Friday, March 4, 2016

Time-Tested Madeira Wines From Justino's

“There are plenty of fortified wines, but when it comes to that combination of freshness and saltiness, you can only count on Madeira.”

So said Commercial Director Julio Fernandes as we tasted through a lineup of wines from his employer, Justino’s. And I couldn't agree more: that streak of freshness, those oceanic and salty breeze accents, they’re what keep me coming back to Madeira wines.

I recently traveled to the home of these iconic and historic fortified wines, Madeira, a volcanic Portuguese island located a few hundred miles off the coast of Morocco, and had the time of my life. The island is a treasure trove of pristine coastline, stunning cliffs, mountain forests, hardscrabble vines, fruit trees, flowers, great cuisine and, of course, it's eponymous wines, which are some of the best and most long-lived on the planet.  

Other posts from my trip to Madeira:

With only about 500 hectares of vines (about 1,200 acres), this is a small wine-producing region. But Justino’s is the island’ s largest house, producing slightly more than half of Madeira exports. This house has been in operation since 1870, and their annual production is now more than a million liters (although that includes bulk wine used for cooking and dessert products as well). 

Justino’s wines appear under various labels, depending on the export market. Some wines fall under the Broadbent Selections brand (including many in the U.S.) while others are sold as Justino’s Henriques. (Henriques & Henriques is Justino's sister wine producer.)

Justino's biggest export clients are France, Germany, Japan and, of course, the United States. “We are always increasing our sales to the United States,” Julio said. He added that the company is trying to focus on more diverse and emerging markets within the U.S., “not just New York and San Francisco.” And Julio said he’s worked with hospitality schools in the U.S. to conduct Madeira-focused tastings and cooking classes.  

Getting the next generation of wine drinkers excited about fortified (and often sweet) wine isn’t easy, but Madeira producers are hoping their unique style of production and the long historical connection between America and Madeira will catch on with wine consumers of my age bracket.

Justino’s isn’t done growing yet. Julio told me his firm has set a goal of 20-30% increase over the next decade. While many wineries look for shorter term gains, Madeira producers are accustomed to the lack of immediate results. The most basic, entry-level Madeira wines require the three years of aging, while many wines are aged for five, 10 and 15 years, many for even longer.

“Madeira is different,” Julio told me, stating the obvious. Everything takes time here, and a long-range outlook is necessary: “We are not selling wine. We are selling a product that will live forever.”

As this tasting demonstrated, some of these wines sure seem indestructible. I tasted through a wide range of Justino’s wines and found a lot to like, especially the older vintage wines.

Below are my notes from a great tasting.

N.V. Broadbent Madeira Rainwater Medium Dry - Portugal, Madeira
Bright, clean aromatics of oranges and white flowers. Crisp but nutty on the palate, showing a bit of complexity, with a clean, bright finish. Aged three years. (85 points)

N.V. Broadbent Madeira Fine Rich Sweet - Portugal, Madeira
Nutty with lots of caramel on the nose, a slight floral kick. The palate is full of sweet raisins and candied almonds. Fun, a bit simple, sweet but stays quite fresh. Aged three years. (85 points)

N.V. Broadbent Madeira 5 Year Old Reserve - Portugal, Madeira
Smells of sweet caramel, orange rind and candied nuts. On the palate, I get raisins, quince paste, candied nuts. This is the same wine as the three year, it’s just aged two more years. It’s really interesting to see what an addition two years of aging does. Significantly more smooth and complex. (87 points)

N.V. Broadbent Madeira Sercial 10 Years Old - Portugal, Madeira
Smells of fresh oranges and limes along with quince and white flowers. So tangy and salty on the palate, even a bit briny, which I love. I get dried flowers, clove, nuts and a range of sea salty notes. A bright and precise Sercial. (88 points)

N.V. Broadbent Madeira Verdelho 10 Year Old - Portugal, Madeira
A richly tropical aromatic spread of honey, glazed pears, sliced peaches and exotic flowers. Juicy texture to the palate but tart acidity (great balance between brightness and richness). Flavors of pineapples and dried mango topped with honey and crushed nuts. I love the floral components and the racy quality of this wine. (88 points)

