It’s old. It’s divine. It’s d’Oliveiras!

2

 

- People are afraid, Luís says, when we’re standing in the entrance. Outside the rain is pouring down and has done so for several hours. Our taxi is delayed not only due to the weather but just as well because of the traffic jams in downtown Funchal.
- Everyone’s driving home at the same time now, remembering what recently happened here, Luís continues. - It is still not safe up in the mountains.

The man knows what he’s talking about. The flooding didn’t leave the house of Pereira d’Oliveira unaffected and one warehouse were filled with water making it impossible to sell the wines.
- Thankfully it is covered by the insurance, Luís tells me with a relief, -And will be settled soon.
For a wine lover the first thing that pops up is a big ‘No, don’t tell me the old and unique vintage wines are undrinkable’, but thankfully, if one may say so, it’s the five years old wines that were affected. Still, this is the living for the smaller wine producers so the loss is anyhow severe.
On our way home in the taxi I am still in a state of shock, not due to the weather circumstances but the wines Luís just served us. It is not often you get chances like this; tasting and comparing Madeira’s spanning from 1989 till 1895 – guided by the most generous and humble Mr Luís d’Oliveira. Together with Aníbal D`Oliveira he represents the fifth generation descendants of the founding owners. Established in 1850 by Joao Pereira d’Oliveira as a partidista, a maintainer of stocks which they aged and sold to shippers, it took more than a century before the company in 1974 started bottling and labeling on its own. By then they had built up the largest stock of old Madeira in the world which today consists of around 1,5 million liters. 

No other producer is even close to Pereira d’Oliveira when it comes to the impressive amounts of old and rare wines they stock. How is this possible one might ask – who can keep such quantities of century old wine? The company is actually not just one but consists of five integrated producers where the oldest firm dates all the way back to 1820. The stocks simply are an inheritance from the five companies creating today’s image of Pereira d’Oliveira as guardians of the century old frasqueira’s, or vintage wines.

- Think of that, Luís says. - None of the companies incorporated in Pereira d’Oliveira’s existed 1803 – the last time we had a natural disaster of these proportions.

- People are not used to the situation, Luís continues. It’s hard not to talk about the flooding that hit Funchal and its neighbouring villages on the south coast a little more than two weeks ago. It’s a small island and many families were affected. But right now the main reason is more the current weather. It has rained intensely for almost four hours now and back then, on the 20th of February it rained unceasingly for eight hours meaning more rain those hours than what normally falls in whole of February! Nevertheless, it is not without charm we sit in the warehouse of Rua dos Ferreiros 107 and listens to the rain hitting the roof.

Before what is going to be one of the more memorable tastings of Madeira I have been given, starts we are served the 10 years old Seco Aperitivo (90 p), a wine mainly consisting of Tinta Negra Mole. A light amber colour with a lovely fragrant bouquet of almonds, wet earth, fudge and lime peel. What is more surprising, knowing how difficult it is to produce a younger dry Madeira wine with substance, is first of all the dryness but secondly the quite complex taste. The acidity is there as well and the choice of Tinta Negra Mole is revealed by a more round taste than Sercial gives at this age. Fine length as well and this starts promising. When you’re impressed by a Madeira producers standard wines, as the 5- and 10 years old labels, you can’t wait to hit the vintage tasting!
But first, a Colheita. The term is used for wines that hasn’t reached the stipulated 20 years of aging in canteiro but has the material to do so. Luís pours the 1989 Sercial (92 p) and sitting with the 10 years old in the glass next to this one it is obviously a step up in the quality hierarchy! A darker colour than the first one and a more intense bouquet; vanilla fudge, furniture polish, apple peel and a honeyed, roasted almond touch. Quite weighty for a Sercial with fine restrained acidity and a touch of sweetness. The apples return and is accompanied by tobacco, prunes, lime, wet earth and smoke. Long, fine aftertaste which stays and is most refreshing. Great colheita!
Madeira colheita by the way, needs a more thorough explanation. You have most likely had bottles from Douro with the epithet written on the label, or stenciled. For Madeira wine it is a more recent discovery that started to appear on the bottles after Portugal joined the EU in 1986. A colheita requires according to the IVBAM regulations five years of maturation before it can be bottled as a colheita. It is allowed to undergo estufagem and doesn’t need to, as the frasqueira (vintage wine), be cask aged all the time. Just as the frasqueira the colheita needs to consist of at least 85% of the same vintage, allowing 15% of a younger wine.
Why you might ask – easy, to give producers the chance to top up when the angels gotten their share due to the evaporation! Some however don’t top up and Pereira d’Oliveira is one of them – a choice that explains the characteristic oxidative feel you get when sipping a frasqueira from Aníbal and Luís.
To sum up the colheita of Madeira: consider it a great opportunity to sample a vintage wine without having to pay the sums a frasqueira demands due to it’s stipulated minimum of twenty years in cask – not unlike the situation in Douro between the Vintage Port and Late Bottled Vintage.
Luís now pours a rarity, the 1977 Terrantez Reserva (93 p), bottled in 2009.
- I would produce more, if I just could get more Terrantez grapes, Luís says.
For the not yet initiated madeiran cognoscente it is worth keeping in mind that few producers of Madeira wine own any vineyards, or wishes to do so, but buys from the more than 1000 different cultivators on the island. Most own just a small plot of vines, less than half a hectare due to the topography of Madeira. Also keep in mind many are doing the cultivation as an extra income – few has the time, knowledge and interest in cultivating one of the more difficult grapes such as the Terrantez. 

