchens? Like any Michelin-starred restaurant just before service, The Ledbury was firing on all cylinders down in the engine room except for one thing…there was a tang of KFC in the air. Suddenly I had visions of dad opening the front door with bucket in hand and that bouquet wafting up my nostrils.

I had to steady myself.

I felt a little delirious.

I was escorted to the temporary “KFC” workstation, a row of secret herbs and spices in white Tupperware containers, where hour upon hour the covenant had toiled away, trying to reach the finger-lickin’ Promethean heights of the Colonel. I came back upstairs to greet my twenty or so guests, oenophile friends who I suspect did not quite know what they had let themselves in for.

The wines were “not bad”.

Naturally, there was a ’71 theme going on but I did not want to hold anyone to procuring such an esoteric vintage.

Pop corn chicken embarrassing a bottle of Dom Pérignon '71.

We commenced in style with a magnum of Jacquesson Avize Grand Cru 1988 that was outrageously Zen-like on the nose, which was translated onto a palate that displayed hardly any secondary development, underpinned by a wonderful citric-thread and mineralité towards the razor-sharp finish that reminded me of Salon. I was also blessed with a soupcon of Dom Pérignon 1971 and though I did not compose a note, it was very similar to the sublime bottle served by David Wainwright at his own 40th bacchanal in 2009. Talking of which, Mr. Wainwright sashayed into the restaurant brandishing a double magnum of Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Caillerets 2002 from Louis Jadot as if he were holding an armed missile. It had a soft, slightly honeyed, brioche-scented bouquet with hints of pear drop developing with time, the palate a little simple with a touch of spice and a little heat blurring the finish. In a different class was the Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru 1997 from Domain Leflaive. It had a tightly coiled bouquet that did not exude the mineralité of a 1992 encountered just before Christmas, but retained Anne-Claude’s trademark delineation and poise, a bouquet that perhaps needs another two or three years to get into its stride. The palate was beautifully balanced with hints of lime zest and gunflint, still a little linear towards the finish but opening up over an hour in the glass.

Two fascinating white from my birth-year followed. The Château Laville Haut-Brion Blanc 1971 was again, rather laconic on the nose but as I have advised on several occasions, this is a wine that bides its time, needs time to lose its inhibitions in the glass. It was particularly deep in hue, perhaps aesthetically more mature than coeval bottles that I have encountered, but over time it offered slightly oxidative aromas of walnut, Seville orange marmalade, lemon curd and a volatile component not dissimilar to furniture polish. The palate was very harmonious with a slightly viscous texture, spicy and nutty towards the tangy finish that was just a little flat. Somehow it remains an intellectually stimulating Laville, but on this showing it is not one of its finest vintages. From the neighbouring table I was able to compare this next to the Scharzhofberger Riesling Spätlese 1971 from Egon Müller, which formed one of my vinous highlights of the evening. More youthful in appearance than the Laville ’71, it has an enticing bouquet that exhibited an almost Muscat-like personality with hints of orange-blossom, passion fruit and crushed stones, its lift and purity undiminished by its age. The palate was caressing in texture with subtle notes of hazelnut, almond and brioche, a hint of dried lychee towards the long, sensual, kerosene-tinged finish. It was utterly sublime.

As we moved onto the reds, it was time for the main event. First the waiters nonchalantly placed small glass jars on each of our three tables filled with sachets of salt and vinegar. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed one of two patrons on the peripheral tables glance in our direction. What was going on? Then my nostrils flared like a hound that has just picked who has just picked up the scent…

K
F
C

The first of our dishes, collectively described on the menu as “Assiettes de KFC”, was the popcorn chicken, which were consumed with two magnificent Rhônes. I have not tasted the Château Beaucastel 1981 for a number of years and perhaps I had forgotten what a sensational wine this is. Though it is infamous for carrying a load of brett, I detected hardly any on this bottle. But there was a delectable, sumptuous bouquet of blackcurrant, leather, bacon fat and thyme all with stunning definition, followed by a silky smooth palate, so harmonious and effortless and so damn youthful that its charms were impossible to resist. In the sidecar sat the Cornas Reynard 1991 from Thierry Allemand, endowed with a voluptuous minty bouquet, sloes emerging with time, the palate full-bodied with superb acidity and a pure, youthful blackberry laced with white pepper finish. I made a mental note: must drink more Cornas.

Next was Brett’s take on the classic “Zinger Burger”. As a KFC purist, I have never felt compelled to order a Zinger. It’s like going to an Indian and ordering fish ‘n chips. However this Michelin-starred version was delicious. It demanded suitable vinous fare and so it was consumed with Château Cheval Blanc 1971, another wine that I have not encountered for several years. This has always been an under-the-radar Cheval and those in the know, covet their bottles. Rightly so too, for it barely seems to have altered since our last acquaintance with its luscious, ripe, opulent bouquet: red fruits rather than black with cranberry puree, wild strawberry and vanilla, the palate medium-bodied with very fine tannins, a glossy, precocious Cheval Blanc with sweetness on the finish you would expect to find on a much warmer vintage. Drinking beautifully now, this is a great wine from the estate, though it turned out not to be the best Saint Emilion ’71 that evening. The Château Trotanoy 1971 can be a breathtaking Pomerol that can even out-class Pétrus. I did not think this bottle was firing on all cylinders, more broody than I recall and just missing its usual verve on the finish. Yet still a tipple not to be sniffed at.

(A sight to bring a man to tears. That’s the Good Bishop Gill in the background, looking very much like a Greek God.)

 

The final “assiette” was more of a “seau”. There was a sense of ceremony as the waiters (desperately trying to keep a straight face and wondering why the hell they entered the catering profession) entered the restaurant holding aloft buckets of chicken, at which point numerous diners’ jaws dropped open in either awe or disgust (or both). Had they booked the correct restaurant?

Is there another “Ledbury” that serves KFC?

Is this some surreal dream à la “Inception”?

Where’s Leonardo?

Suffice to say, Brett’s recipe was a doppelganger for the real thing, albeit there was no oil oozing out the bottom of the chicken, dribbling down my chin and onto my lap.

Three more Bordeaux accompanied this feast, three wines that prove that 1971 is an underappreciated vintage. You just have to know where to look.

The Château Magdelaine 1971 was one of the most over-achieving wines that I have encountered in recent years. I was gob-smacked how gorgeous this was, a Saint Emilion with the audacity to out-class the Cheval Blanc by some margin. It had a beautifully sculpted bouquet with potent scents of redcurrants and cranberry, freshly tilled earth and wild hedgerow that was unbelievably youthful considering its age. The feminine palate was medium-bodied with very fine tannins, silky smooth with immense purity, a Saint Emilion that shimmered on the precise, fresh as a daisy, pastille finish. It was one of those wines that had prompted me to re-think the potential of the estate…this was my wine of the night.

It was partnered with a gun-slingin’ Château Palmer 1971 that attested its strong performance after the CWW vertical back in 2006. Fresh and vibrant on the nose with hints of cedar and boysenberry with a faint hickory tang, the palate has a very sweet entry with a fleshy Merlot core of fruit that lent it a Right Bank veneer. The Château Gruaud-Larose 1971 is another under-the-radar wine, extremely dark and youthful in appearance, the tannins a little brittle compared to the Right Bank wines, but graced with immense freshness and tension. I have experienced for myself the longevity of this Saint Julien and there is no reason to see why impeccably stored bottles cannot reach fifty years without difficulty.

Finally, a magnum of Château Coutet 1975 that had a sprightly citrus-driven nose, another ’75 Sauternes (or Barsac) that proves how well this vintage’s sweet wines are ageing i.e. better than ’76. Hints of mango and quince developed with time and the palate was bestowed with a touch of spice and dried pineapple on the entry, fanning out beautifully with a crisp, dried apricot and marmalade tinged finish. Coutet is defined by its vivacity and acidity and this was quintessential.

Even though there more splendid sweet German Beerenauslese ‘71s floating around and even an 1871 Solera Madeira, I had to get back to Guildford, for I had a flight to Germany the next morning. I slumped in the backseat of a taxi and since it was my birthday, on this one occasion I asked to be driven all the way back home. I placed my rucksack on the adjacent seat, inside of which was my souvenir KFC bucket signed by all my invitees. My Iranian chauffeur switched on the rear seat satellite TV, though the entertainment amounted to the stomach-churning sight of MTV Z-lister Kim Karshadian giving birth. Trying to put that out of my mind, I was thankful that I have reached this milestone with my faculties intact and all the blessed things in life that make it worth living. And as we head down the A3, there on the miniature screen is an advertisement for KFC. I raise a wry smile.

My sincerest thanks to Brett Graham at KFC…sorry, The Ledbury for being such a sport and the entire team of waiters and sommeliers who did a brilliant job. Brett will doubtless cook even better meals in the future, but perhaps none quite so indelible on the memory. Thanks to everyone who attended the various dinners and proffered wine and for making it such an enjoyable evening. Finally, thank you Colonel Sanders. You da man.

A Life Through Song

Originally, “A Life Through Wine” was to partner “A Life Through Song”. Alas the former turned into a bit of a magnum opus and so please excuse the delay.

These are forty songs that I spent hours and hours mulling over, the songs indelibly burned onto my fading memory.

Two things. I have limited myself to songs released during my lifetime. This means, for example, there is a dearth of Motown and Northern Soul whose halcyon days were before my entrance into this world. Secondly it is not intended to be a “greatest songs of all time” list. Case in point, I withdrew Kenny G’s cure for insomniacs: “Songbird”. I had included this muzak classic because I discovered a Kenny G triple live CD in my wife’s collection. It took days to recover. Then I envisaged someone googling “Kenny G” and my name popping up – I would become synonymous with the G. So it was deleted, though I may have shot myself in the foot by its mention in this introduction.

I included the sleeve artwork. With downloading and Spotify, this form of art may become a thing of the past, which is a shame because when you see those sleeves together like this, it’s a beautiful thing. I have also included links to Youtube and encourage you to click on those ditties that you are unfamiliar with and where I can, included interesting live performances or interviews.

Enjoy.

1 Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen – 1976

Is this the real life, or is this just fantasy…

This is the first song that I can remember. The operatic bridge scared the shit out of this five-year old. Maybe it was the 1970s mullets – John Deacon’s especially. But hey, you cannot knock the old “BoRhap” even if you have heard it a zillion times.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=irp8CNj9qBI

2 Oh Bondage, Up Yours – X-Ray Spex – 1977

I was too young for punk. North Street Infants School frowned upon Mohicans and ripped fishnet stockings (on the boys’ faces.) But during a brief flirtation with the Wesley Church Yoof Club they constantly played “Oh Bondage, Up Yours” so that the 12-year olds could punch and gob on each other, all under the watchful eye of Jesus. I loved Polly Styrene and the link below demonstrates the raw power of her band.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6BHh_0pX_4

3 Wow – Kate Bush – 1979

I just remember driving to Devon and “Wow” came on the radio. Even at this tender age I recognized a brilliant song by one of the geniuses of music. There are too many songs to choose from the prodigiously talented Ms. Bush, who let us not forget, penned Wuthering Heights when she was sixteen. I have linked to a rare and insightful interview on children’s ITV show Razzamatazz from 1981.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7KVdwYSX6A

4 Fashion – David Bowie – 1980

I mean, you are 8-years old squatting crossed legged on the floor watching Swap Shop and then Noel Edmunds introduces this…how can you not be affected? Dame Bowie at his obtuse, funky best…Beep, beep.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GA27aQZCQMk

5 Baggy Trousers – Madness – 1980

Madness were THE band if you were a skinny toe-rag between the ages of eight and twelve…or a skinhead. This was our anthem, the song we could relate to, pulling hair and eating dirt. Yes…that’s what we liked to do. To think that kids now are fed a diet of Simon Cowell shite and we were blessed with timeless proper music like Nutty Boys. It just beggars belief.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkZFmZqZZM4

6 Over You – Roxy Music – 1980

Every Sunday from five until seven o’clock I would kill off the music industry by taping my favourite songs off the Top 40 countdown. My most beloved TDK included Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock ‘n Roll To Me”, Gary Numan’s “We Are Glass” and this flawless classic. I have been known to refuse to speak to those who do not appreciate the glory of Roxy Music. Here is a Top Of The Pop’s performance, Ferry still looking uber-cool.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKlneWFgiAo

7 I’m In Love With A German Film Star – The Passions – 1981

Listening to The Passion’s one and only hit, I am amazed by how ahead of its time it sounds…very 4AD, almost Cocteau Twins. As a ten year old I spent hours (well it felt like hours…probably minutes) working out who this German film star was? It is worth checking out this Top of The Pops performance for the archetypal frizzy 1980s haircut last seen in “The Gentle Touch”.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nasn-49uk4A&feature=related

8 Torch/Insecure Me? – Soft Cell – 1982

New Wave remains my desert island genre of music and perhaps in Soft Cell, its most fascinating and I would argue, most under-rated exponents. Of course, everybody knows the ubiquitous Tainted Love, but I prefer their later work when Marc Almond descended into drug oblivion and the music became much darker. In retrospect it is amazing that a song as left field as Torch reached number two in the charts, when it does not feature a 7-second rap by Rhianna. Its inclusion is not only because of the song, but also my cousins’ choreographed dance in front of my brother and I, threatening to kiss us if we laughed. In addition, the b-side includes the magnificent “Insecure Me?”. The extended version is unbelievably good – Almond at his paranoid best.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8s8KF1t2y1c

9 Back To The Old House (BBC Session) – The Smiths – 1983

Where do you start? There are countless classic songs by Morrissey and Marr, but this live rendition of “Back To The Old House” (a b-side no less) embodies why they were the most important band of the 1980s. Johnny Marr’s spine tingling finger plucking, Morrissey’s maudlin, devastating lyrics that whisks you away to some drizzly cobbled Manchester terrace circa 1962. The sparseness of this live version, its rawness….my God…this can move a man to tears.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6y0wWE-TnCc

10 Get The Balance Right – Depeche Mode – 1983

I cannot neglect Basildon’s finest, although it was difficult to choose between so many hits. It used to drive me crazy how music journalists would pillory their music when it was clear that everybody loved them. They were one of the few to genuinely crack America whilst not compromising their sound and I suppose it is only know that their influence is being truly appreciated. Everything Counts is better known, but I love “Get The Balance Right”, which was inexcusably omitted from their original Greatest Hits album.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibeXowYyaxA

11 Relax – Frankie Goes To Hollywood – 1983

When this was released, it felt so perverse and dangerous, more so after Radio One ludicrously banned it. Of course, it is Trevor Horn’s peerless production that makes the song, although I actually have a lot of time for FGTH’s second album that went straight into the bargain bucket bins. That risqué bondage artwork, Paul Morley’s nonsensical art statements, that pounding bass-line…it still sounds as if it were made yesterday. I was at the 1984 Scout Jamboree in north Essex when the DJ played this in a giant marquee to hundreds of Scouts and Girl Guides, all away from home for the first time. It was pandemonium.

The link below is to the original banned version. You have been warned.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HToKXdN_sY0&feature=fvst

12 Just The Way You Like It – The S.O.S. Band – 1984

I am a sucker for Jam & Lewis production. Their apotheosis is not Janet Jackson’s “Control” or Alexander O’Neal’s “Criticize” (which should by my professional theme tune.) No, they peaked with two monumental tracks for The S.O.S. Band. “Just Be Good To Me” is more familiar having been covered by Beats International and taken to numero uno in 1990. “Just The Way You Like It” is equally good, capturing the zeitgeist of the 1980s disco. This song has a synth bass-line that smells of dry ice, Mary Davis’s soulful vocals and lyrics so misogynistic that you just have to laugh. Listen to the words. She is basically saying: I understand you are fornicating with anything that moves, but please remember that you can “do” me, just the way you like it. Check out the video – cheese-tastic. It features synth player hi-kicking the cymbal and robotic dancing.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHDPMIFwIKA

13 P-Machinery – Propaganda – 1985

Power. Force. Drive. Propaganda!