N.V. Broadbent Madeira Boal 10 Year Old - Portugal, Madeira
Rich aromas of honey and orange marmalade. Sweet and plush on the palate with honey, almond, nougat and sweet raisins. Despite this flavor profile, this is a fresher style of Bual with lingering acidity. (88 points)

N.V. Broadbent Madeira Malmsey 10 Years Old - Portugal, Madeira
Complex aromatics: earthy-spicy tones, musk, cigar smoke. Smooth, round and plus on the nose. Complex elements of orange and apricot jams, spiced tea, honeycomb. Long and rich but so fresh with a lingering sense of pleasant bitterness. (88 points)

1996 Justino's Madeira Wines Madeira Colheita - Portugal, Madeira
Lovely aromas of dried honey, almonds and caramel. Sweet and round on the palate but it maintains a salty freshness that is very attractive. Flavors of apricot jam mix with pecans, almonds, caramel and a bold sense of floral spice. Wow, this will be one to watch for decades to come. Made from Tinta Negra. (91 points)

1999 Justino's Madeira Wines Madeira Colheita - Portugal, Madeira
A bit darker in its aromas of caramel and nuts than the 1996. Creamier, rounded, a bit fatter, but still vibrant. Apricots, sweet raisins, caramel, mixed nuts. Long and velvety. Made from Tinta Negra. (90 points)

1940 Justino Henriques Madeira Sercial - Portugal, Madeira
Seriously complex aromas here: almond, sea salt, clover, baby’s breath, honey and a somewhat sharp shot of volatile acidity. Bright and really salty on the palate, the VA is balanced and woven in well with the wine’s richness and complexity of flavors. Dried apricot and pineapple mixes with almonds, sea salt and oyster brine. The complexity here is awesome, but this wine is severely sharp, almost abrasive. I can’t help but love it. As Julio Fernandes said, he likes this wine because “it gives you fight.” It definitely does. (92 points)

I doubt I'll ever forget that 1954 Verdelho - one of the best wines I've ever tasted.
1954 Justino Henriques Madeira Verdelho - Portugal, Madeira
The aromas on this wine are complex, intriguing and sort of ridiculous. Clove, almond, anise, flowers, potpourri, all sorts of nuances. So pure and silky on the palate, the balance is impeccable. Smooth but complex, bright but rich, such a sexy and fascinating wine. Flavors of yellow raisin and dried pineapple are pure and delicious, followed up by waves of caramel, wax, almond, sea salt. So insanely complex that I would need a long time to analyze this wine and pull out all the nuances. But, in the end, it’s just a supremely enjoyable wine to sip. One of the best wines of the trip, and actually one of the best wines I’ve tasted in years. (98 points)

1978 Justino Henriques Madeira Terrantez - Portugal, Madeira
Smells of old books, library dust and crusty sea salt – quite weird but enjoyable in a unique way. Fresh acid, a strange bitterness to this wine, but not in an unpleasant way. Interesting but frankly strange flavors: hay, candle wax, almond, green olives, seaweed – a crazy wine, but I like it. One of the most oddly intriguing wines I’ve tasted. However, I think this seems to show its age more and I wonder how it will far in a decade or two. (90 points)

1964 Justino Henriques Madeira Boal - Portugal, Madeira
Smells of sweet almond cake, honey, bruised banana and cinnamon. Plump, full, almost tannic on the palate. Flavors of raisin cake, caramel, dates, along with some wood and hay elements. Pure, sweet, silky but stays bright and easy to drink. (91 points)

1964 Justino Henriques Madeira Malmsey - Portugal, Madeira
Smells of sweet raisins, honey, caramel, date and quince paste, some salted pecans (seriously complex). Smooth on the palate but still a bold structure – the liveliness of this wine is impressive. Flavors of dates, plum cake, quince, almond, sweet nougat. Long, bright finish. Wow. (92 points)

The volcanic rocky coastline of Madeira is a stunning, jagged, insane thing to see.

No comments:

Post a Comment