Beautifully Aged Madeira

Today’s Story: Blandy’s

Blandy’s is a historic and family-owned producer of Madeira wines, established in 1811 on the island of Madeira by John Blandy. John Blandy arrived on the island in early 1808, later establishing his own wine shipping and merchant business in 1811 alongside brothers Thomas and George. As Blandy’s grew and exported wines to all corners of the world, they unsurprisingly became a beacon of quality and strong proponent of Madeira wines over the decades that followed. In 1925, Blandy’s decided to join the Madeira Wine Association which was a group formed by multiple producers to weather the economic and political woes facing the world at that time, continuing to maximize global exposure of their products. Fast forward to 1989, and Blandy’s partnered with the Symington family (a well-established producer of high quality Port wines) so together they could further augment the reputation and quality of Port and Madeira wines throughout the world. This partnership continues to this day, under the title of Madeira Wine Company. Today, Michael and Chris Blandy who are sixth and seventh generation members of the family, respectively, work for the company while Chris handles the day-to-day as CEO.

Blandy’s works with the typical grape varieties for Madeira, which include Tinta Negra, Sercial, Verdelho, Terantez, Bual, and Malvasia (Malmsey). Tinta Negra is used to produce dry and off-dry wines not subject to maceration, as well as medium sweet and sweet wines which do involve maceration on the skins. Meanwhile all the white varieties are subject to skin contact to obtain maximum dry extract from the fruit. Fermentation occurs in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, though it is interrupted with natural grape brandy for fortification at different stages. For example, sweet wines are fortified roughly 24 hours after fermentation begins whereas drier wines may spend up to seven days fermenting before fortification.

During the aging process, the wines are heated and this practice occurred by accident when Madeira wine as we know it was first created during the 15th and 16th centuries. During this time, visiting ships to the island were loaded with barrels of wine to both “nourish” the sailors and help provide ballast as they travelled to other ports around the seas. Legend has it that one ship returned with a barrel in tact and, when the producer tasted it, the wine was improved by the warm tropical temperatures that several trips across the equator brought. From that point forward, barrels of the wine were loaded onto ships so they could naturally warm during voyages until this became too costly. Now two main methods exist, the “Canteiro” method where the wines age in American oak casks in the warm attic of the cellars, and the “Estufagem” method where the winemaker controls the heat levels during aging. The Canteiro method, which is used to produce high quality Madeira like the bottle I am reviewing today, is an interesting one. The barrels are never 100% full, allowing the wines to slowly oxidize over time to bring out the signature characteristics of Madeira. Blandy’s loses about 7% of their volumes every year due to evaporation, and this must be controlled by moving barrels from warmer floors to cooler floors of the attic at varying stages.

To learn more, I highly suggest visiting the Blandy’s website here. They have incredible detail regarding the history of both their own company and that of Madeira as a whole, as well as pictures, cultural elements, and a detailed description of the varieties used in their wines.

Today’s Wine: 1968 Verdelho Madeira

100% Verdelho; 20.5% ABV

The 1968 Verdelho Madeira is medium brown in color. Given a bit of time to blossom in the glass, the wine draws you in with aromas of pronounced intensity and offers up a nose of fig, orange zest, raisin, apple pie, salted caramel, toffee, tar, wood varnish, vanilla, and oaky spice. Flavors on the palate are also of pronounced intensity, displaying notes of fig, baked apple, orange peel, caramel, chocolate, almond, and oak-driven baking spice. This medium dry Madeira is full-bodied with high acidity, high alcohol, and a long finish. 100 cases produced, and bottled in 2009. Showed best on days 2 and 3.

Price: $300 (I paid $250). Though I purchased this with a friend for a very good price, I still think the going market rate is more than reasonable. This is a captivating wine that showcases its age beautifully while remaining well-balanced and fairly complex. The only reason this lasted more than one night is because it was not our first or only bottle of the evenings…

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