Propaganda had to play second fiddle to label-mates Frankie Goes To Hollywood, yet their music has stood the test of time. “Duel” was their biggest hit that received the most radio airplay (though few would be able to name the artist.) “P-Machinery” was the follow-up and did not do as well, but everything is here: Claudia Brücken’s singular vocals, Stephen Lipson’s astounding crystalline production and a heavy dose of Teutonic pretention. I could also have included the Faustian debut single Dr. Mabuse or ACT’s wonderfully sardonic “Snobbery & Decay”.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-0cFzZt4mc4&feature=related

14 Infected – The The – 1987

An amazing video to an amazing song by an amazing man: Matt Johnson, who went under the nom de plum “The The” (the most frustrating band to Google.) “Infected” remains one of my favourite albums of all time, a suite of eight perfect songs that sound as fresh today as they did back then. It’s the ferocity and bile of Johnson’s delivery, the epic production and sheer adventurism that makes this one of my most cherished albums. Channel 4’s “The Tube” commissioned eight videos to accompany the album, each one a work of art. I collected all the vinyl records not only because of songs, but their distinctive artwork (by Johnson’s brother.) I still have the original 12-inch vinyl copy of “Infected” with banned “masturbating devil” sleeve that I had to hide from mum until I moved out of home. Even now I find it embarrassing to look at.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QkU-3-ifzrY

15 If I Was Your Girlfriend – Prince – 1987

During my teenage years, Prince ruled my life along with The Smiths. They had to share my affections. If I Was Your Girlfriend was the second single from his masterpiece Sign ‘o the Times and there has never been a song that sounds remotely like it before or after. The musical polymath was at his daring and disarming best. Even at his worst he was miles ahead of everyone else. I booked tickets to see him play at Blenhiem Palace on the Sign of the Times tour. We were instructed to wear black or cream. I purchased suitably coloured attire and then he cancelled the gig.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4C9qR9wJVw

16 Humanoid – Stakker – 1988

Acid house was my punk. It represents year zero for many my age. It was the most exciting thing ever: the raves, the rebelliousness, the fact that adults could not understand it, the way it drilled into your cranial cavity, the dodgy soft drugs, the arms in the air hedonism and cries of “Aciiiiieeeeed” like some deranged shamen. What acid did was take all the different cliques of society, whether it was goth, indie, rare groove, rap or house; rich or poor; north or south; sporty or arty, cool or square and blend them all together. Like punk, it was short-lived, but its effect on music and youth culture was immeasurable. To a majority, Humanoid’s monumental “Stakker” will sound like a malfunctioning Amstrad. Others, who were there at the time, will feel be going mental at precisely 1:10 sec when the mother of all bass-lines kicks in. Later, they will dig out their sweat-stained Acid Smiley t-shirt, perhaps a bandana, and reminisce about the second summer of love.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxEoU-oE0j4

17 Theme From Starsky & Hutch – The James Taylor Quartet – 1988

I was into “Acid Jazz” around 1988 and 1989 and this was its anthem, featuring no less than Fred Wesley on trombone duty. James Taylor and his Hammond organ had disbanded the seminal “Prisoners” and formed JTQ, recruiting a “friend of a friend” from a local Leigh-on-Sea band, The Honky Tinkers, on the way. This loose connection meant that we shook out booties at numerous JTQ gigs, particularly at Christmas when they performed a riotous show at The Pink Toothbrush. If you played this and The Jackson Sister’s euphoric “I Believe in Miracles” then you would be guaranteed dance-floor carnage.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vaIybof8l7E

18 Planet E – KC Flightt – 1988

It was not Run DMC or Public Enemy that formed the conduit into rap music, but KC Flightt’s “Planet E”. Built around Talking Heads’ “Once In A Lifetime” with David Byrne himself making a cameo in the video, Planet E made an impression with its clever lyrics and sampling one of my favourite songs of all time. It was difficult to find decent footage of this song, so apologies for the quality of the link below…

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxazMhEoy_Q

19 Cat-House – Danielle Dax – 1988

Few will have heard of Danielle Dax. She was the singer on an archetypal 80’s indie group called the Lemon Kittens and then went solo, releasing a string of superb, alas mainly unheard songs. She was part of what the “goth” genre, sexy in a vampish way and used to walk down Southend High Street with her mum.  This has that psychedelic early 1960’s surf vibe purloined by The Jesus & Mary Chain, a chugging guitar riff and Danielle’s risqué lyrics that went completely over my head at the time.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GU6dIBK7_ig

20 Wrote For Luck – The Happy Mondays – 1989

The Stone Roses may have been the catalyst of a cultural revolution, but for this writer, The Happy Mondays form the nexus between “indie” and “dance”, specifically Wrote For Luck. I bought the 12-inch in HMV down Oxford Street, put it on my Aiwa hi-fi and it blew my mind. “Step On” might be their anthem and “Kinky Afro” their greatest song, but this changed the musical landscape.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3svrd9OaIw

21 Your Love – Frankie Knuckles – 1989

The epochal Chicago house track from the golden age of dance music. You’ve heard this everywhere from the Source featuring Candi Staton (check out Candi’s funky original version) to Animal Collective to Florence & the Machine. How can you not resist its hypnotic opening refrain that caused mass delirium in sweaty nightclubs. I bought a slightly warped copy of the Frankie Knuckles version circa 1989 and played it ad nauseum. There is something melancholy about this version, the vocals sounding more soulful against such an austere electronic backdrop. It was only much later that I actually heard my favourite version by the true originator of the song, Jamie Principle, but it was Knuckles’ sprinkling of God-like genius that turned it into one of the most influential records of all time. Nevertheless, the link below is to the original Jamie Principle mix from way back in 1986, principally because he deserves more credit.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kup0BdoLzbg

22 Loaded – Primal Scream – 1990

Sorry for another obvious choice, but I first heard this on The Chart Show in the middle of a horrendous hangover in the student’s house in Leeds. It just came out of the blue. Primal Scream? Wasn’t that Bobby Gillespie’s naval-gazing indie band? Everybody knows Andrew Weatherall’s remix, but have you ever heard the original “I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have” from their self-titled previous album? It’s a slow-burnin’, blues-tinged belter, in many ways just as good as the makeover, especially the wigged-out guitar solo. I’ve included a link to the original so you can appreciate the genius of both Gillespie and Weatherall.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mcJMve476I

22 We Let The Stars Go – Prefab Sprout – 1990

Hmm…a lot of “relationship” memories tied up with this amazing tune, one of many from the genius that is Paddy McAloon. There is something incredibly wistful and melancholy about this. For some reason it reminds me of driving in the rush hour in Coventry, trying and failing to get to my lecture on time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-nNKT_9qVnI

23 Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana – 1991

Such an obvious choice I almost excluded it. It’s not even my favourite Nirvana song (that would be either the live version of “Tourettes” or “Sliver”.) But there was life before this song and life after this song. I remember watching them play it live on “The Word” as the closing credits rolled across the bottom of the screen. That guitar riff…that was bleedin’ incredible. My flatmate sighed with ennui, but she was into The Beautiful South, so what did she know. I bought Nevermind on the day it was released and played it at full volume from start to finish. Then I played it again to the chagrin of my housemates since it was about two in the morning.

I’ve linked to their “performance” on Top of the Pops in 1991 as I just remember laughing all the way through it.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtehDIWrX5U

24 This Is Your Life – The Banderas – 1991

This is a lost bona fide classic. Fronted by what appeared to be two shaven-haired lesbian singers, they never fitted in to any genre and it never got particularly high in the charts. However, the lyrics are profound and have always stayed with me. I remember a DJ spinning this in the small hours at a club in Covent Garden. The entire audience off their heads on whatever and sang along to the first killer line: “Where is the purpose in your life?” The irony was not lost upon me. If you like dance music married with depth and meaning and have never heard this song before, then click on the link below. Mesmerizing.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rcLLa5mPvU

25 The Blue Room – The Orb – 1992

The Lake District. Middle of nowhere. Bunch of mates. No job. No responsibilities. No TV. Just this on the tape deck: 20 minutes of spooky trance from outer space. It was the ultimate chill out. This was the perfect soundtrack.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIx2X8MSZF4


26 Animal Nitrate – Suede – 1993

Who can forget Suede performing this at the Brit awards? There was effete singer Brett Anderson prancing around in a sheer lace top wiggling his derriere to the front row, Bernard Butler thrashing at his guitar to an audience of bemused music industry bods wondering what happened to Phil Collins. How prescient it seems, given that Britpop loomed on the horizon. Suede did much to pave the way for Oasis and Blur. But by then their sexual androgyny was out of kilter with the Gallagher’s machismo. They released one more monumental album “Dog Man Star” before their Butler acrimoniously departed. It’s only now that their legacy is being truly appreciated…and rightly so too.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7mEB2wnDLQ

27 Paranoid Android – Radiohead – 1997

I had been a fan of Radiohead since day one, as proven by my coveted copy of their first single, The Drill EP from 1992. Easily the most important band of the last twenty years, I was driving home to North London very late one night and heard this for the first time. I had to stop the car in a lay-by. This was my Bohemian Rhapsody, even if there was no operatic bridge or John Deacon mullet. I had to include the show-stopping live version from Jools Holland seeing that it was watching this that a generation’s jaws dropped to the floor.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-w2wgceXUE

28 The Drugs Don’t Work – The Verve – 1997

I had seen The Verve at Glastonbury back in 1993. Don’t tell me what they were like as I fell asleep and woke up with sunburn. But I vividly recall witnessing The Verve play this for the very first time at Hammersmith Odeon, just before they went supernova with Bitter Sweet Symphony. I had read an interview with Noel Gallagher, where the Oasis front man had promulgated Richard Ashcroft’s recently composed ballad that would blow people’s minds. I watched from the balcony. There was tension in the air as Ashcroft announced their new song and even from the first chords you knew this was a “moment”. To think, my girlfriend had wanted to leave early because she was bored.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fERekxzkjFE


30 This Is Hardcore – Pulp – 1998

This was the comedown after the heady days of Britpop, after Sheffield’s finest had taken an entire nation of common people to their heart. Perhaps it was inevitable? Jarvis Cocker, certainly against type, descended into a squalid like of drugs and mindless copulation. “This Is Hardcore” is riddled with guilt, self-loathing and degradation. “That goes in there…and that goes in there…” he sings with such disgust that you want to clean yourself afterwards. The 50’s pastiche video is worth seeking out, but I prefer the performance from Jools Holland. Jarvis looks wan and wasted, so dead in the eyes. He almost gurgles the final refrain. Breathtaking.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3ZLhnBYEXc

31 Feel Good Hit Of The Summer – Queens Of The Stone Age – 2000

Josh Homme’s paean to co-co-co-cocaine and other illegal substances that should not be condoned (see above performance.) I saw QOTSA at Kentish Town Forum. It was not exactly a “lighters-in-the-air” moment and my new girlfriend, now wife, thought I had taken her to Hades. I had.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAXPUN2z2CE

32 Juxtaposed With You – Super Furry Animals – 2001

S.F.A. have been one of the most innovative bands since they were appeared at the fag end of Britpop, a genre that could never hope to contain their originality and vision. There is always a surreal element to their songs, but they never forget the melody. We chose this as our first dance at our wedding reception, a terrible choice given the chorus of: “I’m not in love with you, but I won’t hold that against you.”

Or maybe that was prescient? Anyway, I just love the orchestration and it sounds romantic.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-1W01hDCmc

33 What A Waster – The Libertines – 2002

It is pity that Pete Doherty has actually lived out every single word of “What A Waster”. In many ways it is the flip-reverse of “Feel Good Hit Of The Summer”, the seedy, idiotic side of drugs. The Libertines were a breath of fresh air when they burst onto the scene, putting the energy and anarchism back into music. I was there at one of their last gigs in Kentish Town when the stage was invaded by teenagers unaware that the group were about to implode. Both scathing in language and humour, What A Waster is Barat & Doherty’s finest moment.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qs4DgqlIzXI&feature=related

34 Maps – Yeah Yeah Yeahs – 2003

This was my song of the year when I first started Wine-Journal. It’s the genuine heartbreak of Karen O’s delivery, the jazziness in Brian Chases’s drumming and the heaviness in Nick Zimmer’s guitar. That’s all you need. This is a gut-wrenching masterpiece from one of the decade’s best bands.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIIxlgcuQRU

35 Rebellion (Lies) – Arcade Fire – 2004

At the weekend, my brother told me that he saw Arcade Fire at Brixton Academy and that a girl next to him wept throughout the entire gig. I can understand that. No other band comes close to their passion. Amazing how Canada can produce both Arcade Fire and Justin Bieber.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42g4T_tZPTA

36 Supermassive Black Hole – Muse – 2006

Muse, the finest band from Teignmouth, were fourth on the bill at the NME Awards tour at the London Astoria back in 2000. They were astounding, no mean feat at just 7pm before the lager had started flowing. As funky as Prince and as heavy as Metallica, theoretically this song should not work. But it does, supermassively.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kZaVzD-pwk

37 Clowns – Goldfrapp – 2009

Goldfrapp had defined the electronic sound of the decade with their first three albums. Their fourth wrong-footed everyone with its acoustic pastoral feel that sounds more like Nick Drake. Until I wrote this piece, I had no idea that Clows is de facto, all about big boobs. That has not detracted from its ethereal beauty. This is a live performance from the Electric Proms…

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_5kEuKbA2U&feature=related

38 An Ocean and a Rock – Lisa Hannigan – 2009

The lilting opening track from Lisa Hannigan’s criminally under-rated “Sea Sew” album from 2009. She has one of those bewitching voices that has a far deeper range than you would expect, slightly gravely in timbre, a voice that seems to come from a distant cove on a windswept Irish coastline. There is a lot of ersatz English folk swirling around at the moment, but Hannigan is genuine and far more affecting.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7DeZ2hn8_M

39 Stylo – Gorillaz – 2010

I have been a fan of Blur/Damon Albarn ever since their record label sent me a promo copy of their first single “So High/I Know” back in 1991. Fortunately I offered positive feedback and thereafter they have released several singles I would happily include in this list: For Tomorrow, Girls & Boys, The Universal, Song 2, Tender, Out of Time. But I will choose this track, Stylo, since it contains both Bobby Womack and Mos Def, plus Bruce Willis in the vid. It will nark Liam Gallagher, but c’mon, Albarn is a genius.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhPaWIeULKk

40 You’ll Be Mine – The Pierces – 2011

I think it is good to finish on something now or indeed, forthcoming. I am slightly obsessed by this breeze of summer pop from The Pierces, whose album is due out later this year. It reminds me of prime Fleetwood Mac in terms of the close harmonies and that blissed-out hippy-chick California vibe.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kFhx27OMdE

A Life Through Wine

February 12th 2011.

On this day, I turn 40. It has an age that has always seemed a lifetime away, even when I was 39½.

2011?

That was ten years after Kubrick’s Space Odyssey and twelve years after Space 1999. It would be aeons before I became part of those futuristic worlds.

I should be grateful. I still have my health and though I am not quite as “willowy” as I once was, I am positively anorexic given the gravage of foie gras over the last decade. I am happily married and the proud father of two angelic daughters. I still have a full head of hair and despite protestations from assorted girlfriends, I have managed to keep every single one of my vinyl records. I may not be as wealthy as some of my City friends, but I have the best job in the world.

To celebrate this milestone I present in chronological order, a life through wine, each resetting the course of my life or tethered to a cherished memory (which is perhaps why there are no entries after 2006…I guess it takes time for sentimentality to sink in.) Those of you savvy enough to subscribe to eRP will be able to peruse nearly all the tasting notes for the wines…well, except the first couple for obvious reasons.

There is always a person or persons behind each bottle. Some are family or childhood friends and others work acquaintances that have a habit of becoming friends. Some make fleeting appearances and others become lovers. One became wife and mother. Some remain content in my hometown whilst others disappeared overseas. Sadly, one or two are no longer with us. They all played their part in my own little odyssey.

So happy birthday to me, happy birthday me, happy birthday to me-ee.

Trust that I will be celebrating in style and with excitement on the horizon, life is only beginning.

Enjoy…

1 Mateus Rose – 1971-1986

I bet that surprised a few Wine-Journal devotees convinced that I have spent the best part of four decades silver spooning from a trough of Yquem. However, wine barely registered in the life of the Martin family of Leigh-on-Sea (home of the barnacle and roll mop.) I have vague memories of Mateus rosé, the reluctant guest at Sunday roast. If feeling extravagant, then there were occasional bottles of Black Tower, just as long as has enough residual sugar to stand a spoon in the glass.

2 Ruby Port – 1987-1995

In January 1987 this young 15-year old whippersnapper went to The Hadleigh Suite for the first, but not last time. The venue was annexed onto the side of a pub, The Elms, and was nothing special: just a couple of bars, a rudimentary dance-floor, disco-lights and dimly lit alcoves furbished with comfy, beer-stained velvet seats where one could snog with discretion. Despite its rather mundane appearance, it was to host some of the most hedonistic parties over the next two years.

It is Lorna’s 18th birthday and my colleagues from Peter Lord shoe shop, all mullets and lurid Dynasty shoulder pads, are crowding at the bar ordering weak Australian lager and Bacardis.

“I don’t drink alcohol,” I sheepishly reply when I asked my tipple.

“Have you ever tried port and lemonade?” asks my manageress. “It’s sweet. You might like it.”

“Go on then, I’ll try one.”

My fate is sealed. Who cares whether it was the tipple for wrinkled old spinsters. I had just taken a step into adulthood.

By the time I had left home to study at the University of Warwick, ruby port had become part of my staple diet. I dispensed with the lemonade and nurtured a regimen of drinking an entire bottle, yes, an entire bottle…before going out. Trust me; the effects upon my metabolism were not as catastrophic as the singular occasion when I downed an entire bottle of Blue Curacao. The green vomit distressed both my girlfriend and my liver for life. Oliver Reed would have been proud.

Doubtlessly you assume that I was a trainee alcoholic. Fair enough. However my intake was no different to other students and in any case, I eschewed life as a beer-guzzling under-graduate and my hangovers and constant migraines have been sufficiently punitive to guarantee a modicum of moderation.

So…to the class of 1992: if you remember pony-tailed DJ in NHS spectacles spinning KLF, Orbital, Happy Mondays, The Smiths, Nirvana and ABBA with a glass of ruby port perched next to his Technics 1210s…that was the future contributor to The Wine Advocate.

3 Liebfraumilch (Pfalz) – unidentified grower – June 1996

Shit. I have an interview in Hanover Square tomorrow, a job whose responsibilities entail the shipping of wine: a beverage upon which I know NOTHING.

If the job entailed ruby port I might have stood a chance.

Nonetheless, it is imperative I escape from the clutches of this Japanese personal indemnity insurance company, ostensibly a 9-to-5 conversation with the photocopier that makes my manager,  a midget with a preposterous moustache, look positively charismatic. I did not pass my 11-plus to become this. No, no and thrice no.

I nip round to the local Third World off-license “Wine, Beers & Spirits” along the London Road and memorize the first bottle I see.

Lieb…frau…milch. Didn’t mum sometimes drink that?

Pfalz.

That sounds foreign and intelligent. Right…remember that. The interviewer is sure to ask you my vinous predilection. Pfalz it is. I love Pfalz.

Hmmm….is it red or white?

I pass the interview and a career is born. Incidentally, whilst UK wine retailers have atrophied in recent years, “Wine, Beer & Spirits” remains, like a cockroach after a nuclear holocaust.

4 Château Montrose 1982 – February 1997

As has been documented several times, Château Montrose 1982 is the epiphany, the catalyst for everything that followed. Having blatantly lied my way through an interview I was now ludicrously installed as an “export assistant” at JAL Trading UK Ltd. Alas my knowledge could have been written on the side of a postage stamp.

Then a bottle of Saint Estèphe is served at lunch at Corney & Barrow and my sensory dials are awoken. I see the light. I experience a Dionysian vision accompanied by a choir of tipsy angels. I instantly re-evaluate my appreciation of fermented grape juice and realize that to pursue a vocation you actually enjoy is a privilege afforded to few, particularly those employed in personal indemnity insurance.

Returning to the office I compose a tasting note on an Excel spreadsheet, purloining the scoring system of one Andrew Jefford since I read the Evening Standard en route back to my flat in Crystal Palace. I award 22-points out of 25, a parsimonious score because although it is the best wine I have tasted, I might one day taste even better. In retrospect, Montrose is not the greatest Bordeaux or even the greatest Saint Estèphe ’82, but that did not matter back then. There was no going back. It would be another six years of intensive self-training and studying before I had the experience to publish a tasting note, by which time there would be over 4,000.

5 Opus One 1991 (half-bottle) – December 1997

This is the first “posh” bottle of wine to find a berth on my IKEA wine rack. I was exporting a lot of Opus to the Far East and had gone down to a lock-up cellar in Chelsea to check the cases. The merchant asks whether I have ever tasted Robert Mondavi’s wine and I reply no, so he hands me a half-bottle of ’91. I keep it a few months. Its presence offers a shallow feeling of connoisseurship and affluence. If I remember, the wine rack was not too far from the oven, so it was probably for the best that I pop the cork around Christmas. It was opulent and delicious.

