Saturday, August 17, 2013

Blandy's 5-Year Madeiras: True to Form for $24

Hundreds of miles out in the Atlantic Ocean, rows of vines cling to the volcanic cliffs of Madeira.
Madeira has always fascinated me with its complex history and its unusual method of production. When I was a wine newb first learning how Madeira is made — adding spirits before fermentation is complete and heating the wines or letting the casks bake out in the intense island sun — I didn’t understand it. Why someone would make such a wine? Then I tried one, a Blandy’s 15-Year-Old Malmsey. I understood.

The volcanic island of Madeira is technically part of Portugal, but it sits hundreds of miles off the coast of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean. Madeira is one of the few Old World regions whose wines carry the name of the grape variety on the label. Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and Malmsey (a.k.a., Malvasia) are grape varieties, but they’re also different styles of Madeira. Sercial grapes are usually grown in higher elevation vineyards, and made into a lighter style of wine that accentuates acidity. Verdelhos are a little richer, Buals more so. And Malmseys are the sweetest, richest Madeiras of them all, with frequent themes of caramel and dried fruits.

I recently tasted through all four of these styles. All the wines were Blandy’s 5-Year, meaning the youngest juice in the blend is at least five years old. Sure they’re non-vintage and not aged incredibly long, but at $24 a pop, there’s a lot to like.

All wines were received as press samples and tasted sighted.

N.V. Blandy’s Madeira Sercial 5 Years Old - Portugal, Madeira
SRP: $24
An amber and honey color in the glass. Aromas of apricot, honeysuckle, caramel and an herbal aspect. Despite the richness on the palate, the acid is fresh and the flavors are bright. I get a lot of green apple and caramel notes, along with a minty, saline aspect. Despite the weight and alcohol, this is actually quite light and fresh. I’d love to drink this with mixed cheeses. (88 points)

N.V. Blandy’s Madeira Verdelho 5 Years Old - Portugal, Madeira
SRP: $24
A yellow-apricot color. Smells of dried apricot, honey, orange marmalade and some almond. Easy on the palate despite its weight. Almond and walnut mix with quince and dried pineapple. A saline aspect here as well. Honeycomb and spice linger onto the finish. Medium-dry, actually quite restrained, and the acid keeps it fresh. (89 points)

N.V. Blandy’s Madeira Bual 5 Years Old - Portugal, Madeira
SRP: $24
A gold-orange-hazelnut color in the glass. Bursts from the glass with figs, caramel, dried honey, quince. Full on the palate, with gobs of apricot, figs and dried mango. Secondary flavors of hazelnut, honey and cinnamon keep this interesting, and there's enough acid to balance the sweetness and richness. Delicious. I’m craving mixed nuts and bleu cheese. (88 points)

N.V. Blandy’s Madeira Malmsey 5 Years Old - Portugal, Madeira
SRP: $24
A caramel-nutty color in the glass. A complex and seductive nose of caramel, fig paste, quince, honeycomb and smoke. Rich and waxy on the palate, with honey, almond, quince and apricot flavors. Medium acid helps balance out the rich, caramel, marshmallow-roasting-over-the-coals sweetness of this Malmsey. For only five years of age, this stuff is really complex. Creamy but structured throughout. (90 points)

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