Following our morning visit and tasting at D’Oliveras in Funchal, we headed over to Camara de Lobos for a delicious lunch at Espada Preta, which Barbeito’s Ricardo Freitas had recommended. The food was terrific, with lots of great seafood–limpets, mussels, scabbard fish and octopus. Lots of garlic too, but all good. That fortified us again for our FTLOP 2010 Fortification tour and tasting at Vinhos Barbeitos’s new cellars and winemaking facility.
Ricardo Freitas couldn’t be with us–he was in London–but I’d had a chance to meet him a couple months before in San Francisco at a retrospective of Barbeito vintage Madeiras in honor of his grandfather, who founded the company in 1946. His presence was very much in evidence during our visit, however, as he has strong views about how to make Madeiras, which are embedded in this sparkling facility, finished in November 2008. (Barbeito obtained a large infusion of capital by selling half of the company shares in 1991 to a major Japanese wine distributor, Kinoshita Shoji, that takes the bulk of export production for distribution in Japan.) Our tour guide also made frequent reference to Ricardo. She explained that he decided to build the facility in Camara de Lobos because it was situated roughly half way between their major grape sources, near Funchal and then on the western side of the island, making it equally convenient a trip for both. She also described the process by which grapes are delivered and placed on the conveyor for sorting, with always two inspectors from the Madeira Institute on hand to ensure that the Institute’s regulations are followed. She also showed us a robotic lugar with paddles Ricardo is experimenting with–using it for the best grapes. The estufajo, the set of tanks in which grapes intended for the younger, non-vintage Madeiras are heated over a period of a few months, is controlled by a little room that looks like it could be the control room of a nuclear plant. The tanks for the estufajo all have two sleeves, through which hot water is pumped. I was particularly impressed with a piping system Ricardo had designed to safely carry wine from the large fermentation tanks to the cask room on the other side of the parking area. It is the shiniest, most state-of-the-art winemaking facility on Madeira, and I expect big things from it in years to come, recognizing that the most important feature in making long-lasting, complex, vintage Madeira is time, and lots and lots of it.
Ricardo’s presence was also with us during our tasting, as he had selected the wines, including some cask samples, that we would be tasting. Many of these were the same as Jancis Robinson and Neal Martin had tasted a few weeks earlier, at a special tasting including all of the major Madeira houses. Barbeito is at a real disadvantage compared to a house like D’Oliveiras in that they were only founded in 1946, and have much smaller stocks of older wines, and a lot of what they were cellaring in Funchal was lost to the February flood that devastated much of the island. So we were tasting a much higher proportion of young Madeiras, made in a vintage Madeira style (like what Ricardo makes for Rare Wine Company’s Historic Series) and other canteiro experiments he’s undertaken.
I think Ricardo is a very talented winemaker, passionate about Madeira wines and their history, and that he is aiming for very high quality in what Barbeito produces. My concern about him is that I fear he does too much, sometimes, trying to compensate for the lack of older stocks by producing a lot of different (and increasingly confusing) bottlings that are in imitation of the style of older wines, but that lack the natural age and slow development really needed to make truly mellow and balanced vintage Madeira. As such, I found much of what we tasted very interesting in helping to understand the components of Madeira, especially what the younger wines taste like before the decades of cask aging that turn them into the “bottled sunshine” that I so adore, but that ultimately this was nowhere near as satisfying a tasting as we had at D’Oliveiras, or even some of the much smaller producers, that focus exclusively on canteiro aged Madeiras, without all the bravura blending and experimentation that is going on at Barbeito.