6 Montrachet Grand Cru 1991 – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti – March 1998

Back again being wined and dined in the salubrious oak-panelled dining room of Corney & Barrow, a regular venue since I had inadvertently become a major fine wine buyer for the Japanese market. This was the first wine where, instead of genuflecting in the glow of a famous name, I expressed a candid, indeed rather tepid opinion in front of my generous host. When I espoused my view, I harboured no desire to write about wine. Robert Parker did that. But I recognized that I had a degree of perspicuity and clarity of judgement that might serve me well. I would not to be swayed by kudos of name or value of a bottle, a tenet upheld to this day.

7 Nuits Saint Georges 1er Cru Clos des Fôrets 1990 – Domaine de l’Arlot – April 1998

This was my first great Burgundy, ordered off the list at Ma Cuisine in Beaune where I dined with an acquaintance from a négoçiant company, Diva Beaune if I recall. I must confess that I had not expected to pay after all, I was the client. I misread the evening as business rather than pleasure, but what the hell. I remember basking in the glory of this Pinot Noir and thanked the Lord that I had not ordered the La Tâche.

8 Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru 1996 – Domaine Fougeray de Beauclair – September 1998

I was still a neophyte in 1998 but the passion was certainly gestating. I persuaded my wife and a posse of friends to drive down to Burgundy for a bit of Withnail-esque R&R. There was my her indoors, two Warwick University friends Kim & Cath, my cohort from Westcliff Grammar School for Gentlefolk “Pip” and his mate Tin. We stayed at a capacious gîtes in the heart of Auxey, where we embarked upon a bacchanalian week of libation and tomfoolery that culminated in an attempt to shave Pip’s goatee into a bunch of grapes.

We failed.

At that stage, I was acquainted with few vignerons, but I followed Domaine Fougeray de Beauclair and arranged a tasting with winemaker, Patrice Ollivier. He kindly conducts a tasting and invites us to join his pickers for a hearty al fresco lunch and afterwards dishes at the secateurs for some impromptu harvesting.

We are useless.

Having imbibed far too much Pinot, we are utterly incompetent and last about 10 minutes. Each of us buys a bottle from Patrice and in years to come, we vow to meet up and enjoy them together. I cellar my Bonnes-Mares ’96, the years roll by and lives splinter into different directions. It becomes clear that we will never reunite. My wife has appended ex- to her name; Pip is back in Tokyo and Tin living in Thailand. So in 2009, I open that bottle of Bonnes-Mares ’96 and you know what…it is fantastic. And despite the distances between us, I am glad to report that I remain friends with all who spent a raucous week getting hammered in the Côte d’Or…except the ex-, of course.

9 Trilogie – circa 1998

I am still living in Crystal Palace with my ex-wife, whose vinous interest extends to: what colour is it and is it alcoholic? A Dutch friend has kindly sent me two innocuous, anonymous bottles with a rabbit-adorned label. I taste one bottle: it is lovely, definitely Merlot and so I deduce a Right Bank. I forget about the other. Some months later, my wife calls me at the office. She is visiting a Japanese student friend who is studying at Wimbledon Art College and wants to take a bottle to drink with her ramen.

“Take the one with the rabbit on it,” I insouciantly reply and then get back work on my work and my game of Solitaire.

After I had beaten the computer, I punch in the number of my Dutch friend and ask about the bottle she sent? She informs me that it is a one-off bottling of declassified Le Pin. Bugger. I dial home but she has already left. My ex-wife returns rather giddy around midnight.

“We did not have any wine glasses, so we drank it out of plastic cups…” she slurs as she staggers towards the bedroom. “…it was delicious”

It is those last three words that meant that the bottle was not wasted.

10 Château Latour 1961 – December 1999

My first perfect bottle of wine and still the best Latour ’61 I have encountered despite having it twice ex-château. My friend Clare from Justerini & Brooks is entertaining Rie and I at “Circus” in Soho and she had procured the bottle at a discount price because of ullage. My eyes widen when I read the vintage.

Can it really be that good?

Once I taste this elixir, I am enlightened to what a perfect, faultless wine could be, moreover the spiritual heights that it can achieve. Ecstatic, I offer a soupcon to the neighbouring table. The decline my offer.

To date, only 30 wines have scored a perfect 25 or once I had gone metric, 100-points.

11 Château Talbot 1955 – December 1999

I had been proffering bottles of wine for the Martin family every now and then. It is Christmas dinner. The turkey is being carved and the Brussels sprouts rejected by my brothers who just want to go and watch Christmas Top of the Pops. My lovely bottle of Saint Julien is standing there being ridiculed by everyone except Uncle Alf, the only member of the family with a penchant for wine. I vow that henceforth, they will be offered nice wine, but preferably nice wine under a ten quid.

12 Salon Blancs de Blancs 1983 from magnum – December 1999

Millennial eve round at my friend Kim’s pad in Notting Hill. I cannot remember much about the dinner party, but I did bring this champagne and later, poured some into a thermos flask, which we took to watch the fireworks over the Houses of Parliament.

13 Château Doisy-Védrines 1969 – March 2000

The director of a major Bordeaux négociant is hosting dinner with a major Japanese client and wishes to open a bottle of his client’s wife’s year of birth. He calls my office in Hanover Square and I make the necessary enquiries. Everything is in place. Business goes well, the dinner is divine and now, the finale, the masterstroke! The Barsac is served blind. After much guessing, the benevolent host unveils the vintage that had been such a struggle to find…

She was born in 1970.

14 Château Potensac 1990 – November 2000

Unexpectedly enjoying life as a single man, I pop into the local cornershop by West Norwood station to buy some cat food. The Kwik-e-Mart has a typically moribund selection of wines, predominantly Eastern European paint stripper with the half-life of plutonium. As I pay for the Whiskas, a coup d’oeil towards the shelves of wine and blow me down. Peeking from the back of some Estonian Pinotage is a bewildered family of Château Potensac 1990. Plus, it is out of the sunlight.

Bonus!

It has been reduced from £4.99 to £3.99 because 1990 is obviously past its best.

Double bonus.

I purchase one bottle each night on the way back from work and every bottle is perfectly sound. Then I work my way through their Nuits St. Georges Blanc from Domaine de l’Arlot, although that was a bit more expensive at £4.49.

I forgot the cat food.

15 Château d’Yquem 1921 – November 2000

So I am back at Mirabelle for the n’th time and my body fat is now 50% pig’s trotter, 20% foie gras. Just down from our table is none other than Madonna, chewing the fat with Marco Pierre White and probably her current beau, Guy Ritchie. MPW orders a Sauternes off the list: Château Yquem 1921, one the greatest wines of the century. The sommelier decants the bottle and would you believe it? A soupçon goes missing and wakes up on our table!

I silently toast Ms. Ciccone. I bought all her records since Borderline and quid pro quo, she (unwittingly) gave me a wee dram of Yquem ’21.

16 Château Figeac 1955 from half-bottle – September 2001

Michael phones from Turville. He has taken ownership of a few bottles that have been kept in ignoble conditions at a country hotel. He is flogging them for sixpence a throw. I have very little money, but hey, what can I lose? I buy a dozen historical artefacts, each and every one undrinkable…except one. For some reason, a half-bottle of Figeac ’55 was utterly glorious. I think it had cost me about five quid.

Skills.

17 Château Pichon-Lalande 1983 – April 2002

I receive the innocuous e-mail from Tom Cannavan of www.wine-pages.com. Some Japanese bird at Berry Brothers & Rudd wants to hook up, having read my scintillating review of DRC 1999 vintage.

Hello, hello…this should be an easy notch on the bedpost.

I invite her to La Trouvaille in Carnaby Street for some rustic French fare. The plan is starter, main course and then skip pudding and straight back to Love Central. Hey, I even changed the duvet. I bring a bottle of Château Pichon-Lalande 1983 to “lubricate” the evening to its inevitable conclusion. The dinner is enjoyable but unlike most Japanese girls who lose consciousness by the mere mention of wine, this young vixen has all her faculties intact. Her cheeks are not even red.

That was not the plan. Is she really Japanese?

She hands me her business card and asks me to escort her to Oxford Circus station. She shakes my hand. I don’t even get a peck on the cheek. I travel home on the Victoria Line trying to fathom how my perfectly planned evening ended up so solitary. What a waste of Pichon-Lalande. Was it because I brought the ’83 and not the ’82? I guess I will never know.

18 Taylors 1985 (probably) – April 2002

Aforementioned Japanese saucepot invites me to her studio flat in Pimlico for dinner. I do not refuse after all, she has told me that she had a diploma in French cuisine. Unfortunately, Mr. Fussy barely touches his aubergine terrine, an unforgivable insult that almost results in my departure before main course. However, we reach the end of dinner had she offers me some port that she had bought from BBR. By the time we have imbibed about three-quarters of the bottle, our relationship is no longer platonic.

19 Château Haut-Brion 1974 – June 2002

I had heard of “The Arches” for a couple of years, a fabled watering hole for the London fine wine trade presided over by the legendary “Good Bishop Gill” (a pseudonym from my own fertile imagination, just like HRH Jancis.) It was, and still is, a sui generis, a grotto of artefacts strewn over walls, empty bottles hither and thither; tabletops constructed from lacquered OWCs, foxy Eastern European girls behind the bar and the only list where you can order either a pint of beer or Romanée-Conti. In June 2002, I am finally invited to “lunch” with Bordeaux Index at The Arches and suffice to say, I never make it back to the office. We settle in the rear courtyard and work our way through the mouth-watering list. I order a Lynch Bages 1962 for £40. The late Dylan Paris teaches us a salutary lesson when he orders Château Haut-Brion 1974 and serves it blind to demonstrate that you must never dismiss a wine until you have tasted it (and I write this days after tasting a pleasurable ’65 Sauternes.)

Hours roll past in a blur…one Claret after another. I am wasted by early evening when I am due to be introduced to my girlfriend’s best buddy at her abode just off the King’s Road. I stagger into a taxi, drop Sam off at Victoria Station. He asks whether I have any money? What was that? Sloane Square please…

My recollections are hazy after this point, save that I did a runner from the taxi and that after introducing myself, I collapsed onto her sofa and snored like a baby.

20 Château Haut-Brion 1989 – September 2002

I invite a ‘vinomate’ round for dinner at my tiny Victorian flat in West Norwood. At that time, legendary wines are within purchase distance and the previous year I had bought a bottle of the iconic Haut-Brion 1989 that was reserved for a special occasion. The previous evening I had prepped a saucepan of spaghetti bolognaise (Ragu sauce, carrot, onion, kidney beans, Safeways economy pasta) and just need to warm it up in the pan. It is dreary Monday night. There is no logical reason for me to go down to my coal bunker-cum-wine cellar and decant the most expensive wine that I own. The two experienced palates are speechless even before I tell them the identity of this ethereal nectar.

They ask why I had opened it on a dreary Monday evening with a spaghetti bolognaise? “Precisely because I shouldn’t,” I reply.

21 Château Cheval Blanc 1971 – December 2002

Still paddling in the blissful honeymoon period of my new-found love, I whisk my girlfriend to South Wales for New Years Eve. I have located a decent BYO restaurant and dutifully choose this delicious gem from my birth-year. The restaurant is buzzing and there is an enormous Christmas tree taking up the entire room. The food is superb, the Cheval ’71 delicious. We stagger back to the hotel and watch fireworks over the Brecon Beacons and as we watch from the balcony, I wish I had a remote control so that I could pause this idyllic, carefree, star-crossed moment of a relationship that you can never return to.

22 Barbera d’Asti 1999 – La Spinetta – February 2003

It is my birthday and I have booked a table pour deux at the hottest restaurant in town: “Locanda Locatelli”. I sashay with girlfriend on arm and soak up the palpable chichi atmosphere. Within the tenebrous interior I can make out Chris Evans and Billie Piper surrounded by media-whores planning tomorrows’ tabloid headline. Sprinkled across the tables, one can spot Z-lists celebrities desperately hoping to be snapped by the paparazzi outside. I order a bottle of Barolo, the name of which I cannot remember, except that my liver has issued a health warning before I wave the sommelier over and order a second bottle: Giorgio Rivetti’s Barbera d’Asti 1999, a blockbuster wading in God only knows percentage alcohol and more hedonism than an illegal rave around the M25 circa 1990.

No surprise that by the time the last strand of tagliatelle is being wound around the fork, the restaurant had begun rotating and I am saying au revoir to sanity. There is suddenly a commotion and Giorgio Locatelli himself is coming towards me brandishing pudding around which is written “Happy Birthday Neil” (sic) in chocolate sauce. Even Chris and Billie are looking over. Giorgio commends me on my choice of wine.

I tell him that I love him and sling my arm round him like I am his new best friend.

23 Château Mouton Rothschild 1982 – June 2003

Holding La Fête de la Fleur at Mouton-Rothschild was never going to be a quiet, intimate, “More scones vicar?” affair, although few expected the Baroness to serve all 1,500 guests with Château Mouton-Rothschild 1982. I regale my evening at this most lavish of banquets and insert some of my sardonic Essex humour. Someone notices on Robert Parker’s forum and suddenly I have 100 visitors per day instead of two.

I never look back.

24 Bual 1920 – Blandy’s – September 2003

Before I tasted this Bual at Blandy’s lodge in Funchal, I had always assumed that I would detest Madeira, notwithstanding that fact that it was uncool to drink it unless you were turning ninety. After sipping this Bual, I fell in love with the most under-appreciated beverage on the planet and have been advocating its unparalleled charms ever since.

25 Château Haut Brion Blanc 1996 – October 2003

I would never claim to be the greatest blind taster in the world but I have my moments. This was one. I am at a private dinner  joined by several American importers. A white wine is poured blind and our host invites us to identify the wine.

“It’s Haut Brion Blanc ’96,” I declare more adamantly than I would have liked, but somehow overwhelmed by certainty.

Bullseye! Cue gasps amazement from around the table as the label is revealed. I am the most amazed.

I occasionally bump into those guests and they remind me of my tasting prowess. I like to think that they assume I nail every wine blind in such audacious fashion.

26 Château Léoville Las-Cases 1982 – December 2003

I am attending the first of many of Linden Wilkie’s verticals for his recently launched wine tasting company: “Fine Wine Experience.” I believe this was just his second event. I am seated at a table with two erudite gentlemen carved from the finest English oak: Neil Beckett, who is filling me in about his new magazine “World of Fine Wine” and Michael Schuster. Yonder is Michael Broadbent with Daphne. We arrive at the ’82 Las-Cases and Linden asks me to air my opinion and to be honest, I am not particularly smitten with the wine.

Cue one irritable, pugnacious, insolent upstart ripping shreds out of me. It rapidly descends into an unseemly slanging match with the kind of language The World of Fine Wine would not tolerate (unless it is in Latin.) I avenge myself by calling him a “wanker” in the subsequent write-up on Wine-Journal. Curiously enough I have been friends with Mr. Fenton ever since…even if he is a bit of a wanker.

27 Château Margaux 1947 – December 2003

Every year, I had invited a friend to a lavish dinner just before Christmas. Previously I dined at Chez Nico and Noble Rot, but to cut costs I had organized a small dinner in my kitchen in West Norwood. Joel had been helping me with my new website and I was compensating him in wine, since I had not a thrupenny to my name. But I did have a small cache of desirable bottles down in the coalbunker and for no reason apart from friendship, I decided to open the best of them, just for the hell of it.

I invite my friend Jude round to make up a foursome. I cannot remember what I cooked, but I can remember every bottle we drank, to wit: Meursault 1er Cru Charmes 1990 from Domaine Comtes-Lafon, Château Leoville Las-Cases 1969, Château Lafleur 1985, Château Margaux 1947, Château Cos d’Estournel 1945 (my first ’45) and Château d’Yquem 1970.

It was the nearest West Norwood has come to a La Paulée.

28 Château Pavie 1990 – May 2004

Unexpectedly, my website is flourishing. After many years of stalking, perhaps fearing her, I have contacted HRH Jancis who has agreed to have dinner with little me at La Trouvaille. Let me state right away that my intentions are very different to when I dined with Tomoko two years ago. But you see, the established English wine writers…they laugh when you confess that you write on the Internet. They think it is a fad and that it does not constitute “proper” writing. The only exception is the icon I am about to meet and perchance grant my venture a morsel of credibility. Cheekily I serve blind a bottle of Pavie, seeing as the furore over the 2003 is still fomenting. She gives me a great interview and a few more people take notice of wine-journal.com…but none of the English wine writing firmament who are too busy writing for newspapers and magazines, mediums of communication that will far outlast the Internet. Apparently.

29 Dom Pérignon 1970 – June 2004

My girlfriend is up the duff. Two months ago I had promised her mother, face-to-face in her matchbox flat in Nerima on the outskirts of Tokyo, that she had nothing to worry about. Her precious daughter was safe in my (dirty) hands.

Bugger.

We had been to King College Hospital for the 10-week scan and as any father will know, the moment when that amorphous smudge winks back at you for the first time brings the meaning of life into focus. We are on cloud nine. I am aware that my girlfriend does not want to be an unmarried mother and so there is only one thing to do. A quick trip to Argos later, I cello-tape the ring into the punt of a bottle of Dom Pérignon ’70 (her birth year) that is lying in the fridge, ready to be poured with the finest fish and chips South London can offer. I invite her to look on the underside of the bottle and to my relief; it has not fallen off into the blancmange.

I ask her to marry me.

She says yes.

Whether that is because I was “the one” or she has a bun in the oven or the vintage DP, I am still trying to work out to this day.

30 Grands Echézeaux 1962 – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti – October 2004

Joel has been helping on my website that seems to become more and more popular each day, but needs a design overhaul. It needs to look professional. I have no money, but he accepts payment of the vinous kind. He is doing a sterling job and I offer a bottle of Grands Echézeaux ’62 that I picked up for nothing thanks to some serious ullage. I forewarn him that it is probably Sarsons by now.

The wine is nothing less than astonishing and remains one of the greatest Pinot Noirs that I have ever drunk.

31 Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru 1985 – Domaine Georges Roumier – January 2005

I opened this bottle (bought for less than a £100 back then) to celebrate the birth of Lily. It must have been a week or so after the newborn turned our world upside down. I cannot remember much about the wine because I was so bleedin’ knackered.

