Vintage Madeira – 1825
1825 – the birth of an amazing wine. It was another 12 years before Victoria became Queen of England. 34 years before Big Ben rang out across Westminster for the first time. 50 years before Alexander Bell invented the telephone. This wine was already 45 years old before Bismarck’s troops marched in to France in 1870. In its century birth year F. Scott Fitzgerald published The Great Gatsby, Margaret Thatcher was born and Rudolf Steiner, the founder of biodynamics, died.
How do you begin to contemplate the magnitude of time that this wine has spent in bottle?
I was recently privileged to be invited as a guest to a lunch with The Madeira Club at The Clifton Club in Bristol. This group meet a couple of times a year to taste a range of vintage Madeiras and other wines over lunch. The line up on this particular day was nothing short of stupendous, consisting solely of Sercial Madeiras, the youngest of which was from the 1971 vintage and went all the way back to 1825.
Madeira may not currently be the most fashionable of the fortified wines, always seeming to fall in the shadow of Port, but they produce the longest lived wines on the planet. And Sercial Madeiras are amongst the longest lived of all Madeiras.
Typically making the driest style of Madeira, the Sercial grape is the last of the white grapes to ripen on the island of Madeira and retains a very high level of acidity. Vintage Madeiras must mature in 600 litre oak casks for a minimum of 20 years and the finest wines will often have significantly more cask maturation than this. This gentle, extended maturation in the eaves of lodges in Funchal, heated only by the sun produces the characteristically high-toned nutty almond aromas.
This lengthy maturation, also known as estufagem, is the process that enables Madeira to have such a phenomenally long life. Following estufagem, very little can harm the wine and it is extremely resistant to oxidation ensuring its longevity for decades, and centuries for the very best wines.
This was a monumental tasting, followed by a delicious lunch in the company of some of the wine-world’s most interesting characters. I owe a debt of gratitude to them all for their generosity and warm hospitality.
D’Olivera Sercial 1971
The nose on this wine was initially very mellow and only slightly nutty but the palate exploded behind a wave of searing acidity. Nuts, almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts, deep and concentrated, ran to the very core of this wine. An endless finish that didn’t seem to fade at all. One of the day’s favourites.
Leacock Sercial 1963
A deeper amber colour to this wine with a hint of green on the rim. Savoury nose, VA, petrochemical but with an elusive high toned marzipan aspect. The palate is rich with plenty of complexity but amazingly it seems to finish rather short. Perhaps that is just in comparison with the 1971? Following the intense acidity of the ’71, this seems flabby in comparison – of course, it is nothing of the sort but the difference in acidity levels is striking. Nuts are still the dominant theme but the VA and petrochemical plant keeps elbowing its way in leaving me feeling a little cheated.
Rutherford Miles Sercial 1954
A dark caramel colour to this Sercial with its fair share of sediment. Oak dominates the nose, almost like a sweet bourbon, lanolin and wax. This oak continues through to the palate and tannin is easily detectable. Great acidity rescues this wine to give it a very dry feel and carry it through to a clove and cinnamon spicy finish.
Cossart Sercial 1950
A medium amber colour here with green highlights at the rim. Savoury with another oak dominated nose. Lanolin and wax but there’s also a sweetness to the fruit, fig, prune and Christmas cake. This wine is much more harmonious with an elegant balance. There’s plenty of acidity but also more sugar on the palate than previous bottles which seems to give the wine a luscious feel and supreme balance. Not overtly nutty, there’s a light treacle note but also a strand of marmalade and citrus running through the core. An everlasting finish that remains sweet and focussed. Delicious!
Justino Sercial 1940
Dark amber, this, along with the 1890, had the deepest colour today. The famed green hue clearly evident also. Less wood after the previous 2 Madeiras and much more fruit, raisins, dried figs, caramel and marzipan. The palate is a treat, residual sugar and acidity in excellent balance. Tremendous harmony on display. Liquid Christmas cake, almonds, prunes and spice. Smooth and very enjoyable.
Leacock Sercial 1910
Medium amber colour with a very light green hue. Soapy on the nose, oak and Roquefort cheese. Dry wood palate, bitter and aggressive. Not pleasant to drink.
Leacock Sercial 1890
Dark amber colour with a light green rim. Initially this was like walking past a refinery, oily, chemical, plastic aromas reminiscent of a badly made Armagnac. There is a petrol note on the palate but its presence here is much more welcome as it harmonises with the nutty almonds and Dundee cake flavours. There is still remarkable acidity to this wine and it feels bone dry. The finish seems to get better and better and the VA / refinery aromas eventually subside to leave an enjoyable drink.
Leacock Sercial 1825 – rebottled 1932
Comfortably the oldest bottle of anything I’ve ever tasted by almost a century! Medium amber colour with a significant green tinged rim. The nose is light but elegant, it’s beguiling and enticing. Not dominated by anything in particular, it’s a harmonious blend with many facets, constantly changing and elusive. It’s almost impossible to pin anything down. The palate is fading but this must once have been a stunning wine. It’s off dry, retaining bright acidity and is ever so smooth. It’s melodious, sedate, statesmanlike, practically forcing you to take a moment to contemplate the magnitude of its time in bottle. This is a pleasure and a privilege to drink and was my wine of the day.