Samples of young Tinta Negra and Malvasia
We started this tasting with a rare opportunity of sampling very young proto-Madeiras–samples of ’08 vintage Tinta Negra and Malvasia, to see what these base wines are like before the evaporation and concentration that occurs with long neutral barrel aging. I understood from these samples that the base wine that needs to go into a long aging, unique wine like vintage Madeira has to be a vibrant, complex and high acid wine to begin with. Both of these samples, the red Tinta Negra (the widely planted grape, supposedly crossed at some point with Pinot Noir, that makes up 80 to 85% of the potential grapes for Madeira wines grown on the island) and the white Malvasia, were certainly that. They’re too intense and sharp to be enjoyable as table wines, but they have the stuffing and complexity to survive and become even more complex with long, long aging in neutral barrels.
2008 Tinta Negra Mole – medium dark ruby red color with pale meniscus; rich, Port-like, deep, spicy plum, spicy berry, fruitcake nose; rich, strong, tart cherry, berry, spicy cherry, tart raspberry palate, reminiscent of a Douro red but with higher acidity; long finish, 88 pts. as table wine, but with great complexity of flavor and stuffing for aging (aged in casks since February 2010, pressed in a robotic lagar)
2008 Malvasia – orange gold color with clear meniscus; intense nose of walnut shell, smoke, linseed oil, canned green beans; intensely flavored tart peach, nutty, baked pineapple palate with strong acidity; long finish, 86 pts. as table wine, but with excellent flavor and stuffing for canteiro aging (aged in cask since February 2010, pressed in pneumatic press)
This is the second edition of a rather unusual blend Ricardo has made of Verdelho and Boal. I didn’t find it very successful, more probably because the two component wines are so darn young (’03 and ’01) than because it’s a blend of two of the traditional noble varieties. I think it has some potential for aging, but I’m skeptical. Ricardo claims the structure comes from the full bodied Boal, while the Verdelho brings style and exuberance.
- N.V. Barbeito Madeira VB Reserva Lote 2 – Portugal, Madeira
Deep yellow apricot color with clear meniscus; VA, baked lemon, preserved lemon, almond, almond oil, light roasted coffee nose; tasty, very tart lemon, baked lemon, nutty palate; medium-plus finish 88+ pts. (a blend of 610 liters from cask 12, 2001 Verdelho, with 540 liters from cask 46, 2003 Boal) (88 pts.)
Rare Wine Co. Historic Series Madeiras
These are two of the Historic Series wines, wines in the style of vintage Madeiras made from the historic noble varietals, that Ricardo has produced for Rare Wine Company in the last several years. I had been very much looking forward to the new Savannah release, but was disappointed with what I tasted. I much prefer the New Orleans version, which I’ve had a number of times before, which is supposed to be in the style of a fairly dry vintage Terrantez Madeira.
- N.V. Rare Wine Co. (Vinhos Barbeito) Madeira Savannah Verdelho Special Reserve – Portugal, Madeira
Light medium coffee red color with pale yellow meniscus; light tobacco, earthy, treacle nose; very tart lemon, nutty palate with high orange acidity; long finish (bottled January 2010) (88 pts.)
- N.V. Rare Wine Co. (Vinhos Barbeito) Madeira Historic Series New Orleans Special Reserve – Portugal, Madeira
Medium brown color with yellow meniscus; sweet coffee, floral, orange blossom nose; tasty, tart coffee, rich lemon, orange blossom palate with character; long finish 90+ pts. (bottled January 2010; mostly Tinta Negra Mole, but vinified to be in the style of a Terrantez vintage Madeira) (90 pts.)
Younger Vintage Madeiras
We then moved on to some young vintage Madeiras. The best of these was the oldest, the ’82 Boal, but the ’00 Colheita was also surprisingly good, and has aging potential. The ’82 was moved to 60 litre demijohns in 2002, to control its evaporation, so didn’t reach the maxiumum sugar level for Boal, and I appreciated its relative acidity. The ’95 Tinta Negra Mole cask sample was interesting to taste, and I know Ricardo thinks there are Tinta Negras that are worthy of highlighting as vintage Madeiras, but this sample didn’t convince me.