32 Château Margaux 1955 – June 2005

Tomoko and I were married earlier today, the nuptials swiftly moving over to the font for our daughter’s baptism, to ensure she is in the catchment area for God. The sun had shone brilliantly and the entire congregation is completely sloshed on Verget’s Maçon Village (except the Methodist minister for some reason.) This heightened inebriation results in the most impassioned rendition of Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna A Stop Us Now”. Tomoko and I depart back to the Westcliff Hotel, which makes Fawlty Towers look like the Burj Al Arab. On the bedside cabinet is a bottle of Margaux ’55…I guess I am the only sad person to have composed a tasting note on my wedding night.

33 Château Pétrus 2000 – October 2005

Linden Wilkie’s Pétrus vertical is being wrapped up and I espy dregs of Pomerol in the 2000.

“Do you mind if I take this?” I ask.

“Of course not,” replies my host.

Subsequently, I use the Pétrus to commit all manner of atrocities that includes seasoning my spaghetti bolognaise and most infamously, placing the bottle upon my 9-month daughter’s high-chair to accompany her baby porridge. A dab on the little finger and I pop it into her mouth.

She gives it 97-points and a burp.

34 Le Musigny 1918 – Seguin Manuel – October 2005

Which wine has scored the most perfect marks in Wine-Journal?

Petrus?

Latour?

Romanée-Conti?

Mateus Rose?

Actually, it is the little-known Burgundy négoçiant Seguin Manuel. Thibault Marion had resurrected this long-forgotten name and sold off some of the pristine bottles that stretched back to the 19th century. Linden Wilkie organized a tasting of these gems that was tutored by Anthony Hanson MW (incidentally the nemesis of aforementioned Mr. Fenton.) To date, it remains one of the greatest tastings I have ever attended, one that is still spoken of in hushed tones. This was just one of three wines that no-one there will ever forget.

35 Unico Vega Sicilia Reserva 1970 – March 2006

Life sucks. My daughter’s health is suffering due to damp. I live in a tiny flat with hardly any room to move. My attempt to move to a bigger abode hit the rails when the estate agent featured in an undercover report on unscrupulous practices. My solicitor is so inept that at one point they have me down as “deceased”. My buyer’s mortgage company is insisting that I change three syllables in my freehold contract, which is costs me hundreds of pounds per syllable, notwithstanding being completely pointless. To compound my problems, my freeholder has died and so it is impossible to change the wording on the contract and my solicitor nonchalantly tells me I might never be able to sell my flat. My Nan is lying in Southend Hospital withering away thanks to Alzheimer’s. I have just had a shit day at work.

I throw off my coat, dump my bag and uncork one the greatest Spanish wines ever made.

Eventually the house falls through, the nefarious estate agent is fired and Nan dies. But at least on that night, life sucked a bit less.

36 Château Lynch Bages 1899 – April 2006

It is about one o’clock in the morning and Bordeaux Index’s annual dinner at the Saint Julien restaurant in (co-incidentally enough) Saint Julien might possibly represent one of the greatest vinous evenings of my life. At its denouement, an ancient bottle of Lynch-Bages 1899 is opened and as if by magic, Jean-Charles Cazes appears. The wine is utterly mesmerizing. Incidentally, we come close to death on the way back as the kamikaze chef attempts to drive through the wall of Château Léoville Las-Cases. That would not have pleased Jean-Hubert Delon.

37 Tokaji Eszencia 1888 – State Wine Museum – June 2006

One of the most outrageous wines I have put in my mouth. Linden Wilkie’s memorable Tokaji blow-out hosted by Hugh Johnson offered a number of otherworldly gems. This was as black as the ace of spades with such viscosity that as I swirled the glass it left an impression in the middle.

Dare I put this in mouth?

It was pure, concentrated nectar, so fresh and life-affirming that it could bring a man to tears. Immortal (the Tokaji…and Hugh.)

38 Château Palmer 1961 – September 2006

I had considered leaving the Circle Of Wine Writers in 2006 and had decided not to renew my ten-pound subscription the following year. However, when they organized a tasting of Château Palmer with Thomas Duroux at Kettners, I decided to review that decision. I sit next to Jamie Goode and we taste through a number of iconic vintages that Thomas is mischievously serving blind. Mr. Wineanorak has to leave early to get back to work.

“But how can you leave before the final pair?” I implore.

Thirty minutes later, still savouring the incredible Palmer ’61 straight from the château reserves, I text Jamie to tell him what he had missed in order to do the filing. I also decide that the £10 subscription to the CWW was money well spent.

39 Hermitage 1988 – Jean-Louis Chave – July 2006

Tomoko and I had just moved into Chapel Road in West Norwood, a horrible house plagued by all-night rap club, strange weekend odours from a nearby chemical plant and a neighbourhood best not to go out alone in. I think at this stage, we had only been living there for a couple of weeks and were oblivious to how much we would hate living in this abode.

I serve Tomoko blind the Hermitage ’88 from Chave.

She is indifferent.

I tell her the wine.

She is indifferent.

I tell her she is pregnant.

She laughs and says: don’t be an idiot.

I explain that she would have reacted more euphorically to a wine from Jean-Louis Chave.

She laughs dismissively and tells me not to be stupid.

Daisy is born just under nine months later.

40 Château Lafleur 1982 – September 2006

In my first telephone conversation with Robert Parker, underneath the huge oak trees in Hanover Square, I ask him what he was doing at the weekend? He replies that he is attending a tasting of Château Lafleur, possibly my favourite Pomerol. He says that if we sealed the deal, we will celebrate by opening his last bottle of Lafleur ’82. He keeps his word and Bob being Bob, sizes it up against L’Evangile and Trotanoy ’82. The Lafleur is mind-blowing but despite Bob’s culinary skills, I cannot bring myself to eat the broccoli (it’s a texture thing.) It remains one of the greatest Bordeaux wines ever made.

A Message from Neal (Age 39.99) – 11th February 2011

I should write something and apologize for the lack of updates over the last couple of months. It has simply been a case of workload. As I wrote at the end of 2010, last year I published over 10,000 words per week and that takes a lot of time. This excludes a magnum opus on Pomerol and various other freelance work. I just needed a bit of R&R in the evenings when I tended to write this blog, hence the abrupt halt. Anyway, as I have Twittered, tomorrow I will turn 40 and to mark the occasion, I wrote an article entitled “A Life Through Wine”…40 wines that have marked my first four decades on this earth. If I have time, I’ll try to match it with 40 songs, although the wine part turned into a 6,000 word trip down memory lane. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it.

Rgds

Neal

Wine-Journal’s Wines of 2010

Neal Dec 2010

Well, another twelve pages of the calendar have passed, during which a tidal wave of fermented grape juice in all its kaleidoscopic manifestations (white, red, rosé and corked) has broken over the breakwater of my grateful, and occasionally insulted, palate. Some 150 articles have embraced everything from amphora-aged Croatian sweet wines to 18th century Madeira via German dry Riesling and prima donna First Growths.

As usual, the year commenced with a comprehensive examination at some 700+ wines from the Burgundy 2008 vintage, surely destined to be over-shadowed by the hyperbole currently fomenting over the 2009s. I have read one or two comments dismissing the 2008 vintage but trust me: they will be proved wrong. I concur with David Schildknecht who entitled his Burgundy 2008 report “A Small Miracle” for there is a cluster of lip-smacking, crisp, fresh, almost effervescent wines, many of which may translate the nuances of terroir more adroitly than the more fruit-driven 2009s.

Then of course, the juggernaut that is Bordeaux 2009 rolled into town with all klaxons blazing, along with cavalcade of pontificating scribes in its wake (though whether some were there for the wines or the publicity, I am unsure.) The wines undoubtedly merited bon mots, although the alcohol levels were occasionally vexing and the prices generally absurd.

Was that really a surprise?

Doubtless the château’s and indeed merchants’ Christmas parties will have been lavish affairs, for never has the term “raking it in” been more apt for the fifty of so top estates. the “power brands” that fixate investors. With the incipient 2010s lurking over the horizon, primeur neophytes will naturally be totting up their hypothetical profits on their gestating 2009s before shelling out for the “best vintage of the century ever (and I really, really mean it this time.) The galling thing is: I believe them. I don’t want it to be true. In fact, the Bordelais could do with a catastrophic vintage to bring them down to earth, a ’56 or a ’91 to prick its inflated ego. I guess for now, Mother Nature is inclined to gift them the winning lottery ticket and they are making hay. Unfortunately, restaurant lists are now bereft of decent Bordeaux and a whole new generation will never know what great Claret actually tastes like, though bizarrely you can still find older vintages cheaper than 2009s.

Go figure…

There has been continuous chatter about the Chinese market and in November the gérants of Bordeaux seemed to decamp en masse to the Far East to such an extent that Beijing air traffic control had to deal with a tailback of private jets.
I have to say, I never envisaged all this when I read “Wild Swans” back in the 1990s.
Sure, prices are determined by supply and demand. However, one should remember that sentiment, confidence and fashion are also determining factors influenced by extraneous forces. Putting aside its intrinsic quality and what a mere “/ \” can do an already stratospheric price, I would like to ask: what if Lafite were to suddenly become…passé?

With the whole world seeming to throng with mini-Robert Parker’s inaugurating their “revolutionary” blogs (Jesus H. Christ…how many times have I heard some boring old fart with the personality of a stapler proclaiming to be the fresh voice connecting with disenfranchised ‘millennials’ who, lets face it, are too busy rioting to care about Prussian Assyrtiko.) I just got my head down to taste and report on Bordeaux in depth, furnishing articles with first-person interviews, polemic and one hopes, stimulating and entertaining prose (e.g. my A-Z of primeur.) The Bordeaux vintages of 20002006,2007 and 2008 were all put under the Wine-Journal microscope, the first two entirely single blind, with 2003 (again blind) due next year. The mature vintages of 195919621982 and 1989 were all placed under the horizontal spotlight and uncovered numerous wines that elicited praise. Verticals came to thick and fast including: Latour (1999-2007), Ducru-Beaucaillou (1934-2006), Climens (1912-2005), Coutet (1943-2001), Ausone (1929-2005), Batailley (1947-2006), La Conseillante (1981-2005), La Mission Haut-Brion (1978-1990), Branaire-Ducru (1982-2008), Sociando Mallet Cuvée Jean Gautreau (1995-2005) and Lynch-Bages (1959-2007). Funnily enough, three of the best have had to wait until early next year, so if you want to know exactly what a 170-year old Gruaud-Larose or a 111-year old Suduiraut tastes like, then you will have to wait a little while.

Just as exciting were the discoveries of value wines. In 2010, I focused on Eastern Europe with reports on HungaryCroatia and Slovenia where one can find a gamut of beautifully crafted wines from talented indigenous varieties that deserve more attention. When it comes to value, you cannot get much better than the surfeit of exceptional German 2009 Rieslings, which are worth snapping up now since the 2010 vintage will be miniscule and in some cases, non-existent. I published around 300 tasting notes from Margaret River, again a majority blind. These wines represent an outstanding source of Cabernet for those that cannot afford Bordeaux and to rub it in, the Cru Bourgeois 2008s proved to be a sobering reminder that the lower rungs of the hierarchy are woefully inconsistent. Alas I suspect that châteaux in their increasingly lofty ivory towers above the clouds of reality will barely notice the travails down below.

As usual, I penned several articles upon those oft-forgotten genre of fortified wine, most spectacularly with the heavenly tasting of ethereal Madeiras back to 1795 last April. Sure, the ancient bottles were occasionally breathtaking, but the new releases, particularly from the game-changing Barbeito winery constitute some of the greatest values on the market at the moment. Given that this report included some sixty-odd wines, it may be surprising that although my wine of the year originates from the Atlantic jewel, it was not part of that cornucopia.

My wine of the year is the legendary Bual 1827 from Quinta do Serrado that I encountered at “The Sampler” in Islington just a couple of weeks ago. According to Michael Broadbent, this Bual had remained in cask for a small matter of 108-years, before being transferred into demijohn and then into bottle in 1988. Having just attended a lunch where my neighbour Michael Schuster poured tepid water upon its lofty reputation,, my expectations had been tempered. Conversely, I was utterly astounded by its life-affirming freshness, breathtaking complexity and profundity. There existed a luminosity undimmed by the passing years, a transcendental elixir that put even the sublime Terrantez 1795 from Barbeito in the shade. Runners-up were a sensational bottle of Côte-Rôtie 1978 from Jasmin that was so sweet, succulent and unashamedly bucolic that I wanted to abscond from the dinner and take it home. Also the monumental Château Suduiraut 1929 from an incredible vertical in Zurich was a wonder to behold, although I suspect that 1906 would have surpassed it were it not besmirched by a dab of TCA on the nose.

In terms of value for money, there are numerous 2009 German Rieslings that I could chose from, but I fell in love with a wonderful Cotes d’Avanos Narince/Chardonnay 2009 from Kavaklidere in Turkey. I encountered this little beauty at the London Wine Trade Fair and Tweeted my appreciation. Unbeknownst, the winemaker was standing right behind me and by chance was one of my followers. Cue spontaneous remarks of gratitude and yours truly wondering who the hell she was. I’ll post a few notes from this promising country in the near future, ditto a few from Israel. Another is theSauvignon Blanc Private Reserve 2008 from Villa Maria. Kiwi Sauvignon has fallen from grace rather, lost its meticulously nurtured cache over the last two or three years thanks to over-production and an erstwhile blasé attitude towards over-cropping. The so-called “Savalanche” precipitated the £3.99, sub-standard quaffing wines that King Lear a.k.a. Oz Clarke railed against so passionately at February’s Pinot Noir Conference in Wellington. Nonetheless, Villa Maria’s Private Reserve is a consistent performer and for a few quid, you cannot find much better. My third appeared right at the end of my week researching less familiar crûs in Pomerol for my book. Château Bellegrave 2005, a fantastic Merlot/Cabernet Franc from Jean-Marie Bouldy whose vines are located on the lower terraces in the lieu-dit of René. Who said you have to rubbing shoulders with Pétrus on the central plateau to make stunning wine. It is everything you could want from a Pomerol without paying silly prices.

Gruaud Larose 1840

As for the rest? Well, I have divided them into four sections.

“Dreams” lists such ethereal delights asChâteau Gruaud Larose 1840Château Suduiraut 1906Bievenue-Bâtard-Montrachet 1978 from Domaine Leflaive and Clos-du-Tart 1945. I am very privileged to taste such rara aviswith obscene regularity…but hey, I ain’t complainin’. It also includes what must be one of the most rare wines on the planet: Kiedrich Grafenberg Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese (Auction) 2003from Robert Weil. A whopping 30-litres were made, of which 10-litres were auctioned in September, 10-litres were kept by the château and 10-litres were consumed in the pre-sale tasting (at which I got a more than generous pour.) It was monstrously good. You could stick a spoon in it…if there was enough to fill a cup.

I have separated these from the self-explanatory “You Don’t Need To Tell Me…” section of wines that are unequivocally great: Château Palmer 1961Château La Mission Haut-Brion 1989Pétrus 2000 and Quinta do Noval Nacional 1963 etc. All brilliant…but you know that already.

“The Old Curiosity Shop” includes wines that piqued my interest more that my pleasure buds but deserve a mention. These include the Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru 2006 fromDomaine de la Romanée-Conti that never gets beyond Aubert de Villaine’s gates and a Sassicaia 1967 that pre-dates the first official vintage of 1968. There are antediluvian vintages such asChâteau Suduiraut 1911 and Clos Blanc de Vougeot 1er Cru 1919 from Jules Regnier, plus those for budding necrophiliacs such as the Château Gruaud Larose 1880.

Suduiraut 1911

Last by no means least, a collection of affordable more generally available wines (although I have sneaked in Château Cheval Blanc 1981 as it represents great QPR in today’s hyper-inflated market.) I whittled this down to more or less one representative from each country, although there are far more I could have chosen, in particular from Germany in 2009.

Finally…disappointments? Well, the most disappointing tasting by a long, long stretch was…Les Grange des Pères. I was not the only one perplexed by a series of excessively bretty, volatile, dried out wines that were uniformly lambasted by everyone who attended. The white 1998 had boded well…but the reds? Oh dear. I’ll report next year. The aforementioned Cru Bourgeois 2008 was a terse reminder that a lot of crap Bordeaux is still made whilst the Pavie vertical? Well, that divided the audience and I will report next year.

Now it is time to wrap up 2010 and look forward to 2011.

Wine of the Year

Quinta do Serrado Bual 1827
The Quinta do Serrado 1827 has a clear amber colour commensurate with its age (183-years). The nose is fresh and vigorous and just soars from the glass with scents of toffee apple, cumin, dried honey, a touch of eucalyptus and roasted walnut, the oxidative element barely apparent vis-a-vis others of equal age. Ethereal delineation. The palate is viscous in the mouth, beautifully balanced with roasted walnut, honey, a touch of marjoram and honeysuckle, moving towards more exotic flavours such as fresh apricot and tangerine/quince towards the thickly layered yet paradoxically refined finish. It is the acidic attack that just electrifies the senses. This is a marvel that is nigh impossible to capture into words.
Runners-up: Côte-Rôtie 1978 (Jasmin) and Château Suduiraut 1929

Values of the Year

Cotes d’Avanos Narince/Chardonnay 2009 – Kavaklidere (Turkey)
A blend of 70% Narince and 30% Chardonnay. This has a very refined, intriguing nose with fine definition, hints of peach skin, elderflower, jasmine and nectarine. The palate is very well-balanced on the entry, struck through with vibrant acidity, touches of orange zest, citrus lemon with a bright lively finish with just a little oak poking out on the finish. One of those wines that remind you that greatness can flourish anywhere.

Sauvignon Blanc Private Reserve 2008 – Villa Maria (New Zealand)
The 2009 Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc has more complexity on the nose than the regular Sauvignon Blanc bottling: a touch more of the Marlborough sub-tropical fruit complementing scents of gooseberry and Granny Smith. The palate is well balanced with vibrant apple and kiwi fruit flavors, then touches of passion fruit and peach towards the finish. This is a good value Kiwi Sauvignon and comes highly recommended.

