Friday Night: Sipping as Our Forefathers Did – Madeira

Blandy's 10 year Malmsey Madeira

Madeira came about because of long sea voyages in the tropical sun.

Dessert Wines – Wines with a Story
Almost every dessert wine I know has an interesting story. Sometimes it’s the vineyard conditions: foggy fall mornings, early freezes, long dry autumns.  Often, the story involves history and the challenges of transporting wines over long distances before the age of refrigeration.

On the Friday evening of our long American Independence Day weekend, I’m enjoying a drink of the same type of wine that our colonial forefathers likely celebrated with during our revolutionary days in the late 1700’s.

Blandy's 10 year old Malmsey Madeira

Sip it chilled out on the porch on a summer evening

Madeira – A Seagoing Wine
Madeira is a tiny island well off the coast of Portugal. During the 1700’s, it was a convenient stopping point in long ocean voyages. Before the days of bottling, wines were transported in casks to their destinations. To make them robust to long ocean voyages, they were fortified with neutral grape spirits (brandy) so the higher alcohol would preserve the wine. Merchants noticed that the wines took on new characteristics after especially long, hot transits. In fact, their customers would pay extra for casks that had been at sea for a very long time. Eventually, they caught on that the repeated heating/cooling cycles were the key, and they started aging the wines on shore in the attics of buildings to allow them to heat and cool in a similar fashion.

Blandy's 10 year old Malmsey Madeira

That beautiful color comes from slow oxidation over 10 years in oak barrels.

Madeira Styles
There are a variety of styles of Madeira, according to the grapes used, the sweetness of the wine and the aging regimen.  Here are a couple of things to know when you go looking for your patriotic wine purchase:

  • Sercial – the driest style
  • Verdelho – medium dry
  • Bual – lightly sweet and medium rich. Apparently, perfect for English officers in India.
  • Malmsey – richest, sweetest. Still seems a little less sweet than Port (to me)
  • Aging – Madeira is sold at various aging levels indicating the minimum time spent in barrel, then multiple vintages are blended. The highest quality level would be vintage Madeira, aged in barrel and only from 1 year.
Blandy's 10 year old Malmsey Madeira

Blandy’s is still family owned after all this time, a rarity!

Blandy’s 10 Year Old Malmsey Madeira (sample, SRP $29)
Blandy’s is a long time Madeira house and is still family owned, a rarity today! The wine made using natural yeast, then aged in oak casks in the lofts of the company’s lodge. Over the years, the casks are moved from the warmest attics down through different levels where there is less temperature variation.  All that time in oak casks results in the deep color of the red wine to lighten to a caramel – tawny color.

Eye: Clear, very pale tawny brown color with a pretty caramel edge
Nose: Clean, rich nuts, caramel, burnt sugar notes
Mouth: Sweet, lively acidity to balance, low tannins. Caramel, butterscoth, nuts, with a long lingering finish.

Disclosure: This wine was provided as a sample. All opinions and photos are my own.

Enjoy a Historic Madeira on Independence Day!



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