This past weekend, the Rare Wine Co. hosted two special tastings of wines they acquired at the December 11, 2008, Christie’s auction of William Leacock’s vintage Madeira collection. The lineup of wines was the same for both tastings. I attended the first of the two tastings, on Saturday, June 6. I am fortunate to live only 40 minutes away from the site of the tasting–many of the attendees, and Rare Wine Co. owner Mannie Berk, had travelled long distances just for this tasting (e.g., three from Baton Rouge, two from Connecticut, one from Nebraska). We tasted 14 Leacock collection Madeiras at this tasting, all of which had been decanted and aired for at least a full day the previous week so as to eliminate or minimize the “bottle stink” that develops in many vintage Madeiras as a result of spending decades in bottle. (The wine from each of these bottles had been in bottle for at least sixty years.)
For a vintage Madeira lover like me, this was a unique opportunity to taste some truly legendary and exquisite Madeiras. All of them had historical interest, for those of us fascinated by Madeira wine business history–which has everything to do with long family histories. Several of the wines were unlikely to have ever been offered commercially, but were rather selected and bottled in honor of particular family members, for the family’s own collections and use. Several of the bottles, like the 1868 “EBH” Very Old Bual and the A.G. Pacheco, are legendary bottles that came to the family by way of their controlling interest in the Madeira Wine Association.
My very favorite Madeiras in this tasting were the exquisite, powerful and balanced 1868 “EBH” Very Old Boal and the gorgeous, and relatively delicate, 1845 Lomelino “Quinta da Paz.” In the comments that attendees shared at the tasting, these two wines seemed to rank either number one or two for most of us at the tasting.
The following background on the origin of the wines we tasted is summarized from Mannie Berk’s excellent pamphlet, A Taste of History: The Leacock Family Madeiras, which was provided to us at the tasting.
The wines at the tasting were all acquired by Rare Wine Co. at the unprecedented auction of dozens of bottles of vintage Madeira conducted by Christie’s London on December 11, 2008. While individual Leacock and Blandy family members had, in the past, sold a few bottles at a time, there had never before been a modern auction of this size and scope.
Leacocks had been involved in the Madeira business since 1741. When the Blandy and Leacock families consolidated the Madeira trade under the Madeira Wine Association in 1913, John Milburne Leacock was a leading figure. His son Edmund eventually took over the family’s leading role, and after he died in 1977, the Leacock family sold their shares in the MWA to Blandys. The bulk of the family’s collection of old Madeiras passed, however, to Edmund’s son William. This collection included wines originally made by the Leacock firm, wines purchased for the family’s use, and famous rarities culled by the Leacocks from Madeira Wine Association stocks during the early 1900s.
This was the lovely Champagne that greeted participants as we arrived and settled into the large private dining room upstairs from the Grand Café at the Hotel Monaco.
- 1988 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut Vintage Rare – France, Champagne
Light medium yellow color; yeasty, mature, peach and apricot, mineral nose; tasty, youthful palate, tart peach, apricot and mineral palate with racy acidity and depth; long finish 94+ pts. (94 pts.)
1st Leacock Flight
Mannie explained how he organized our flights, which was somewhat tricky for him given that he had never before tried several of the wines in the lineup, and because the exact varietal is not known for several as well. Our first flight of 3 was supposed to be the dryest wines, including a Sercial; a wine identified only as “Seco,” or dry; and a wine that Michael Broadbent had identified as a possible Sercial when he conducted a pre-auction tasting in early December 2008.
- N.V. Leacock Madeira “A” (undated) – Portugal, Madeira
Light medium orange color with red lights; nice nutty, pecan, pecan tart, dried orange, orange cream and ripe cantaloupe nose; delicate, tart orange, citrus, peach, cantaloupe, tangerine, spirity palate; long finish [Mannie Berk guessed, from the spirity, brandy-like nose and palate, that this may be a Madeira style Aguardente, watered down a bit from the usual Aguardente strength, and then raised in cask for many years, or a blend of Madeira grapes and Aguardente. Ricardo Freitas of Barbeito later confirmed that it would have been Aguardente, but distilled from Madeira lees, not sugar cane. Michael Broadbent, pre-auction, had guessed that it was Sercial, possibly of the 1860 vintage.] (92 pts.)
- 1825 Leacock Madeira Seco – Portugal, Madeira
Medium peachy, rosy orange color with red lights; appealing, soft, creamy orange, orange sherbet nose; soft, tart orange, orange cream, papaya, palate with medium acicity, silky-creamy texture and a touch of brandy; long finish 93+ pts. [Mannie Berk thinks it is probably Verdelho, or a blend, on the theory that Sercial was a prestige varietal in 1825, with limited amounts planted, so if it had been Sercial, they would likely have so indicated. It was not bottled until 1932–the wine spent 107 years in some combination of cask and demijohn.] (93 pts.)
- 1890 Leacock Madeira Sercial – Portugal, Madeira
Medium dark orange color with yellow meniscus and red lights; earthy, reduction, VA, tea, roasted coffee and gingerbread nose; silky textured, tangy, roasted coffee, espresso, hazelnut, nutmeg, smoky palate, very complex, and dark flavored for a Sercial–I would have rated it higher but for the reduction which carried through to some extent on the palate as well; long finish [This wine had never before appeared at auction or in any records before the Dec. 11, 2008, Christie’s Auction.] (93 pts.)
2nd Leacock Flight
- 1928 Leacock Madeira Verdelho “EEL” – Portugal, Madeira
Medium orange tea colored with yellow meniscus; lifted, sweet tea, light caramel, grapefruit, pink grapefruit, baked pear and hazelnut nose; tart, tight, a little hot, baked apple and pear, tart unripe orange and coconut palate, with high acidity, very dry for a Verdelho; medium-plus finish [The EEL stands for Edmund Erskine Leacock.] (89 pts.)