Château Bellegrave 2005 (Pomerol)
The Bellegrave ’05 has a tightly wound bouquet with superb delineation: dark cherries, a touch of smoke, chestnut and bell pepper emanating from the Cabernet Franc. The palate is very well balanced with firm tannins, very good structure and quite backward. There is a slight saline tang towards the finish that has impressive complexity and focus. Very well poised on the finish – this is a superb Bellegrave that should not be missed.
Dreams

Bordeaux

Château Gruaud Larose 1840
Château Suduiraut 1906
Château Brane Cantenac 1928
Château Ausone 1929
Château La Conseillante 1945
Château Cos d’Estournel 1945
Château Pape Clement 1947
Château Coutet 1948
Château Batailley 1949
Château Pavie 1959
Château Laville Haut-Brion Blanc 1962
Château Pétrus 1975
Château La Mission Haut-Brion 1978

Burgundy

Bienvenue-Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru 1978 – Domaine Leflaive
Nuits-St.Georges Village 1995 – Domaine Georges et Henri Jayer
Meursault Village 1999 – Domaine Coche-Dury
Meursault 1er Cru Les Perrières 2004 – Domaine Louis Carillon
Montrachet Grand Cru 2007 – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti

Clos du Tart 1945 – Mommessin
Volnay 1er Cru Champans 1964 – Domaine Joseph Voillot
Chambolle-Musigny Village 1980 – Domaine Georges Roumier (magnum)
Volnay 1er Cru Clos des Ducs 1993 – Domaine Marquis d’Angerville
Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru 1999 – Domaine Denis Bachelet
Clos-de-la-Roche Vieilles Vignes 2002 – Domaine Laurent Ponsot
Clos-Vougeot Grand Cru 2008 – Domaine Mugneret-Gibourg

Rhône/S. France

Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1952 – Château de la Gardine (double magnum)
Hermitage La Chapelle 1970 – Paul Jaboulet Ainé
Hermitage 1972 – J-L Chave
Côte-Rôtie La Landonne 1979 – Etienne Guigal
Château Rayas 1988 (magnum)
Chateauneuf-du-Pape 1998 – Vieux Donjon
Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Pure” 2005 – Domaine la Barroche

French Regional & Champagne

Krug 1981
Grand Cuvée 1996 – Billecart-Salmon
Le Creux D’Enfert 2006 – Rose de Jeanne
Blanc de Blancs 1996 – Pol Roger
Riesling Cuvée Frederic Emile 1985 – Trimbach
Riesling SdGN Frederic Emile 2001 – Trimbach
Vin de Pays l’Herault Blanc 1998 – Domaine de la Grange des Peres
Madiran Cuvée Prestige 1989 – Château Montus
Cuvée Constance 1989 – Domaine Gaston Huet

Germany

Steinberger Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese 1959 – Kloster Erbach
Leiwener Laurentiuslay Beerenauslese 1969 – St. Urbans-Hof
Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 1983 – Dr. Loosen
Wiltinger Braune Kupp Riesling Auslese 1989 – Egon Müller/Le Gallais
Kiedrich Grafenberg Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese (Auction) 2003 – Robert Weil Scharzhofberger Riesling Auslese 2005 – Egon Müller
Westhofener Kirchspiel Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese 2009 – Klaus-Peter Keller
Graacher Domprobst Riesling Beerenauslese #17 2009 – Willi Schaefer

Italy

Ribolla Gialla 2001 – Gravner
Sassicaia 1978 – Tenuta San Guido
Sassicaia 1985 – Tenuta San Guido
Masseto 2000 – Tenuta dell’Ornellaia

New World (USA/Australia/New Zealand)

Beaulieu Georges Latour Private Reserve 1970
Lot F1 1971 – Charles Krug
Cabernet Sauvignon 1988 – Spotteswoode
J Schram 2001 – Schramsberg
St. Henri Shiraz 1978 – Penfolds
“1860 Vines” Shiraz 1981 – Tahbilk Winery
The Signature Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz 1988 – Yalumba

Fortified

Scion (1855 Tawny) – Taylor’s
Terrantez 1795 – Barbeito
Verdehlo 1850 – Pereira d’Oliveira
Sercial 1910 – Barbeito

Reality

Château Tour Séran 2008
Château Cheval Blanc 1981 (for out-witting the ’82!)
Pavillon Blanc de Château Margaux 1982 (cheap if you find it at auction)
Mâcon Vergisoon La Roche Non Filtré 2008 – Domaine Daniel Barraud
Mercurey Vieilles Vignes 2008 – Domaine Tupinier Bautista
Côtes de Nuits Villages 2008 – Domaine Denis Bachelet
Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Combe des Fous 2007 – Clos Saint Jean
La Petite Sibérie 2007 – Domaine du Clos des Fées
Vouvray 1er Trie Le Mont Moelleux 2009 – Domaine Gaston Huet
Schloss Johannisberger Grünlack Riesling Spatlese 2009 – Schloss Johannisberg
Isarco Kerner 2009 – Cantina Valle (Alto-Adige)
Rive di San Floriano Prosecco di Valdobbiadene 2008 – Nina Franco (Veneto)
Mandrarossa Grecanico IGT 2008 – Settesoli (Sicily)
Quinta das Tecedeiras Touriga Nacional 2007 (Portugal)
Rioja Graciano 2006 – Contino (Rioja)
Grasevina 2009 – Belje (Croatia)
Sipon Ilovci 2007 – Dveri Pax Winery (Slovenia)
Renski Riesling 2009 – Pullus (Slovenia)
Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 – Forman (California)
Gran Malbec 2006 – Bodegas y Vinedos Santos J Carelli (Argentina)
Shorashim 2006 – Vitkin (Israel)
Pincushion Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2009 – Lomond Wines (South Africa)
The Armagh Shiraz 2006 – Jim Barry (Australia)
The Quarry 2008 – Craggy Range (Hawkes Bay)
Emma’s Block Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008 – Rippon Winery (Central Otago)
Doluca Kav Tugra Okuzgozu 2007 (Turkey)
Malvasia 30-Year Old “Lote Especial” N-V – Barbeito
Quinta do Noval “Black” N-V (Port)

You Don’t Need To Tell Me…

Château Palmer 1961
Château Pichon-Lalande 1982
Château Mouton-Rothschild 1986
Château La Mission Haut-Brion 1989
Château Haut-Brion 1989
Château Lafleur 1995
Château L’Eglise-Clinet 1998
Château Pétrus 2000
Romanée-Conti 2009 (barrel sample) – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
Nacional 1963 – Quinta do Noval

The Old Curiosity Shop

Château Gruaud Larose 1880
Malmsey 1880 – Blandy’s
Château Suduiraut 1911 & 1913
Rioja Imperial Reserva Especial 1917 – CVNE
Clos Blanc de Vougeot 1er Cru 1919 – Jules Regnier
Château de Sales 1920
Rudesheimer Hinterhaus Riesling 1921 – Kloster Erbach
Clos-du-Commandeur 1930
Piper-Heidseck Très Sec 1941
Château Doisy-Daene 1942
Château Ausone 1942
Château Coutet 1943
Casa de Sonoma Cabernet 1941
Château St. Armand 1950
Château Talbot 1958
Barbaresco 1958 – Gaja
Beaune 1er Cru Clos des Ursules 1959 – Louis Jadot (double magnum)
Domaine de Chevalier 1960
Leiwener Laurentiuslay Spatlese 1963 – St. Urbans-Hof
Ayala Château d’Aÿ 1964 (magnum)
Château Haut-Marbuzet 1966
Château Latour 1968
Château Trotanoy 1967
Sassicaia 1967 (private bottling)
Zinfandel 1973 – Mayacamas
Chardonnay 1975 – Château Montelena
Grand Vintage 1975 – Moët & Chandon
Château Pape-Clement 1976
TBA 1977 – Robert Young Vineyard
Solaia 1978
Montrachet Grand Cru 1979 (The Wine Society – bottled by Remoissenet)
Château Canon 1980
Château Trottevieile Très Vieilles Vignes 2004
Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru 2006 – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti

The Atlantic Jewel: Madeira 1795 To Today

“The increasing refusal of the modern world to leave fine wines to age makes it probable, and sad, that our grandchildren will never drink a superb Madeira” – William Golding

Outed

Maintaining one’s reputation as a street-fighting wine warrior can be difficult at times. You must constantly be on guard. Seated on the 13:50 to Funchal, I find myself aimlessly leafing through my free copy of the Daily Mail when over the brim of the gardening page I spot royalty: HRH Jancis.
The Daily Mail!
That’s my reputation flushed down the drain. The Daily Mail: tabloid de choix for “Angry of Tunbridge Wells” fulminating behind the privet hedge. What a hypocrite! For years I have inveighed a new generation of wine-lovers to get hip to the delights of madeira and here I am on the cusp of being exposed as a Daily Mail reader. My God…this is going to be all over Twitter by the end of the day.

Regaining my composure and sliding the newspaper discretely out of view, I survey my fellow passengers and espy a desert of brilliant white and blue rinse interspersed with the odd oasis of baldness. Madeira: Atlantic retreat for the elderly and infirm. It would not surprise me if the cabin has been fitted with a conduction loop so passengers can order their Horlicks without stewardesses having to raise their voices.
It begs the question: where is the new generation of Madeira aficionados going to come from?
The answer is not from six-feet under…the younger generation have to discover the magic for themselves.

Madeira Funchal

Like many others, I discovered madeira at Blandy’s wine lodge in the heart of Funchal, the main city of the island that cascades down towards the bay and somnolent harbour. My palate was dazzled by the sensory delights of a 1920 Bual, its mouth-coating, mellifluous, honeyed sweetness waltzing in both harmony and dissonance with sharp acidity and a tangy oxidative dryness, a sensation not dissimilar to its distant sensory cousin, Tokaji.
Two paradoxical sensations, and at their nexus was this 83-year old madeira.
Seven years on, I my ardour has intensified and yet madeira languishes on the periphery of wine-lovers’ radar despite it being one of the most spiritual, life-affirming, joyous, multifarious beverages known to Mankind. How can I allow this lamentable state-of-affairs to continue?

I am jetting to Madeira to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime event organized by Belgian wine merchant Bert Jeuris, whose own epiphany courtesy of a Barbeito Boal 1968 prompted him to set up a company specializing in this island’s wines (see link at end of part two.) His acquisition of a significant private collection presented an opportunity to conduct an all-encompassing tasting that focused upon three major houses: Barbeito, Pereira d’Oliveira and Blandy’s. A small number had found the ‘golden ticket’ including Jancis Robinson MW, a Belgian TV crew, renowned chocolatier “Pierre Marcolinni” (with a suitcase full of chocolate), a seasoning of sommeliers from Michelin-starred Hof Van Cleve and Oud Suis and yours truly. Together we would taste through madeira born over four centuries, styles that dextrously skipped from bone dry Sercial to sweet Malmsay.

Without wishing to diminish the veterans, for this writer the real attraction were the modern day madeira. This was not intended as a genuflection towards indestructible rara avis from a glorious past, part also a celebration, perhaps even a wake-up call, to the brilliance of their modern day counterparts that suggest madeira is entering a new golden age

History

Terraced Vineyards

The commonly held view is that the zeitgeist for Madeira was from the 17th to the mid-19th century, a view that envelops madeira with anachronism that is difficult, but not impossible, to shake off. The genesis of the industry is analyzed in unstinting detail in David Hancock’s sumptuous “Oceans of Wine” (see bibliography.) The author states that the first vines were planted on the heavily forested island as early as the 1440s and that it only took fifteen years before wines were being exported. According to John Hurley’s “A Matter of Taste”, a “Malvoisie of the Isle of Madeer” was shipped to London in 1537. In the early days the wine was not fortified and little interest was paid to grape varieties, although the sweeter wines were apparently popular in England. In 1600, the poet William Vaughan advocated Sweet Malmey as a kind of “Tudor Viagra” that “strengthened the back” whilst the Bard himself name-checks the beverage in his plays.

The English merchants began trading the wine in the 1640s but the real turning point came in 1663 when the Navigation Act when England allowed wines to be exported directly to the colonies and exempted them from Crown duty. This put Madeira in a strong position vis-a-vis its emerging European competitors, immediately opening the British North American market since the island was conveniently located on the trading route between Europe and America. The pipas of “pipes” of wine was found to improve during its transatlantic voyage across the tropics and thus wine matured vinha da roda i.e. in the hull of a ship became popular instead of vinho canteiro, whereby the wine is matured on the island. By the 18th century, Madeira was coveted in not dissimilar fashion to Lafite-Rothschild today. Examining export documents, Hancock deduces that two-thirds of the vessels leaving Madeira between 1727 and 1738 were destined for British America, the bulk of which were laden with barrels of wine that had been found to improve in the ship’s hulls during their transatlantic voyage. But come the American Revolution, independent states were able to import from Spain and France. Madeira faced competition for the first time and never recovered its eminent position.

Still many American’s on the east coast, from Baltimore down to New Orleans, retained a penchant bordering on obsession for madeira; a wine that remained expensive and unaffordable to all but the wealthy, ergo it remained a status symbol that waned not until the end of the 19th century. Mannie Burke, proprietor of “The Rare Wine Company” and madeira’s indefatigable U.S. ambassador has authored two insightful booklets on “madeira parties”. These were hosted by affluent families, particularly landowners and ranchers in the Deep South in Charleston, New Orleans and Savannah; Baltimore a particular hotbed of famous collectors. The men, and it was always men, convened in oak-panelled dining rooms around five o’clock to dine on terrapin and canvas-back duck, circulating eight or ten madeiras around the table accompanied by nuts or almonds to keep the palate fresh. The wines would be appraised and discussed…much like offline are today.

The madeiras were transferred then stored in five-gallon wicker-clad demijohns up in the garret and here they would age. Wines were named after the shipper and only exceptional wine were deemed worthy of vintage declaration. If they changed hands, then bottles were rechristened with the name of the family that originally imported the wine, those most sagacious of whom had left the wine in demijohn rather than bottle. Interestingly, Hancock suggests that the Americans preferred drier styles whilst their British counterparts preferred sweeter (one might have expected the opposite.)

By 1815, it is estimated that around two-thirds of the island was devoted to madeira production. But perhaps its halcyon days were already over? Already shippers were replicating the effects of the long sea journey by artificially heating Madeira in estufas, but the quality was not as subtle. Its decline was protended by Professor Saintsbury in “Notes On A Cellar Book”, wherein he wistfully states that: “…the very best Madeira is, and always has been since the pre-oidium wines were exhausted, mainly a memory.” If that were true then it would be inadvisable to seek out bottles younger than 1852! Fortunately, André Simon did not concur although he suggests that madeira never quite recovered from oidium because of the island’s warm, humid climate, compounded by the fact that the caseiros, or grape-growers, had little incentive to replant noble varieties when hybrids and sugar cane yielded higher returns.

This state of affairs brought the Terrantez grape to the cusp of extinction and in 1873 the double-blow of phylloxera sapped the caseiros’ confidence in viticulture altogether, decimating 2,400 hectares of vineyard of which only half were replaced with noble varieties. It was only the persuasion and support of the English Madeira houses that the industry ever survived and one must be grateful to Leacocks, who maintained plantings of traditional noble varieties at Quinta de San Juan. Madeira’s problems worsened when it fell out of fashion, usurped on the dining table by fashionable champagne and Claret. A viscous circle of lack of investment combined with the move towards bulk shipments consigned for cooking meant that the great wines of the past were, to use Saintsbury’s stinging vernacular, mere memories. Bottles printed as Verdehlo or Boal were increasingly diluted by the cheaper, less noble grape variety of Tinta Negra Mole that had arrived at the end of the 19th century.

The number of Madeira houses dwindled from thirty-six after the Second World War to just seven today: Barbeito, Blandy’s, d’Oliveira, Justinos Henriques, H M Borges, Henriques & Henriques and one small producer: Artur de Barros e Sousa, known as Lomelino until 1922. Prohibition in American virtually sealed its fate, the great collectors such as JP Morgan and Douglas Thomas sold their collections.
Madeira’s days were numbered and over the 20th century it was die-hard aficionados and the surviving Madeira houses that kept traditions and memories alive.

Recently, moves have been made to reinstate Madeira as a respected, quality-driven wine. In 1993 the European Union passed legislation governing minimal percentages grape varieties. Amongst the island’s 2,000 growers, there has been a welcome move towards the re-planting of Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and Malvasia and bottles bearing those names must now contain a minimum 85% of that grape variety instead of the ubiquitous Tinta Negra Mole (though personally I feel that Tinta can make a decent wine in the right hands.) I personally hope that Terrantez and even the wonderfully named Bastardo do not become extinct and whilst I spotted pipes of the former in one or two lodges, the future of the latter hangs by a thread.

One of the main obstacle to progress has been the fact that Madeira is de facto two completely separate industries: one for quality drinking wine and the other for cooking. As Michael Blandy rued to me over lunch, the Portuguese authorities persist in treating Madeira as a single entity even though authorities banned the export of bulk wine in 2002 (nowadays the only way to do that is to add salt and pepper that declassifies the commodity.)

The Tourist Mecca: Blandy’s

Prior to the tasting, we visited the three houses whose wines were poured later that evening: Blandy’s, d’Oliveira and Barbeito. We made just a fleeting visit to d’Oliveiras, but the contrast between the other two presented much food for thought and so I will focus my attention upon this pair.

Blandy’s itself was founded in 1811 (plans are afoot to celebrate their bicentenary with a special 20-year old Terrantez.) It is probably easier to think of Blandy’s as a brand name, for its roots are in the umbrella organization, Madeira Wine Company, established in 1913 when two companies, Welsh & Cunha and Henriques & Camara joined forces to form the Madeira Wine Association Lda and make more effective use of their assets. In 1925 they were joined by Blandy’s and Leacock and eventually 53 companies were absorbed into the renamed Madeira Wine Association, the last to join Cossart Gordon in 1956.

Blandy's VatroomIn 1979, Blandy’s bought Leacock and thereafter Blandy’s has become the dominant brand name, although it is simply a marketing decision as to whether a release will be stencilled with Blandy’s, Leacock or Cossart. I should stress here and now that there is no difference in terms of sourcing of grapes or vinification method. In 1989, the Symington family bought the company and one could say injected a new lease of life, offering their expertise honed by their experience as a successful Port house.

I suspect that the “Old Blandy Wine Lodge” is the place where many of its 140,000 annual tourists first sipped a glass of quality Madeira. It is a compact, labyrinthine building dating from the 17th century, whereupon it has served as a former Franciscan monastery, hospital and a prison. In 1840 it was purchased by Charles Blandy and commenced its vocation has a Madeira lodge. It presently accommodates several cellars, a small functional restaurant, a magnificent library of documents and ledgers dating back to its earlier days and a tasting room where tourists are lured to their Madeira epiphany. Major renovation work in the vatroom was completed in 2000 and the results of that will be tangible in years to come.

