Friday, November 2, 2012

Wine For The Holidays - Madeira

The holidays are approaching faster than we care to think about, and one bottle I like to have around for the holidays is a nice Madeira.  Get one before Thanksgiving and pop it open with the pecan pie.  The Blandy's Malmsey I'm writing about has been open since last year's holidays, so don't worry if you don't finish the bottle quickly.

The history of Madeira wine is terrifically interesting.  Made in the Madeira Islands - an autonomous region of Portugal, 400 miles off coast of northern Africa - the wine was stocked on ships that used the main island as a port of call.  It was fortified, to help preserve it on the long ocean voyage.

By chance, a cask of the wine was left on board a ship on its return to Madeira.  It was then discovered that the wine underwent a change during the long trip.  Exposure to heat and the motion of the ship resulted in partial oxidation of the wine.

A system of aging was devised that imitated those effects.  The estufagem aging process utilized in the town of Funchal sees the wine placed in casks on the top floor of the facility, where it is warmest.  Through the years, the casks are brought to lower floors until it finally reaches the ground level.

Blandy’s was established in 1811 by John Blandy, and his descendants still own and operate the facility.  Their five-year Malmsey is made from Malvasia grapes and is fortified to a level of 19% abv.  Of the 4 varieties of Madeira, Malmsey is the sweetest, having the most residual sugar.  However, the acidity is so naturally high, there's no cloying sweetness.

This Madeira is extremely dark brown, darker even than whiskey.  Rich aromas of burnt caramel and brown sugar pounce on the olfactory upon sniffing it.  The palate is not overwhelmed by those sweet descriptors, though.  Instead, taut and focused flavors of raisins, coffee and cocoa lead the way, with the caramel making an appearance on the long finish.

Now, where's that pecan pie?

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