Roy Hersh's Majestic Madeira Extravaganza

Seattle, WA

Tasted January 7, 2007 by Eric with 1,425 views


As is his wont, Roy Hersh decided to assemble a historic tasting of Madeira. So 15 lucky souls descended upon Kaspar's on a windy Seattle winter eve to sip Madeira.

Flight 1 - FLIGHT 1 (2 notes)

First we started with a lovely, almost bracing pair of Sercial. I don’t have a lot of Madeira experience, but these were most reminiscent of incredibly powerful Sherry, very tart, salt and showing a citric personality. They were both gorgeous wines and a great way to kick off the tasting.

White - Fortified
1862 D'Oliveiras Madeira Sercial Reserva Portugal, Madeira
Slightly cloudy. A piquant nose with pickled capers and some VA. Wow, this is getting much more expressive and floral. Mmm, salt and limes, very dry. Lots of acid on the mouthwatering finish with lime and citrus dominating. This is very refreshing and intense, a true "laser" of a wine. There is a slightly bitter note of peanut skin on the finish. Of the two Sercials, this was my preferred wine, as I found it to be more consistent and harmonious.
White - Fortified
1898 Barbeito Madeira Sercial Portugal, Madeira
Gorgeous, shimmering gold in the glass. The nose is a little more dusty with some stink, sort of a brackish salt marsh thing. The palate shows honey moving to salt and with some nuts on the finish. This is a richer wine than the 1862 D'Oliveira Sercial and is very appealing. At the same time, this lacks the cut that makes the D'Oliveira so interesting.

Flight 2 (4 notes)

Next we moved onto four different Verdelho's. In general, I found the Verdelho and Bual wines to represent the 'sweet spot' of the tasting for me. I very much enjoyed the Sercial we started with and Malmsey/Malvazia we had later. But these earlier wines struck a more vibrant, and for me more pleasurable, balance.

White - Fortified
1850 D'Oliveiras Madeira Verdelho Reserva Portugal, Madeira
Deep caramel brown, clearly the darkest wine of the flight. Almost molasses in color. Very intense nose. Some alcohol and then mmm, some toffee coming out along with gingerbread. Wowza!!! A molasses texture is followed by an explosion of acid, unreal contrast between the core of the palate and the finish. Speaking of the finish, it was mindblowing. Caramel, nuts and then the acidity. This was my second favorite of the Verdelho, but many picked it as their favorite. It was clearly the richest example of the flight.
White - Fortified
1885 Barbeito Madeira Verdelho Portugal, Madeira
Somewhat lighter color than the other Verdelho. The nose shows a hint of coffee and then some vanilla extract following by a resinous, rubbery note and some volatility. Mmm, this is very tart with a nice core of coffee and nuts. Much more reminiscent of the prior Sercial wines than the 1850 D'Oliveira Verdelho that preceded this. Personally, I loved the finish on this wine, nutty and fantastic. Pretty much across the board, this was the least favored wine of the flight, but I liked it for its more delicate, feminine personality and would happily try this any day.
White - Fortified
1900 D'Oliveiras Madeira Verdelho Reserva Portugal, Madeira
Caramel colored with a bright rim. Notes of hoisin sauce at first, but then this became more piquant. Some flavors of plum sauce on the palate. Wow, this is a very dynamic wine, shockingly complex and then there is a huge burst of acidity. It seems to need more time to mesh, and I ranked it behind the 1850 and 1912 to follow. Pretty remarkable wine though.
White - Fortified
1912 D'Oliveiras Madeira Verdelho Reserva Portugal, Madeira
The most nuanced nose of the flight. Briny. Mmm, the palate leads you in with caramel and then a heart-stopping interplay of acid and richness literally makes you close your eyes to contemplate the majesty of this wine. Mouthwatering, sharp acidity comes out to play on the finish and moves more in the direction of the Sercial. This was my favorite of the flight. It lacked the sheer richness and hedonism of the 1850 D'Oliveira, but it made up for it with incredible vibrancy.

Flight 3 - FLIGHT 2 (1 note)

The second flight started off with a sole Bastardo. A rare, red-graped Madeira, vintage wines from this varietal were apparently only produced in 1870, 1875, 1876 an 1927.

Red - Fortified
1927 D'Oliveiras Madeira Bastardo Reserva Portugal, Madeira
Verdelho color, light, shimmery. No sign of red here. The piquant nose shows some mandarin orange. Mmm, nuts, lime, impressive acidity and quite tart. There is a tea/tannic personality that was not reminiscent of the earlier wines. This has a rich finish but a very acidic palate and is in fact more dry than the lightest of the Verdelho we tasted (1885 Barbeito). This wine would have been right at home with the first two Sercial we started out with.

Flight 4 (4 notes)

Next we moved to an impressive quartet of Boal/Bual wines. For me these next four wines were probably the highlight of the tasting.