Blandy's Demijohn Up in the dusty attic are several large attic rooms where rows of ancient barrels slumber, drowsy in the claustrophobic heat that reaches 76 degrees in the height of summer. Each barrel is numbered according to vintage and source with some so old that they are visibly warped with age. At their feet reside wicker-clad demijohns, one of which we are told includes quinine since the anti-malarial medicine was more palatable with a splash of Madeira. Winemaker Francisco Albuquerque regularly checks all the barrels to assess how each one is maturing and decides whether to blend them together, bottle them individually or halt the process by transferring into demijohn. It’s a bit like having assorted Lego bricks in front of you and trying to decide what to build and as such, a painstaking process of trial and error that demands patience.

There is something quaint and a little anachronistic about

Blandy’s and I don’t write that in an intentionally pejorative way. It is an absolute joy to visit the lodge in Funchal, but I have the overriding feeling that little has changed here since the 1970s. I guess that is part of its charm, the evocation of something timeless and traditional, but it is one of those places that an interior designer would strip bare and attempt to bring it kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Perhaps it would lose something in the process? Perhaps that would be futile? There have been improvements, but the character of the place has remained unchanged.

Later, I asked winemaker Ricardo Tavares what in his opinion makes great old Madeira?

It is very difficult to characterize great Madeira in one or two adjectives. A great ancient Madeira is the outcome of many years of careful monitoring of the stock and not allowing the Conteiro system to “over age” at any particular stage of the maturing cycle of the wine. Part of the art, and secret, is to know when to progressively move the wine from the warmest lofts eventually to the coolest cellars so that we achieve the perfect balance of maturity. During the wine’s aging in cask, the primary flavours gradually transform into tertiary flavours. A great ancient Madeira is a remarkable wine, a combination of the unique exuberant and complex aromas of the bouquet – of which spice, dried fruits, crystallized fruit, wood, confectionary, balsamic, brandy, tobacco, caramelized and iodine are the most common notes that have gradually evolved over time, combined with good acidity levels keeping the wine fresh and lively followed by a long and persistent finish. In a nutshell, it is the wines’ truly remarkable ability to age that makes it great ancient Madeira: freshness vs. fruit vs. maturity vs. complexity vs. concentration.

That is all very well, but I wanted to ask what, in his opinion, constitutes fine modern Madeira?

If you can say such a thing, it is related to the clean and elegant style of the wine that we are able to produce that makes a great modern Madeira; complex and characteristic, with bouquet notes that are easily recognized by consumers, in which the grape variety come forward, besides sweetness. There can be absolutely no doubt that we have benefited from modern vinification techniques. Much greater care is also being taken on the viticultural side both from the shippers’ point of view and also the local Government giving technical advice to the myriad numbers of farmers. Virtually the first thing we did was institute some very strict (and initially not that popular!) maturity tests to the fruit both on the vine before harvest and on reception at the winery, in reality simply bringing into play normal and modern winemaking practices to what had become a rather insular and isolated business. This immediately allowed us to bring greater complexity into our wines that now clearly show through in the colheitas and in due course, into our future vintages.

Although this did not affect the ageing varietal wines (eventually destined to become the Vintages) there was clearly a period during the 60’s & 70’s when the commercial blended wines became rather “scruffy”! Fortunately due to the very small quantities of varietal wines made during this period they were almost bespoke and therefore escaped the mass production shortcuts that sadly became the rule … although I think this is fairly true for most wine growing regions at that time!

The Game Changer: Barbeito

Those who read Wine-Journal from inception may remember that one of the first articles I ever composed was my trip to the old Barbeito winery in September 2003. Even then, I was cognizant that Barbeito adopted a radically different approach to Madeira wine and since then they have consolidated a reputation as the most forward-thinking Madeira house. That can be put down to one man: Ricardo Freitas and seven years after my first visit he escorted us to the brand new winery opened in 2008, high up in the hills above of Funchal. Its appearance is in stark contrast not only to the Old Blandy’s Wine Lodge and others I visited, for here was a winery built of chrome, glass and steel that stood in stark contrast to the warped oak and cobble stones. Whereas Blandy’s caters brilliantly for the tourist, Barbeito’s winery is focused upon functionality and eking out the utmost quality.

Ricardo Freitas Vinhos Barbeito was founded in 1946 by Mario Barbeito de Vasconcelas and over the years they built up a solid base of clients around the world. Mario passed away in 1985 whereupon his daughter Manuela took over, having already worked for the company for nine years. Like many Madeira companies they exported Madeira in bulk, but during the 1980s they began to realize that this was tarnishing the Barbeito name, as well as Madeira itself. The turning point came in 1990 when Ricardo Vasconcelas Freitas (pictured) entered the company: a young, ambitious man who looks-wise, somehow reminds me of ‘the special one’…José Mourinho. He (Ricardo, not the ex-Chelsea manager) made the radical decision to cease bulk exports, a risky move in terms of terminating a reliable income stream. So it was a logical move when Vinhos Barbeito became a joint-venture with the Kinoshita family, whose Japanese wine and spirit business had been a regular client since 1967. Ricardo took over winemaking duties in 1993, the first time that a member of the family had accepted the position of responsibility and Barbeito never looked back.

Barbeito pride themselves on close links with their growers who are paid on quality of grapes and not quantity. The wines are matured in three warehouses, each with their own atmospheric conditions that allows Ricardo to “play” with different conteiro methods. The largest, known as “Warehouse A” is located in Funchal and has the highest degree of sun exposure and therefore an evaporation of around 5% that engenders more concentrated style of wine. “Warehouse C” at Camara de Lobos (claim to fame: birthplace of Cristiano Ronaldo) suffers less evaporation at approximately 3% and so the wines tend to be less oxidative and can be aged over a longer period of time. I visited “Warehouse B” at the winery, where the ageing process is split into two. The wines are aged in 620-litre casks housed on the first floor for the first 5- to 7-years where the evaporation runs at around 5%. They are then transferred down to the ground floor where evaporation is only 2-3%, allowing a far slower, gentler maturation. If a particular casks is deemed by Ricardo to be of particular quality, he will bottle this separately, hence the proliferation of small production bottlings that are well worth seeking out.

There is also a great emphasis on packaging, design and marketing. Barbeito’s single cask bottlings look the business. In addition, together with The Rare Wine Company, they have developed the “Historic Series” range, each Madeira wine named after one of the cities that hosted great 18th century parties in Boston, Savannah and Charleston. Talking to Mannie Burk in the austere chambers of JP Morgan in New York, chosen because of the banker’s great love of Madeira, I lamented the domestic image of the wine and the ineluctable fact that most Madeira events attract the clichéd crowd: a little old and a little stuffy. Nothing wrong with that, but it is worrying when young sommeliers are noticeable by the absence. To my pleasant surprise, Mannie told me that on the other side of the Atlantic, most of his events throng with younger people eager to learn. That bodes well for the future and I hope that can be replicated in my own country.
I guess here in the UK we need a Mannie to really promulgate the wine with the same conviction and fortitude.

Of course, there are numerous challenges Madeira faced and I asked Blandy’s Ricardo Tavares what obstacles face the industry?

Many of the challenges that we face are those that other niche wine producers from all over the world deal with on a daily basis. However there are a few other challenges that are perhaps more specific to the Madeira Industry itself such as: overcoming the perception that Madeira is not just a cooking wine but one of the world’s greatest and most historic wines, encouraging new and younger consumers into the category which we have attempted with launch of wines such as Blandy’s Alvada and Blandy’s Harvest, gaining visibility and share of voice in an increasingly crowded market place; defending vineyard area from real estate projects, ensuring that there is sufficient manpower to pick the grapes during the harvest and  making sure that Madeira remains contemporary and relevant.

We had a huge battle getting authorization for Alvada and Colheita Madeira simply because it had never been done before although there is not a word prohibiting the blending of two classical varietals in any legislation. Colheita was even more problematical, again both from our colleagues as well as from the authorities even though Colheita has always been a specifically authorized style! … simply because it hadn’t been done before!  These innovations have been of huge benefit to the consumers’ perception, allowing them to experiment with small hand-crafted lots of wine that truly show the character and style and versatility of the different varietals.

How do you change consumers’ perceptions of the wine?
Changing consumer perceptions without the use of mass media is a process that takes many years of dedication, constantly passing the same quality message over and over again. At Blandy’s,  we are trying to achieve this through  a)  the family story that we share with the many thousands of visitors that visit  us at  The Old Blandy Lodge in the center of Funchal every year,  b)  the press, the consumer and the trade tastings that we personally conduct all around the world , c) the strong relationships that we continue to build with our distributors , d) the time that we spend talking personally to top sommeliers, restaurateurs and wine enthusiasts  and e)  our  constant search for new ways of  creating a direct link between the ageing wine and the bottled wine. This is not easy but these measures are gradually spreading the message and beginning to change the consumers’ perception about Madeira.

The Tasting: Madeira 1900-1987

Right, let us get on to business.  Around twenty of us gathered around a long table for the tasting held at Villa Cipriani, whose terrace overlooked a moonlit Atlantic Ocean. All very romantic, but Mrs. M was home with a Pot Noodle and in any case, my mind and my senses was blinkered upon the appraisal of forty-three Madeiras that were revving the engines. I must confess that I feared that such a number of intense wines could overwhelm at one sitting. On the contrary, it is a testament to the freshness and balance of these wines that my palate was not the slightest bit jaded at the end of this surfeit and to this end, I merrily pilfered the dregs to accompany dinner afterwards.

Madeira Glasses (Taken at the end of the tasting after all the wines had been served. An incredible array of colours, generally the older Madeira’s towards the back.)

Preparation was of paramount importance, therefore bottles had been prudently opened the Friday before the Tuesday tasting to in order to allow the ethers not to overwhelm us, for the wines to settle and acclimatize to their new environment after decades in glass imprisonment. I have augmented these notes with those sampled on visits to the lodges, plus samples that were sent to me at a later date. Of course, every bottle was sourced from impeccable provenance, either from the collection purchased by Bert Jeuris or priceless donations from the private reserves of the houses themselves, some of which represented us drinking the wines into extinction, our tasting note their obituary.
Nevertheless it was imperative to remain as objective as ever. You can accuse me of being a cold-hearted bastard(o) when I disparaged some legendary 19th century wines, but this was not an exercise in getting all starry-eyed at century-old Madeira. I sought to winnow good from bad irrespective of age and so to this end I divulged my notes to Paul Day, a formidable Madeira connoisseur who has tasted many of these before, just to check I was ‘in the ball park’.

Allow me to obtuse for a moment because I am going to commence with the second flight of wines that comprised of Madeira from 1989 back to 1952.

To be honest, it was during this period, in particular the 1970s and 1980s that Madeira rather lost its way and this was attested by some under-performing wines that could not match either the young guns or the old-timers. The Madeira houses were rather stuck in their ways and parallel to Bordeaux, they were perhaps reliant upon their historic associations to sell occasionally under-performing wine. Nevertheless I appreciated the succinct Malvasia 1987 from d’Oliveira and the diminished oxidative style of the Verdehlo Frasqueira 1981 from Barbeito (May 2005 bottling).

Ricardo Freitas sent me three recent bottlings from the 1978 vintage, Madeiras that he was obviously excited about when I met him at the London Wine Trade Fair the following month.
He had good reason to be: these are fabulous wine that you should try to get your hands on, especially because in a couple of cases, these bottlings are superior to previous ones.
The Sercial 1978 was aged in old French oak casks since February 1979 and bottled December 2003. It surpasses the previous bottling with a succinct nose of orange peel, walnut and ginger, the palate underpinned by a citric attack that left the palate utterly revivified and yet was so light on its feet on its dainty, delectable finish. The Verdelho 1978 was aged in oak cask since February 1979, transferred into demijohn in October 2000 and then bottled the following March. It was a perplexing wine, edgy with intriguing marzipan and coca tinctures on the nose, tense but very fresh with rapier-like acidity strafing the palate though lacking a little harmony on the fresh finish with hints of rosewater on the aftertaste. Just 1,493 bottles were made of this compelling Verdelho.
The Boal 1978 is an absolute cracker!
This is the second bottling in June 2007 (the last in 2001) although this represents a tiny run of just 672 bottles. Ricardo had waited another six years in order to enhance acidity and he hit the bulls-eye with a stunning bouquet that just wafted from the glass with hints of yuzu and mandarin, the palate beautifully balanced to the point of being understated. The oxidative elements were barely in evidence on the finish, rendering an effortless Boal that will outlast you and me.

The 2009 bottling of the Terrantez 1977 from d’Oliveira sported a cheeky twist of sour lemon on the finish that lent both freshness and vitality, but better was their Boal 1968 emanating from the southwest part of the island having spent four decades in old oak casks before bottling in 2009. It had a sensual nose the unfolded to reveal heady scents of molasses and scorched earth, the palate so subtle, with hints of cardamom and walnut towards the finish. Delicious! The Bual 1958 from Cossart Gordon bottled in 2006 (there was another bottling ten years earlier) had hints of Valrhona chocolate on the nose, a touch of spirity alcohol denuding the bouquet of clarity, but compensated on a racy palate with touches of pineapple and lychee, suggesting this Bual still has a long way to go on its journey as long as that alcohol is tempered on the nose.

There were two wines from the Queen’s coronation year (I am sure she sat down for a tipple with her hubby after the reception.) Although the Malmsey 1952 from Blandy’s has a lovely caramel-infused bouquet and attractive rounded, sensual texture, yet it is their Verdelho 1952 that really demonstrated the ethereal complexity of Madeira. It demonstrated a beguiling sense of mineralité on the nose, beautifully balanced with just the right amount of oxidation towards the finish sprinkled with Indian spices…a brilliant Verdehlo. This actual wine was bottled in 1973 in a run of 2,500.

The third flight kicked off with a wine that took seventy years before being bottled. The Sercial 1937 from d’Oliveira elegant on the chalk dust tinged nose, the palate showing just a little too much volatility towards the barley sugar finish. Readers may recall my account of Christies’ memorable tasting of Leacock’s tutored by Michael Broadbent. Well, their Bual 1934 bottled in 1986 after 52-years in cask was another stupendous Madeira, displaying torrefactory aromas with time, the palate extraordinarily smooth with a hint of Schezhuan pepper towards the lingering aftertaste.
Of course, the greatest name for any grape is Bastardo.
Matured in Adegas do Torreao and bottled in 2006, the Bastardo 1927 from d’Oliveira did not display the class of the Leacock’s ’27 encountered a few years ago, but had a very precise honey and quince tinged nose that just faded quicker than I would have liked. We tasted the Bual 1920 from Blandy’s directly from casks that offered two very different sensory experiences. The first was initially aggressive and less viscous than I would expect from a mature Bual, the second from bottle more refined and cleaner with a saline aroma mixed with ginger and allspice, the palate more rounded and mellifluous with lemongrass on the finish. Lovely!
The difference between the two?
Nothing, except that the second had been put through a Kieselguhr filter.
The Malvasia 1916 from Barbeito was sourced from a private collection of demijohns belonging to Ricardo’s grandfather.
When my grandfather died in 1985 he had kept 10 or 12 bottles of all of his wines in his house, all bottled in 1982 or 1983,” explained Ricardo. “My mother did not really care about the wines and when my grandmother died, my mother sold the house and the wines were transferred to her home and she used them for special occasions.
It had a very refined bouquet with Satsuma and vanilla pod, tangerine developing with time, although it lacked a little depth on the mid-palate and the finish was drier than I would like from a Malvasia.

The Verdelho 1912 from d’Oliveira was aged for 95 years in the warehouse at Rua Visconde do Anadia. It had a lifted bouquet of dried mango, apricot, sea salt, toffee apple and quince, the palate feminine and understated, although the finish was a little dry and frayed, so I would not leave it too much longer.  The Sercial 1910 from Barbeito were sourced from the last two bottles in Ricardo’s grandfather’s private collection and was remarkably pale in colour, the nose showing an adhesive taint at first but magically coalescing in the glass, the palate powerful but so composed.
This was utter class.

Bottled in 2008, the Boal 1908 from d’Oliveira reminded me of a mature Barsac on the nose with touches of red cherry and nutmeg, whilst the medium-bodied palate did not quite have the weight of similar aged Madeira, but exhibited great persistency and elegance. Even better, the Malvasia 1907 from d’Oliveira comes from a reputed year for this house and this particular Madeira was aged for over nine decades at their warehouse in Rua dos Ferreiros. Fresh and complex on the nose, this was a stunning bouquet that held you in its trance, the palate powerful and full of bravura, hints of caramel and Chinese 5-spice towards the viscous finish. It was far superior to their Boal 1903 and Malvasia 1900, the latter fiery and excessively volatile on the finish. Better was the coeval Sercial 1905 from Blandy’s bottled in 1970 that exuded more precision on the nose, though there were strong, almost over-powering oxidative flavours on the palate and it was a little attenuated towards the finish.

The Tasting: Madeira 1795-1880

Now lets go antique hunting in the 19th century.
We kicked off in style with the Malmsey 1880 from Blandy’s that had been bottled in 1921. It had a riveting, boisterous bouquet of dark chocolate, dried mango and orange-blossom all with superb delineation, the palate balanced and precise with quince, walnut and allspice, long and sensual towards its viscous finish. The Moscatel 1875 from d’Oliveira spent one century in cask and had a complex bouquet of Manuka honey and toffee apple, but just lacked a little definition. The palate is attractive with hints of dried apricot, quince and a touch of caramel that came across too strong towards the finish to merit a higher appraisal (how mean after 135 years.)

1862 Boal The Malvasia 1875 from d’Oliveira was far superior. Bottled around the same time, it has a complex, vibrant bouquet with touches of balsam and seaweed, a nose it was difficult to stop inhaling. The palate was beautifully defined with subtle oxidative nutty flavours and hints of raisin, passion fruit and fig towards the sweet, seductive finish.  The Boal 1863 from Blandy’s had been transferred into demijohns in 1913, where it remained until 1978 when it was put into 2,266 regular bottles. There was a distinct algae-like bouquet mixed with apricot, marmalade and cola, the palate finely balanced and quite tangy, the spicy finished just showing signs of drying out. Personally, I would not leave this too much longer.  The Terrantez 1862 from Blandy’s was also bottled in 1913, this being a famous vintage for the grape variety. It was blessed with a heavenly, languid bouquet of molasses and quince that seemed to gain intensity in the glass, the palate linear with great length, an uncompromising, unyielding Terrantez, like your crotchety old grandmother you cannot help by love.

