Posted by Wine Education | Posted on 03-27-2014| Posted in
Wildly unhip — often associated with Old British People and men-in-suits-finishing-dinner at fussy steakhouses, or dismissed as “too sweet” by rubes that just don’t know any better — Madeira nevertheless possesses an unlikely combination of qualities revered by both trophy hunters and wine hipsters. Made from exotic varieties using time-honored, backwards-looking techniques, they are also rare, long-lived, and exceedingly collectable.
Madeira may well remain uncool for as long as these rich but elegant wines continue to be ignored by the critics and for as long as the hipsters remain fixated on what counts as “natural.”
Yet, at least here in Washington, DC, there seems to be a groundswell, a general rethinking of Madeira’s place in the wine world, evident at influential wine stores and restaurants around town.
My advice? Drink up, and be prepared for the pointy-people and tastemakers to follow suit.
In this two part post, I’ll introduce the often overlooked wines of Madeira, and the paradise island where they are made. Next I’ll detail my visit to the famed Blandy’s for an exclusive tour, interview, and tasting of the company’s recent and historic offerings.
PART 1: Channeling Churchill in Funchal
Perched at Reid’s Palaces’ timeless art deco bar, overlooking the steep volcanic cliffs off Funchal bay, twinkling and postcard-ready at sunset, I nursed a D’Oliiveiras 1907 Malvazia. The ancient wine, available by the glass, was exquisite. As it unfolded, I tried to imagine the tangle of merchant clippers and pirate ships that had darkened the port since Christopher Columbus called the island home. I wouldn’t have been surprised to find Reid’s most famous regular, Winston Churchill, joining me for an evening tipple.
My students are often confused when I tell them that time is not a real thing, that clocks don’t measure “something” out there. The wines of Madeira offer a lesson in the instability of our linear, all-to-human, concept of time.
Vintage Madeira exists between worlds — New and Old, now and then. It was the favorite wine of the founding fathers. It was there to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It reddens the noses of both rouges and kings throughout Renaissance and colonial literature and lore.
And right now, you can drink vibrant Madeira from vintages before your grandparents were born. At the same time, the wines of Madeira are very much alive, and have a unique voice to lend to contemporary debates about quality.
Want to taste what wine was like in the nineteenth century? Get a few friends together and the dream quickly becomes an affordable possibility. Read the rest of this entry »