- 2000 Barbeito Madeira Malvazia Colheita Cask 40A – Portugal, Madeira
Bright light medium orange color with clear meniscus; almond, floral, Brazil nut nose; tasty, bright, tangy, tart apricot, rich lemon, lemon preserves palate; long finish (has some aging potential) (90 pts.)
- 1995 Barbeito Madeira Tinta Negra Mole – Portugal, Madeira
Barrel sample – medium orange apricot color with clear meniscus; strong floral, hyacinth, tiger lillly, camphor, menthol, orange nose; intriguing tart orange, dried apricot, nut oil, walnut skin palate with high acidity, reminiscent of a vintage Verdelho; long finish (designated as Cask 23; to be bottled June 2010) (88 pts.)
- 1988 Barbeito Madeira Sercial – Portugal, Madeira
Medium orange or dark apricot color with clear meniscus; tart cantaloupe, rancio, tart nut oil, very light coffee nose; smoky, tart orange, tart cantaloupe, very tart apricot palate with depth and medium acidity; very long finish (bottled 2009) (91 pts.)
- 1982 Barbeito Madeira Boal – Portugal, Madeira
Very dark orange color with pale yellow meniscus; pear nectar, dried apricot, Brazil nut, apricot, apricot honey nose; tasty, tart apricot, tart orange, walnut skin palate with medium acidity; long finish (bottled May 2007; moved to 60 litre demijohns in 2002 to control evaporation) (92 pts.)
Older Vintage Madeiras
These were our oldest Barbeito Madeiras in this tasting, and the medium-plus acidity levels were all impressive, even on the Malvazias. There was good complexity and depth, and were strong for their relative age. I’ve had the 1910 before, and this was another good showing for it.
- N.V. Barbeito Madeira Malvazia 20 Years Old Special Reserve (Lote 7199) – Portugal, Madeira
Medium dark orange color with clear meniscus; rich nut oil, light coffee, almond nose; tasty, oily textured, almond, nut skin, lemon marmalade palate with medium acidity; long finish 92+ pts. (bottled 1/07) (92 pts.)
- N.V. Barbeito Madeira Malvazia 30 Years Old (Lote Especial) – Portugal, Madeira
Medium dark orange color with pale yellow meniscus and ruby lights; almond and Brazil nut oil, baked lemon nose with an acrid note; tasty, delicate blend of coffee, almond, tart apricot on rich and layered palate; long finish 93+ pts. (bottled in May 2006; in honor of Barbeito’s 60th anniversary) (93 pts.)
- 1910 Barbeito Madeira Sercial – Portugal, Madeira
Dark orange color with pale yellow meniscus; VA, walnut, Brazil nut, coffee, mocha, toasty nose; tasty, poised, tart lemon, coffee, kumquat, tart orange, tart orange honey palate with medium-plus acidity; very long finish 93+ pts. (one of the remaining two bottles from Mario Barbeito’s collection that he bottled in 1983) (93 pts.)
Favilla Viera Flight
I don’t know the history on these wines. Apparently either Ricardo or his grandfather purchased them. An ’03 Rare Wine Company newsletter indicates that Rare Wine “found a pair of remarkable” 1920 Favilla Viera family wines in 1997. The 1920 has been on the market and I’ve seen a number of tasting notes for it and a few also for the 1950, so there have been some bottlings. These were supposed to be from cask. Both were quite good, especially the 1920, with good acidity for Malvazia.
- 1950 Favilla Viera Madeira Malvazia – Portugal, Madeira
Dark brown color with light yellow green meniscus; coffee, VA, dried orange, mocha, creme caramel nose; very tart entry, complex, very tart lemon, tart orange, coffee grounds, orange honey palate; very long finish (93 pts.)
- 1920 Favilla Viera Madeira Malvazia – Portugal, Madeira
Dark brown color with yellow green meniscus and ruby lights; deep, smoky, coffee, tart fig, fig cake nose; rich, mocha, tart lemon, very tart orange palate with depth and medium-plus acidity; long finish (94 pts.)