The second wine from that revered Madeira vintage was quite unique, for the Boal 1862 from Vasconcelos is the last bottle remaining in existence. It was grown from grapes in Quinta da Piedade and belonged to Ricardo’s family on his maternal side. Pale amber in colour, it had an exquisite bouquet of marzipan, perhaps even candy floss that tickled the senses into submission – the kind of nose that could you leaving giggling like a little girl. You remember walking into those old sweet shops with all that confectionary stored in glass jars on shelves? Like that. The palate is beautifully defined with notes of walnut and smoke on the entry and is so elegant on the finish. Ricardo candidly opined that this Boal may have been kept in wood for too long. Indeed, I think that showed in this wine, but it is still a lovely experience.

The Verdelho 1850 from d’Oliveira hailed from the founding year of the company and was bottled in the 1970s. Given its age, it had a remarkably fragrant, well-defined nose with woodbines and tobacco, hints of crème brulee in the background, the palate very well balanced with a fine thread of acidity, hints of wild mint and ginger towards the harmonious and persistent finish. As I mention in my note, I was taken by a sense of “completeness” in this Verdehlo, as if anything more would have been excessive.

Last but by no means least, the oldest Madeira to have passed my lips: the Terrantez 1795 from Barbeito. What made this so unique, is that it was bottled directly from the last remaining demijohn in Ricardo’s private collection inherited from his grandmother. It was an ethereal experience: quite pale in colour, beautifully defined on the nose with quince and marmalade, just a hint of nutmeg, the palate was utterly harmonious and feminine, just a hint of volatility towards the finish with hints of beeswax and honeycomb, just a faint tang of sour lemon lending freshness and as much vitality in a 215-year old wine as you would want. With some left in the bottle, I took the remains to accompany my dinner afterwards and if anything it seemed to improve. Give it another couple of centuries.

So let us complete the circle and return to the first flight of wines that lined-up the modern age, with a choice selection of non-vintage blends and vintages back to 1991. I have augmented these with wines tasted at the individual lodges.

Unequivocally, it is the Madeira from Barbeito that are set the standard and that are raising the bar, whether it is the understated, smoke-tinged Barbeito Sercial 10-Year Old Reserve or the complex Barbeito VB Reserva Lote 2 Casks 12D & 46A (a blend of 2002 Verdelho and 2003 Boal) that offers pressed yellow flowers and dried apricot on the nose, hints of ginger on the exquisitely balanced palate. Not to be outdone, Blandy’s Verdelho Colheita 2000 displayed an exquisite bouquet reminiscent of a mature Vouvray from Gaston Huet. Two more single casks from the hand of Ricardo were splendid: the feisty Barbeito Malvasia Colheita Cask 40A 2000 bears no indication of bottling on the label as Ricardo was on a ‘spiritual retreat’ and the printer forgot to put it on, but the 825 bottles produced in October 2009 have a striking nutty, smoky bouquet with brilliant definition. The Barbeito Sercial Cask 70B 1994 a little “rancio” on the nose, the palate more Verdehlo in quality than Sercial. It is exceptionally rare since Ricardo only produced 252 bottles.

The standout wine of the flight was the Barbeito Malvasia 30-Year Old “Lote Especial” that Ricardo explained is his homage to his grandfather.
My grandfather loved Malvasia and he liked challenges. It was the first time in the history of Madeira wine that the law allowed 30-year old blends, so I thought it would be a challenge in a similar way that his life was a challenge. The blend was done wine by wine: there was nothing in my mind when I started the blend that took 2 months and seven wines to assemble.
It sports a fabulous bouquet with mandarin, hazelnut and dates, the palate displays brilliant tension with spice, cardamom and nutmeg, surfeit with persistency and weight on the saline finish. It takes a few moments for your palate to recover from the tsunami of flavours, but what a fabulous concoction this is. I would try and bag one of the 1,500 bottles…if any remain.

Madeira’s Second Coming

I would first like to address the notion that the greatest Madeira wines belonged to the 19th century and before. To quote from the man renowned for his penchant for a glass of Verdelho each morning, Michael Broadbent in his “Vintage Wine” says: “I have to confess that I feel that some of the lustre and wonder of madeira got lost during the 20th century”.
Although my experience is a fraction of his, I have always been rather circumspect of that view. Certainly the halcyon days were long gone, but there more I taste the Madeira of the 20th century, the more they seem to match those from the 19th. Whilst there appears to be a decline in quality from the 1960s until the late-1980s, those from the first half of the 20th century rank alongside some of the best I have tasted.
Perhaps it is something as prosaic as affording those wines equivalent time to age as their predecessors?
Perhaps only now, the great wines from the 1920s and 1930s are beginning to come round?

But if this tasting proved anything, it is that Madeira is entering a new “golden age”, spearheaded by Barbeito with Blandy’s hard on their tail. The latter can be said to have a more commercial, perhaps less intellectual style compared to Barbeito, the caramel element a little more conspicuous at times, though there is nothing wrong with appealing to the masses, particularly when behind the scenes there appears to be reinvigorated approach towards quality. That is paramount for nowadays Madeira faces stiff competition, where consumers’ tastes have changed and where, to put it frankly, Madeira has an image problem. It remains synonymous with the elderly and the conservative. To the man or woman on the street, it is something you pour into a saucepan. However in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was a beverage the wealthy aspired to and therein lays the key: aspiration.

That can only come with some a change in consumer perception, marketing nous and above all else, consistently outstanding wines. Whilst I hope you gained a vicarious thrill reading about 100-year old, 200-year old wines, the most exciting discovery was the confirmation of quality apropos recent releases that certainly in the case of Barbeito, rank alongside anything they have ever produced and are perhaps even better. If I were a wine collector, I would take a break from buying up over-priced Claret and start adding a few single cask bottlings to my collection, some of which are produced in exceptionally small quantities but can still be purchased for comparative pennies. Alternatively, I would be phoning up The Rare Wine Company and checking out their “Historic Series”.

Maybe you were like me. I went to Madeira to soak up its temperate climes and came back vowing to have a bottle of Madeira permanently parked in my fridge (after all, how many beverages can you open and dip back into when you fancy over many months?) Remember that Madeira comes in a myriad of styles and you might prefer the drier Sercial and Verdelho to the sweet Buals and Malmseys. I have always felt that it is Verdelho and Bual where Madeira reaches its heights, however this tasting proved the quality of aged Sercials that offer a similar sensory sensation as German Trocken, as in the wine is stripped down and nails you to the floor with its acidity and tension (not that they taste similar in any way.) Also remember that the same Madeira can be bottled at different times just like champagne and they can differ considerably in style and quality, so always check the bottling date. So bearing all this in mind, if you find Madeira to your liking then sell a couple of bottles of Lafite and pick up a few bottles of 19th century nectar. You will find that an 1862 or 1850 will inspire far more memories and conversation around the dinner table than that self-aggrandizing First Growth barely out of nappies.

It is the journey home. I am sitting in the airport lounge. Jancis is over there playing Rachmaninov on her laptop and I am wandering around the lacklustre Duty Free wondering whether many holiday-goers will purchase a bottle of Blandy’s or Barbeito, whether they appreciate the brilliance enclosed by that cork and that seal? I ruminate upon those wines that passed my lips, Madeiras that spanned a timeline from Jane Austen to JK Rowling, from Napoleon Bonaparte to Nicolas Sarkozy.
Will he modern day Madeira last two centuries or more?
Of that, I have no doubt. Long after the 2009 First Growths are dead and buried, some of these Madeira will be as fresh daisies, strutting their stuff…but for whom?
I’ll leave that question hanging in the air, because only you can answer that.

Tasting Notes

N-V Barbeito Sercial 10 Year Old Reserve 90
Blended from three different warehouses, the 10-Year Old Reserve has a pale amber hue with green tints. The bouquet is elegant and refined, nothing too showy with walnut, a touch of chocolate, pecan nuts and a touch of smoke. The palate has a soft entry, very understated at first. But there is a very enchanting build with delicate notes of dried orange peel, mandarin, lemon zest and a touch of ginger. Taut and focused towards the finish with good length, this bottle showed better than on previous occasions. Tasted April 2010.

2001 Blandy’s Sercial Colheita 83
A single cask of 1,224 bottles, this has a surprisingly deep, lucid amber/golden hue. The bouquet is quite extrovert, one could argue more commercial although it is well defined with roasted walnut, dried orange peel and a hint of wet wool that faintly reminds me of a Chenin Blanc. The palate is quite honeyed on the entry, but it never really delivers after that, quite neutral and lacking the definition and substance of say, Barbeito’s equivalent. Tasted April 2010.

N-V Barbeito VB Reserva Lote 2 Casks 12D & 46A 92
This is a blend of Verdelho (from 2002) and Boal (from 2003) with a little more of the former. 2,118 bottles bottled in June 2009. A deep amber hue, a little more russet in colour. The bouquet is precise with very fine lift and definition, touches of hazelnut, dried honey and yellow flowers with marmalade coming through with aeration. This has very good structure: viscous on the entry but with racy acidity cutting through. Spicy and vibrant, freshly cut ginger mixed with dried apricot, mango and a hint of crème brulee. Great persistency towards the finish: this is a superb blend that is full of grace and composure. Tasted April 2010.

2000 Blandy’s Verdelho Colheita 92
A single cask of 1,210 bottles, this has a lucid, deep amber/orange hue. It has an intriguing bouquet, embracing some of those mature, oxidized Chenin Blanc aromas faintly reminiscent of say, a 30-year old Vouvray from Gaston Huet. It coalesces with time, very harmonious and focused. The palate is medium-bodied, very well balanced with those oxidative elements perfectly counter-balancing the honeyed sweetness. This is not a complex Verdehlo, but it more than compensates with poise and elegance. Very fine, although it cuts away a little sharply. Tasted April 2010.

N-V Barbeito Historic Series Verdelho Savannah Special Reserve 90
From 10-year old reserves, this has a deep amber colour with green tints on the edge. A toffee-scented aroma, well defined with walnut oil, sesame, smoke and dried honey. Quite tight, although it loosens up with time. The palate is medium-bodied with a viscous entry, very well balanced with good acidity, nicely judged oxidative honeyed fruit, although not a complex Verdelho. But one has to admire its power and intensity, whilst maintaining great composure towards the finish. Very fine. Tasted April 2010.

2001 Barbeito Boal Colheita Casks 48 & 84 89
With 1,722 bottles produced in June 2009, Ricardo said that the blend was much better than the single casks. It has a very clear, slightly paler hue. The nose is rather subdued with light honey and hazelnut aromas with faint hints of quince and lemongrass, although it would benefit from a little more vigour. The palate is medium-bodied, very well balanced, quite mellifluous and engaging. Notes of dried honey, mandarin, a touch of allspice and nutmeg, light and elegant towards the finish. Perfect to serve as an aperitif. Tasted April 2010.

2001 Barbeito Tinta Negra Mole Single Cask 10D&E 90
This Tinta Negra has a tight but well defined nose with walnut, freshly shaven ginger and smoke on the nose, then with aeration, a saline tang. The palate displays succinct balance with lemongrass, ginger, nutmeg and dried honey, just the right amount of volatility towards the finish with great persistency, although I would have liked it to show just a touch more complexity. Still, this demonstrates that one should never under-estimate Tinta Negra…not in the right hands. Tasted April 2010.

N-V Blandys Bual 5-Year Old Medium Rich Madeira 88
Tasted at Blandy’s lodge in Funchal. A light coffee/deep amber colour. The nose is quite restrained at the moment with touches of walnut, cigar box and dried lemon peel. Good definition but it is quite light. Hints of dark chocolate inflecting the nose, touches of lemongrass and allspice, cohesive on the oxidative finish with moderate length. Light, refreshing Madeira to serve as an aperitif. Tasted April 2010.

N-V Blandy’s Bual 10-Year Old 85
Made from canteiro Bual in their wine lodge, there is a strong note of caramel and crème brulee on the nose. Good definition, although it is a little obvious. The palate is medium-bodied, quite light and lacking a little substance. Fine tannins, attractive honey, molasses and caramel flavours, but simple towards the finish. Tasted April 2010.
(From this vintage, started making with full maceration and higher oxidation, which explains the deeper colour.)

2004 Blandy’s Malmsey Harvest 88
Bottled in March 2010, just 1,764 bottles produced. This has a broody, smoky, brown sugar-scented bouquet with touches of dark chocolate and turpentine. The palate is medium-bodied with fine balanced, touches of caramel and dark toffee, slightly lower acidity but very harmonious towards the mellifluous finish. This is quite commercial in style, but very well crafted. Tasted April 2010.

2000 Barbeito Malvasia Colheita Cask 40A 93
Bottled in October 2009, the Malvasia Colheita Cask 40A has a striking, potent, unforgiving nutty nose that jolts the olfactory senses. You will either love or hate the aromatics: touches of undergrowth coming through unashamedly volatile. The palate is medium-bodied with a great sense of tension, racy acidity, very well balanced with dark toffee, dried honey, smoke, roasted walnuts and a deep, earthy finish. This is a multi-faceted Colheita that you actually grow to love. Just 825 bottles made. Tasted April 2010.

1994 Barbeito Sercial Cask 70B 93
Tasted at Barbeito’s winery outside Funchal, the Cask 70B was bottled in August 2009. Pale amber in hue with green tints on the rim, it has an attractive bouquet with notes of dried honey, Xmas cake, fig and smoke, perhaps just missing the clarity and precision of Ricardo’s greatest offerings. The palate has a rancio character on the entry, very well balanced with Moroccan spice, Schezhuan pepper and lemongrass. Not an aggressive Sercial, but flirting with the idea, but there is Ricardo’s trademark deftness of touch on the finish whose sweetness is almost Verdelho in quality. This is a sublime Sercial, though only 252 bottles were produced. Tasted April 2010.

1993 Blandy’s Bual Colheita 90
One cask representing 1,500 bottles bottled in 2009, this Colheita has a light nose of orange zest, apricot, ginger and a touch of Satsuma, less oxidative in style than other Madeira. The palate is medium-bodied, very well balanced with good acidity, not a complex Bual, but very pure with a well-judged smoke/walnut element towards the finish. An unprepossessing Bual. Very fine. Tasted April 2010.

1991 Blandy’s Colheita Single Harvest 92
Tasted at Blandy’s lodge in Funchal. This has a strong, rather unruly oxidative bouquet with roasted walnut, smoke, light tangerine and a touch of earthiness that develops with aeration. The palate is well balanced with racy acidity, hints of Seville orange, marmalade, quince and hazelnut, taut and focused towards the finish. Good length. This is a great Colheita that goes great guns. Tasted April 2010.

N-V Blandy’s Malmsey 15-Year Old 88
A canteiro blend made in Blandy’s wine lodge, this 15-year old is very deep in colour. It is relatively simple on the nose with faint aromas of dark chocolate, walnut and a hint of seaweed. Good definition, but it would benefit from more vigour. The palate is medium-bodied, well balanced with hints of lemongrass, spicebox and dried apricot. Quite elegant towards the finish, moderate if not great length. Fine. Tasted April 2010.

N-V Barbeito Malvasia 20-Year Old Lot 7199 93
This is one of my favourite modern-day non-vintage Malvasia. The Lot 7199 has a limpid golden hue, this has a “thickly spread” bouquet with notes of dried honey and marmalade, a hint of vanilla pod coming through with aeration. The palate is medium-bodied with a spicy tang on the entry setting the scene nicely, opening up with a viscous texture, touches of marmalade, quince and molasses, great depth and poise towards the finish. This is a beautiful Malvasia. Tasted April 2010.

N-V Barbeito Malvasia 30-Year Old “Lote Especial” 95
Ricardo describes this as a “homage to his grandfather”: 1,500 bottles bottled in April 2007. This has a deep amber colour. The nose soars from the glass with ripe mandarin, grapefruit, hazelnut, just a hint of dried fig and date. Wonderful. The palate is medium-bodied with great tension on the entry, spicy, cardamom, nutmeg and smoke, very cohesive with great weight and persistency towards the finish that is adorned with a salty tang. Superb. Tasted April 2010.

1989 Pereira d’Oliveira Sercial 88
Produced from high altitude at Jardim da Serra at Estreito de Camara de Lobos, d’Oliveira made 5,800 litres matured in oak casks. Deep amber in colour, this has a tight nose with aromas of dried honey, quince and a touch of seaweed, opening up with aeration revealing more caramel/toffee aromas. The palate is quite sharp on the entry with racy acidity, toffee, nutmeg, walnut and a touch of dried tobacco. It is a little short on the nutty, saline finish, but not bad overall. Tasted April 2010.

1988 Barbeito Sercial Frasqueira 90
Just 600 bottles, bottled in September 2009, this has a clear golden colour. The bouquet is strangely taciturn despite rigorous coaxing, but it gently unfolds to offer aromas of orange peel, mandarin, dried honey and toffee, though overall it does lacks a little complexity. The palate is more outspoken: tangy marmalade on the entry, very good acidity, touches of quince, dried mango and ginger, with a salty Olorosso tang on the finish. Good length. I would actually cellar this for 8-10 years and let that nose evolve. Tasted April 2010.

1987 Pereira d’Oliveira Malvasia 90
Bottled in 2009 and aged for over 20-years in wood, this is very dark in colour: deep amber/mahogany. The bouquet is a little disjointed at first, developing aromas of orange peel, dried honey, furniture polish and a touch of Chinese 5-spice. The palate is medium-bodied with good acidity, touches of crème caramel, walnut, a hint of lemongrass and marmalade. Very compact but brimming over with flavour. Very fine. Tasted April 2010.

1985 Blandy’s Malmsey 85
Bottled in September 2009 (1,420 bottles) this has a clear deep amber colour. The nose is lacking some harmony, rather severe with harsh oxidative aromas that are not backed up by sufficient fruit. The palate is medium-bodied, a little harsh on the entry, perhaps a little forced. Marmalade, dried apricot with a touch of ginger, viscous towards the finish, but just lacking some natural charm. Drink now. Tasted April 2010.

1981 Barbeito Verdehlo Frasqueira 93
Just 900 bottles produced in May 2005, this has a clear amber/orange colour, then a beautiful, highly perfumed bouquet with mandarin, apricot, tangerine, vanilla and crème brulee. Very fine definition. The palate is medium-bodied with lovely, natural balance, less oxidative than other Madeira, the fruits ebullient with apricot, mandarin and dried honey, hints of lemongrass towards the finish. Very cohesive and great persistency, this is a great Frasqueira. Tasted April 2010.

1978 Barbeito Sercial 94
Aged in old French oak casks since February 1979 and bottled December 2003, this Sercial had a deep amber colour. What a fantastic bouquet: much more vibrant than the previous bottling with aromas of dried orange peel, walnut, smoke and a touch of ginger. Wonderful delineation and poise. The palate is medium-bodied with a citric entry that is bounding with energy, hints of mandarin, tangerine, lanolin, clove and a touch of cumin. Light on its feet on the finish, this is a great bottling of the ’78 Sercial by Ricardo. Tasted November 2010.