White - Fortified
1827 Quinta do Serrado Madeira Boal Portugal, Madeira
Raisin, chocolate, brine and vanilla. OMFG!!!! Maple syrup, hypnotic, an utterly seamless wine. Incredible and truly remarkable. The interplay of richness and then the hammering acidity are just unreal. This is a truly unique expression of wine. My wine of the night and the clear favorite in the flight.
White - Fortified
1863 Barbeito Madeira Boal Portugal, Madeira
A less impressive nose. Resin, tomato paste, more stinky than the others, quite sharp and intense. "Balsamic" from Chuck. The palate is beautifully integrated, salty and nutty. Linear, somewhat round. No real fireworks. My least favorite wine of the flight and continuing a trend with the Barbeito wines.
White - Fortified
1903 D'Oliveiras Madeira Boal Reserva Portugal, Madeira
Mmm, neat nose, chocolate, funk, schtinky, some VA. You can smell the salt here. "Dried fig" comes from Joan on this one. Ahh, salty, chocolate. The rich sweetness together with the savory/saline elements makes for an amazing combination. "Sweet and meaty" comes from Ed, and I totally agree. A very unique interplay on this one led to my second favorite wine of the flight.
White - Fortified
1907 Blandy's Madeira Bual Portugal, Madeira
Lots of VA, a different nose, reminded me of Marsala. Some "light coffee" comes from Roy. Caramel, lime, salt, unctuous and spirity. Gorgeous and really lovely. "Toasty" comes from Don. A beautifully integrated wine. My third favorite of the flight.
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Flight 5 - FLIGHT 3 (1 note)

As with the last flight, we started off with a singleton, in this case a Terrantez.

White - Fortified
1846 Blandy's Madeira Terrantez Portugal, Madeira
Yet another savory nose, some balsamic, chocolate, cooked onion (a note that I find a lot in Madeira but had not yet noted to this point in the first 11 examples). This was actually one most complex and interesting notes of the night. The palate is beautifully round, savory, with simply perfect integration. This wine is ready and totally lovely. Definitely on the richer end of the spectrum of Madeira.

Flight 6 (4 notes)

Now we moved onto a quartet of Malmsey/Malvasia wines (The names are interchangeable, as Malmsey is just the term for the Malvasia varietal.) Many expected these wines to represent the highlight of the tasting, but 3 of 4 wines seemed to underperform, a bit of a letdown after such a spectacular start. Now mind you, these were all highly enjoyable but just not as ethereal as we hoped for. Or perhaps I was simply expressing more of a palate preference for the somewhat more dry Bual and Verdelho examples vs. the richer caramel of the Malvasia.

White - Fortified
1830 Quinta do Serrado Madeira Malmsey Portugal, Madeira
Very light color, clearly the lightest of the flight, shimmering amber. A little hint of the "onion" nose. The palate shows caramel, vanilla and a very noticeable spirit element. This is simply mouthwatering although maybe a little stale? Nah, it's pretty gorgeously integrated and a lovely wine, although it was nowhere near as earth-shattering as the amazing 1827 Quinto do Serrado Boal. My third favorite wine of the flight.
White - Fortified
1834 Barbeito Madeira Malvazia Portugal, Madeira
Very dark color. Somewhat muddy and vegetal with a bit of burned caramel. This seems wrong, slightly off, especially given that this was the only wine in the tasting I have experienced before. The palate shows thick caramel, searing acidity, quite intense. More of that cooked onion thing; I'm starting to wonder if this is simply a smell I associate mostly with Malvasia? This is a bit of a Pamela Anderson wine. Lots of beautiful elements that look good but which doesn't quite hang together as an elegant whole. This was my least favorite wine of the flight, and everyone agreed this was not a representative example of this normally addictive wine.
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White - Fortified
1836 Oscar Acciaioly Madeira Special Malmsey Fine Madeira Wine Portugal, Madeira
A surprising nose of raspberry/kirsch that amazingly smells like Grenache. The wine is tarry and thick with gorgeous notes of caramel and an utterly lovely palate. My favorite wine of the flight.
White - Fortified
1900 Barbeito Madeira Malvazia Portugal, Madeira
Cloudy brown color. The nose is a little stale and stalky, somewhat raisined. The palate is rich, searing, with caramel, acid and then a further tidal wave of acid.

Flight 7 (1 note)

Finally we finished up with one example of Moscatel.

White - Fortified
1875 D'Oliveiras Madeira Moscatel Reserva Portugal, Madeira
Lots of spirit on the nose. This is a rich, intense wine, again showing string spirit following by loads of caramel and spicy onion. The acidity seemed absent as compared to the relatively dominant acid in the other 16 examples of Madeira.


All in all, this was a rather remarkable tasting that is certainly going to lead to me chasing down a few special examples of Madeira. What is nice is that you can uncork a truly special bottle and enjoy it slowly for a year with no degradation. There is no other wine like that to be sure!

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