- 1934 Leacock Madeira “SJ” – Portugal, Madeira
Light medium orange color with several tiny red particles of sediment floating at the bottom of the glass; tight, baked orange, orange cake, tart orange nose; tight on palate too, tart orange, tart cherry, light medium acidity, likely a Verdelho [From the Leacock family vineyard St. John, or Sao Joao, on the outskirts of Funchal.] (90 pts.)
- N.V. Leacock Madeira Malvazia “VMA” (undated) – Portugal, Madeira
Medium red orange color with gold lights; subtle tangerine nose with a touch of almond, begins to show apple after 1 hour in the glass; tasty, soft, tangerine, tart orange palate with richness, depth, relatively low acidity but not sweet; medium-plus finish [Believed to be a nineteenth-century Madeira bottled between 1910 and 1930. Peter Reutter, of madeirawineguide.com, later informed Mannie that the Vma on the bottle was an abbreviation for Velhissima, or very old.] (92 pts.)
2 brother flight
The pair of wines from this flight were presumably laid down for the family’s own collection for two of John Milburne Leacock’s sons.
- 1896 Unknown Madeira HFS “E” – Portugal, Madeira
Medium orange brown color with red lights and clear meniscus; subtle sweet coffee, citrus, reduction and VA nose; tasty, tart red grapefruit, quince, tart lemon tea, tart cherry palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish [From the Leacock Christie’s 12/11/08 auction: Thought to have been laid down in the late 1890 for one of John Milburne Leacock’s sons, Edmund Erskine, who was born in 1891.] (90 pts.)
- 1895 Unknown Madeira HFS “JPW” – Portugal, Madeira
Medium orange color with red lights and tiny bits of sediment floating at the bottom of the glass; reduction, mature lemon, tart lemon and apricot nose; sweeter than the HFS “E,” with palate of tart pear, tart orange, smoky tart apricot and a sense of chalk, delicate and reminiscent of a good, aged, tart Sauternes; medium-plus finish [From the Leacock Christie’s 12/11/08 auction: Thought to have been laid down in the late 1890 for one of John Milburne Leacock’s sons, Julian Philip, who was born in 1893.] (92 pts.)
Mannie saved the greatest and most important wines of the tasting, the real jewels acquired at the auction, for the last two flights. This flight included the very rare–the 1881 Terrantez, which had never appeared at auction before–and the legendary 1868 EBH Very Old Boal and A.G. Pacheco.
- 1881 Leacock Madeira Terrantez – Portugal, Madeira
Light medium orange brown color with red lights and clear meniscus; soft orange, orange marmalade, red grapefruit nose with a lime note; tasty, rich, tart marmalade, smoky, clementine mid-palate, lime, with delicacy; long finish [Not seen at auction prior to the 12/11/08 Christie’s auction.] (94 pts.)
- N.V. Madeira Wine Association Ltd. Madeira A.G. Pacheco – Portugal, Madeira
Light medium orange brown color with red and yellow lights and clear meniscus; lovely, hard to describe, cherries in brandy, raspberry, key lime, boysenberry and light caramel nose; focused, intense, tart apricot, lemon marmalade, orange marmalade, mineral palate, a little hot, with medium-plus acidity and earthy notes on finish; long finish [A rare bottling, prized by shippers, with only four bottles known to have been sold at auction since the late ’70s prior to the 12/11/08 Christie’s auction. From all the unusual red fruit notes on the nose, I’m wondering if there’s a chance that it might be a Bastardo.] (93 pts.)
- 1868 Lomelino Madeira Very Old Boal E.B.H. – Portugal, Madeira
Medium reddish brown color with red lights and clear meniscus and little bits of sediment; lovely, raspberry, smoky orange marmalade and baked apricot nose; delicious, deep, tart orange, orange marmalade, tart apricot and praline palate, powerful, with perfect balance; long finish [The initials are for Eugenia de Bianchi Henriques, granddaughter of both Tarquinio Torquato da Camara Lomelino, the founder of Lomelino, on her mother’s side, and Carlo de Bianchi, who ran Lomelino after Tarquinio’s death, on her father’s side.] (100 pts.)
- 1845 Lomelino Madeira Quinta da Paz – Portugal, Madeira
Medium orangish brown color with ruby lights and clear meniscus; rich orange, baked orange, tart raspberry and tart red fruit nose; soft, honeyed, apricot, raspberry, berry and cherry palate; long finish (WOTT or 2nd for many) [The wine was produced on the estate of Joseph Phelps, an early British shipper, and came into the possession of the Leacocks and Blandys when Lomelino joined the Madeira Wine Association.] (97 pts.)
- 1836 Lomelino Madeira Bastardo – Portugal, Madeira
Medium red orange color with ruby lights and yellow meniscus; red grapefruit, blood orange and orange honey nose; rich, tasty, blood orange, orange honey, creamy orange, syrup, lime mandarin orange and praline palate, all in what I can only describe as a “lower register”; long finish with a bitter note [Mannie Berk says that a bitter note on finish is typical of real Bastardo. This is the oldest vintage of Bastardo known to exist.] (95 pts.)
- N.V. Borges Madeira Terrantez HMB (undated) – Portugal, Madeira
Medium orange red color with ruby lights and light green meniscus; deep caramel, lemon, baked orange, tart clementine and orange nose; tangerine and cherry palate, with intensity and focus, and a touch of bottle stink remaining; long finish [Speculation that it is from the great Borges Terrantez year 1862.] (96 pts.)