1978 Barbeito Verdelho 92
Aged in oak cask since February 1979, transferred into demijohn in October 2000 and then bottled the following March, the Verdehlo 1978 is deep amber in colour. This has an intriguing bouquet that takes a while to coalesce with scents of marzipan and toffee apple at first, a touch of chestnut and some coca aromas developing with further acquaintance. It does not quite have the animation of the Sercial ’78. The palate is has a slight volatile entry, an untamed, feral Verdelho in some ways, edgy but intellectual. Not a faultless Verdelho, lacking a little cohesion towards the finish, but undeniably compelling. Fresh as a daisy on the finish with a touch of rosewater inflecting the aftertaste. Wonderful. Just 1,493 bottles made. Tasted November 2010.

1978 Barbeito Boal 97
This is the second bottling of the Boal 1978, the first back in 2001. This is a much smaller bottling of just 672 bottles that were bottled in June 2007. It has a deep amber colour. The nose is very subtle and understated with delicate aromas of walnut, dried mandarin, fireside hearth and yellow plum but just leave this a minute in the glass and it envelops the entire room with its heady bouquet. The palate is sublime: perfect balance on the entry, crisp acidity that is utterly in synch with the fruit profile (Clementine, lemon peel and Japanese yuzu.) Very harmonious from start to finish, the oxidative elements toned down. Utterly seductive and with such balance that I bet this will last a century without trouble. Effortless. Tasted November 2010.

1977 Blandy’s Bual 90
Bottled in 2009, the 1977 Bual has a well defined nose with orange peel, a touch of woodbine, tobacco, a hint of cooking apple and orange zest and with aeration more walnut aromas begin to take centre stage. The palate is medium-bodied, viscous on the entry, not a complex Bual but well defined with sharp orange peel, dried apricot, smoke, walnut and ginger. Moderate length, still very youthful with another 20 years mandatory to get the best out of this. Just 1,241 bottles produced. Tasted April 2010.

1977 Pereira d’Oliveira Terrantez 91
Bottled in 2009, 1977 was an excellent year for the rare Terrantez, this example matured in wood for over 30 years. It has a deep amber hue with a light tawny rim. The nose is well defined, quite light and feminine, not as complex as other Madeira of similar age. Toffee, dried honey, nutmeg, apricot and a touch of orange-blossom, it gains a little complexity with continued aeration. The palate is medium-bodied, tangy orange and Clementine, great tension, a little mouth-puckering towards the finish with hints of sour lemon and molasses. It seems to get spicier with further time in the glass, indeed, quite a mercurial offering with a salty aftertaste. Very fine. Tasted April 2010.

1976 Blandy’s Terrantez 87
Bottled in March 1997, this Terrantez is very deep in colour (similar to a Malvasia.) It has a fresh, slightly caramelized bouquet, hints of marzipan, nutmeg, smoke and a touch of seaweed. The palate is medium-bodied, well balance, quite tight and minerally, although here just lacking a little depth towards the finish, with an earthier, drier aftertaste than the ’77 Terrantez from d’Oliveira. 5,829 bottled. Tasted April 2010.

1973 Pereira d’Oliveira Verdelho 88
Produced from Seixal and Sao Vincente and bottled in 2008, this has a clear, deep amber hue. To be frank, the nose is not as complex as others with straight-forward but not unattractive aromas of molasses, toffee apple and quince, although it lacks a little cohesion. The palate is medium-bodied with a salty tang on the entry, good balance with walnut, smoke, dried orange peel and tangerine towards the finish that just cuts away a little sharply. Not bad. Tasted April 2010.

1968 Pereira d’Oliveira Boal 94
Produced from the southwest part of the island and spending over 40-years in old oak casks, this ’68 was bottled in 2009 and is far superior to previous bottlings. This has a very sensuous nose, well defined and tightly wound, unfurling to reveal molasses, quince, scorched earth and a touch of leather. Very subtle. The palate is medium-bodied with good tension, fine acidity and balance, very subtle towards the finish with dried orange peel, nutmeg, a sprinkle of cardamom and walnut. Harmonious and graceful, this is a beautiful d’Oliveira. Tasted April 2010.

1958 Cossart Gordon Bual 93
Bottled in 2006, with a pH 3.41 and 1.02gms/l volatile acidity, this was bottled under Blandy’s label in 2002 (the first bottling of the ’58 was in 1996.) This has a very deep, very clear amber colour. There is a great deal of elegance here, very well defined with roasted walnut, almond, a touch of dark cherry, a hint of Valrhona chocolate with a touch of alcohol just detracting from its clarity. The palate is very youthful, vibrant on the entry, full of tension with racy acidity, cohesive, with tangerine, dried pineapple and a touch of lychee roiling around the finish. At 52-years of age, I feel that this is only halfway towards its drinking plateau…it’s a long road. There were 2,000 bottles produced.

1957 Barbeito Boal 89
Bottled in 1992 (1,200 bottles) the Boal ’57 has a lifted nose of quince, dried orange peel, just a touch of barley sugar and chlorine that remind me slightly of a mature Barsac. The palate is medium-bodied with tangy orange and Clementine on the entry, some dark toffee elements coming through on the mid-palate, leading to a relatively linear, quite salty tang on the off-dry finish. Tasted April 2010.

1952 Blandy’s Verdelho 96
Bottled in 1973 (2,500 bottles) this is a magnificent Verdehlo from Blandy’s. The nose is tight and compact at first, unfurling nicely with aeration, one of the few with real mineralité coming through. Quince, tangerine, toffee apple and a touch of smoke. The palate is adorable: beautifully balanced with fine acidity, layers of dried honey, mandarin, dried lychee, nutmeg and walnut notes, quite oxidative towards the finish with great persistency with those Indian spice gentle goading the palate for another sip. Wonderful. Tasted April 2010.

1952 Blandy’s Malmsey 90
Bottled in 1973, this has a very deep amber/mahogany colour. The nose is subtle and refined, not a complex bouquet but it kinda creeps up on you, quite rounded with caramel, dried apricot, nutmeg, wet dog and damp earth. Sod that…this is more intellectual than I first supposed! The palate is medium- to full-bodied, viscous in texture with marmalade, quince, dried mango and a touch of crème brulee. Good length and persistency. Very fine. Tasted April 2010.

1937 Pereira d’Oliveira Sercial 87
Bottled in 2008, matured in oak casks for 70 years, this Sercial has a very elegant bouquet with dried apricot, nutmeg, walnut and a touch of chalk dust. Very good definition and precision. The palate is viscous on the entry, intense dried honey and Chinese 5-spice on the entry, dried orange peel, very tangy with comparatively high volatility towards the finish. Not quite the length of other wines, quite Barsac-like on the aftertaste with its honey and barley sugar. Fine. Tasted April 2010.

1934 Leacock’s Bual 94
Tasted at Blandy’s lodge in Funchal. Matured for 52-years in oak (i.e. bottled in 1986) this has a deep amber colour. Very clear. The nose is very tight at first, then developing aromas of tamarind, orange zest, allspice, freshly cut ginger and some torrefactory aromas. The palate is very smooth and cohesive, dried honey and marmalade, ginger coming towards the finish. Very good length with a tangy, spicy, refreshing finish that has a slight Schezhuan pepper tingle on the aftertaste. Marvellous. Tasted April 2010.

1927 Pereira d’Oliveira Bastardo 90
Matured in Adegas do Torreao and bottled in 2006, the Bastardo ’27 has a refined, quite reticent bouquet with notes of dried honey, crème brulee and scorched earth, although its lacks the breeding of Leacock’s famous Bastardo from the same vintage. The palate is very elegant and harmonious, the breeding of this almost extinct grape variety really showing through. Very refined, very precise with honey, quince, Seville orange and hazelnut towards the slightly attenuated finish. Great length. Excellent. Tasted April 2010.

1922 Pereira d’Oliveira Boal 85
Bottled in 2003, this is remarkably deep in colour. It has a relatively straightforward dark chocolate scented nose with hints of orange-blossom and swimming pool. The palate is medium-bodied, quite weighty, a broad-shouldered, slightly cumbersome Boal that is missing some definition and elegance towards the drying finish. I would drink this up. Tasted April 2010.

1920 Blandy’s Bual 91
Taken directly from the cask at Blandy’s Lodge in Funchal, this has a very deep amber hue. Notes of dried orange peel, tangerine, ginger, spice, molasses and toffee. The palate has an attacking smoked walnut infused entry, superb harmony and a lightness of touch, less viscous than I expected but with superb tension and animation towards the finish. Then a second sample, this time taken from bottle, 2,118 bottled in 2006, this has a far more refined, cleaner nose than the one taken directly from cask. Here, there is a saline tang, dried mango and marmalade with a hint of ginger and allspice. The palate is more viscous and spicy, nice heat coming through towards the lemongrass tinged, mango and Schezhuan pepper finish. Lovely. Tasted April 2010.

1916 Barbeito Malvasia 89
This is sourced from a demijohn from Ricardo’s grandfather’s private collection; the 1916 has a very elegant, refined bouquet with dried apricot, Satsuma, vanilla pod and tangerine, fresh and vibrant. The palate has a very spicy/salty entry, harmonious, not quite the depth of other Madeira of similar age and the finish seems to be drying out. I would drink this soon. Tasted April 2010.

1912 Pereira d’Oliveira Verdelho 88
Aged for 95 years in the warehouse at Rua Visconde do Anadia, this has a lifted bouquet of dried mango, apricot, sea salt, toffee apple and quince – still fresh and vibrant. The palate is quite feminine and understated with notes of caramel, smoke, walnut and a torrefactory finish, which seems to be drying out a little, fraying at the seams. Tasted April 2010.

1910 Barbeito Sercial 97
The last two bottles from Ricardo’s late grandfather’s collection, this has a pale amber colour that completely belies its age. It has a rather strange nose at first, lacking a little cohesion, but then comes together beautifully with quince, dried apricot, nutmeg, dark cherry and sloe…very distinctive. The palate is medium-bodied, very elegant and understated, good acidity, lovely natural balance, not a powerful Sercial but one of poise and composure. Genteel almost. One of the finest finishes I have encountered on a Madeira, wonderful delineation and focus with hints of mandarin and quince. It has jaw-dropping length and persistency. Stunning. Tasted April 2010.

1908 Pereira d’Oliveira Boal 94
Bottled in 2008, this actually reminds me of a mature Barsac on the nose. Well defined with dried apricot, red cherry, a touch of walnut and nutmeg. Very refined. The palate is medium-bodied, slightly viscous on the entry with dried honey, apricot, marmalade and Seville orange. Not the weight of some of the coeval Madeira, but amazing persistency and elegance. Lovely. Tasted April 2010.

1907 Pereira d’Oliveira Malvasia 97
A reputed year for Malvasia, this was aged over 90-years at their warehouse in Rua dos Ferreiros and this bottle is better than previous ones I have encountered. This has a very fresh, very complex nose with notes of crème brulee, dried apricot, quince, hints of wild strawberry and fresh fig. A really stunning bouquet, developing a touch of chlorine with time.  The palate is just huge: incredibly powerful, spicy, hints of caramel, fig, Indian spice, Chinese 5-spice with an extravagant bravura finish that is so viscous and beautifully defined with apricot lingering seductively on the back-palate. Stunning. Tasted April 2010.

1905 Blandy’s Sercial 94
Bottled in 1970, this has a very precise bouquet with dried mango, apricot, a strong sweet vanilla/molasses accent. Very perfumed and opulent. The palate is medium-bodied, very refined and delineated with strong oxidative, dried honey flavours, slightly attenuated towards the finish with great length. Fig and even a touch of strawberry lingering on the aftertaste. Very elegant. Tasted April 2010.

1903 Pereira d’Oliveira Boal 83
Tasted at d’Oliveira winery in Funchal. Bottled in 2003. This has a deep brown core with green tints on the rim. It has a light, fragrant nose with a touches of burnt toffee, molasses, lime jus, all wrapped up in a volatile lift. It just lacks the finesse of say, some of the older Blandy’s Madeira. The palate has sharp acidity on the entry, not a complex mature Madeira, perhaps slightly pinched with notes of sour lemon, lime, a hint of burnt honey, with a lot of volatility towards the finish. There is a burn at the back of the throat. Tasted April 2010.

1900 Pereira d’Oliveira Malvasia 84
Tasted at d’Oliveira winery in Funchal. The 1900 Malvasia (bottled in 1982) has a very deep brown colour. The nose is light and rather reticent on the nose, with light scents of burnt honey, Chinese tea, a touch of damp earth and a more agreeable level of volatile acidity than the Bual 1903. The palate is quite aggressive with sharp acidity, not quite as harmonious as other Madeira of similar age. Notes of orange peel, fresh ginger, sour lemon, relatively simple with a linear light honey and citrus peel finish. Moderate length and again, there is a bit of alcoholic burn at the back of the throat. Tasted April 2010.

1880 Blandy’s Malmsey 96
Bottled in 1921, this has a roiling bouquet of dark chocolate, dried mango, orange-blossom, a touch of Chinese 5-spice and nutmeg. Superb definition and it is gaining intensity all the time in the glass. The palate is beautifully balanced with vibrant acidity: marmalade, quince, walnut, allspice and nutmeg. Light honeyed notes towards the finish, sedate and beautifully defined, long and sensuous towards the finish. Tasted April 2010.

1875 Pereira d’Oliveira Moscatel 91
Bottled in 1975, deep amber in colour, despite its rarity this is not quite as complex on the nose as other Madeira from this era. Manuka honey, passion fruit and toffee apple, it perhaps just lacks the same level of definition. The palate is medium-bodied, viscous in the entry with dried apricot, marmalade, quince and dark chocolate. The caramel elements come through quite strongly towards the finish. More pleasurable than intellectual, but still very fine. Tasted April 2010.

1875 Pereira d’Oliveira Malvasia 96
Bottled during the 1970s, this has a very complex bouquet: quince jus, dates, balsam, mint and a touch of seaweed, the kind of Madeira that you want to just keep inhaling. The palate has a salty tang on the entry, the oxidative aromas counterpoising the fruit to perfection, beautiful delineation, very fresh with great tension, nutmeg and smoke towards the long, spicy finish with raisin, passion fruit and fig on the aftertaste. Sublime. Tasted April 2010.

1863 Blandy’s Bual 90
This Bual was bottled in 1913 and kept in demijohns until 1978 whereupon it was put into regular bottles (2,266 to be exact.) There is a strong algae-like note on the nose that does not dissipate with aeration.  It has a slightly odd nose: fresh apricot, lemon curd, marmalade and cola. The palate is medium-bodied, finely balanced, tangy marmalade and quince on the entry, very taut with a delicate touch of spice on the finish that shows some signs of drying out. Fine, but do not leave for too long. Tasted April 2010.

1862 Blandy’s Terrantez 94
Bottled in 1913, this has a very fine bouquet of molasses, quince, dried mango, a touch of strawberry and marmalade. Very good definition and gaining intensity in the glass. The palate is medium-bodied and beautifully balanced, touches of caramel, Chinese 5-spice, nutmeg, tamarind and sea salt. Quite linear, very taut but great length. There is something uncompromising about this Terrantez, a kind of “take me or leave me” attitude…and I like that in a 148-year old. Tasted April 2010.

1862 Vasconcelos (Barbeito) Boal 93
This is the only bottle in existence according to Ricardo Barbeito, from grapes grown in Quinta da Piedade, Vasconcelos being a family that married into Barbeito some while ago. It has a pale amber colour, very clear, this has a very sweet vanilla, marzipan…almost candy floss bouquet. Very well defined. It is like walking into a sweet shop. The palate is medium-bodied with notes of walnut and smoke on the entry. Ricardo mentioned that he feels this might have been kept in wood for too long and I think that shows. Still, an elegant finish and a lovely, lovely Madeira. Tasted April 2010.

1850 Pereira d’Oliveira Verdelho 97
Bottled in the 1970s from the founding year of the company, this has a very refined nose with aromas of crème brulee, nutmeg, and a touch of woodbine, tobacco and dried mango. The palate is medium-bodied, very well balanced with fine acidity. It displays succinct, natural balance with touches of mint, Chinese 5-spice, ginger and dried mango/apricot. Very harmonious, very good weight with wonderful persistency. This Madeira has a sense of “completeness”. Tasted April 2010.

1795 Barbeito Terrantez 99
This Terrantez is a bona fide rarity since it comes directly from the sole remaining demijohn belonging to Ricardo Barbeito’s grandmother. Pale deep amber colour, very clear, the bouquet is very well defined with nutmeg, roasted walnut, quince jus and marmalade. The palate is medium-bodied, beautifully balanced and yes, fresh and lively. At 215-years young, it has delicate marmalade, dried apricot and quince flavours on the delineated, elegant finish, with just a touch of volatility on the finish, subtle hints of sour lemon, passion fruit, dried honey and beeswax on the aftertaste. Such femininity and grace. Taking the glass to accompany a following dinner, it remains as fresh as a daisy. What can I say…magical. Tasted April 2010.

Thanks to Bert Jueris for organizing this incredible tasting. Also thanks to Ricardo Freitas and Ricardo Tavares of Barbeito and Blandy’s respectively, to Mannie Burke in New York and Paul Day in London.

Links/Books:
The Madeira Collection (Belgium)
“A Century Past” – Mannie Burke of The Rare Wine Company (1999)
(Mannie is the man to go to for Madeira in the United States)
“Oceans of Wine” by David Hancock – Yale University Press (2009)
“A Matter Of Taste” by John Hurley – Tempus Publishing (2005)

Monday 29th November

Intense working all day (as usual) and then in the evening, into London to 28-50 for dinner with David Wainwright and fellow wine-lovers. He is showing an eclectic selection of wines for the upcoming Graham Lyon’s cellar auction at Zachy’s that include gems such as Bienvenue-Batard Montrachet 1978 from Domaine Leflaive, Cote-Rotie 1978 from Jasmin, Hermitage 1972 from Chave, Coutet 1949, a 1864 Solera from Blandy’s, Nacional 1963 and so on and so on. Some of the wines are stunning, the triple fried chips likewise, although I have to pour most of my glasses away because I have to drive home from Guildford station. Can you imagine pouring those wines into a slop bucket? Sacrilege. But drink-drive laws do not make exceptions for Nacional ’63.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 53 other followers