I’m a big fan of the Terrantez grape and if you’ve had the chance to taste an old example of the grape you understand its greatness and complexity; ergo there’s no turning back for you!

The 1977 is no exception. It’s young yes, and I would love to see what will happen with this one if further cask ageing is allowed, but at the moment it is still a typical Terrantez. Amber colour. Almost ethereal bouquet with elegant notes of dried fruits, hazelnuts, toffee and a bit floral. Young on the nose and I also sense a touch of morello’s which I’ve never experienced in a Madeira before. Young, vivid acidity, earthy and quite complex taste with fine notes of dried orange peel, prunes, figs, toffee and sweet tobacco. A bit oxidative but still very refreshing and pure in its expression. Long, lingering finish. A very nice example of Terrantez that probably will receive a much higher score if given two decades further cask ageing.
Before I get too sentimental, it’s always like that when a Terrantez is tasted, knowing it ultimately will become extinct if something dramatic not happens, I’m poured the 1966 Verdelho Reserva (94 p) – bottled in 2007.
Try to be objective when you’re having a glass of your favourite indigenous grape of Madeira – it’s tough! But why Verdelho? Isn’t Terrantez cooler? 

Well, after tasting a substantial amount of Verdelho’s the last weeks I finally understand what makes me so attracted by the grape. The combination of sweetness, acidity and spiciness is most captivating, but most of all – it is without doubt the one showing its grape character most of all, even with considerable time in cask. That’s spot on why I love the grape aromas which otherwise tends to be secondary in a fortified wine. Unfortunately Verdelho is also in serious decline and in great need of a rescue plan.

The 1966 is of dark amber colour. Caramel notes intermingling with Christmas spices like cinnamon, cardamom and clove, some refreshing fruitiness, black tea and orange peel. Great bouquet! Still quite young on the taste but the feature that catches the taster most is the contrasting taste. The bouquet promises a sweet inviting wine but the taste gives a firm, finely acidic wine with restrained fruit and caramel notes. So fine in its intensity and I can’t help but wonder how good this will become with some more decades in cask. Long, slightly oxidative finish but with all the Verdelho character summed up. Bravo!
- What shall I serve you know, Luís says. – How about a wine to compare with?
Luís brings us the 1912 Verdelho, aged 90 years in cask before bottled in 2002! It’s worth mentioning that Pereira d’Oliveira only bottles on a short-term basis, to meet demand, and that should be in the buyers mind. If you loved a specific vintage and wish to find it again it might have yet a decade of cask age and be even more complex and concentrated! Welcome to the uncompromising world of Pereira d’Oliveira!
1912 Verdelho (97 p)! What colour – mahogany with an even more dark core. An explosion of dried fruits, cinnamon, cardamom, ground coffee, caramel, marzipan and dried flowers. Hugely concentrated bouquet, yet elegant. Intense in the mouth with caramel and vanilla fudge, nicely intermingling with the clove and tea flavour. Figs, red apples, walnuts and a touch of coffee as well. Sweetness balanced by a great acidity and the finish keeps going on and on. Tasted twice during our stay at Madeira. Consistent impressions.
Let’s switch to Boal. In comes the 1968 Boal Reserva (93 p), bottled in 2009. With age Boal can sometimes give me a feeling of terroir, at least something that resembles the soil. I keep coming back to the dusty sandy road summertime and this feature is spot on all the older Pereira d’Oliveira Boal bottlings. The dusty sand road, caramel, burnt sugar, coffee and smoked tea are nicely balanced in the bouquet. It’s big, quite young but a joy to sniff. Quite concentrated, maybe lacking a bit elegance at the moment, but anyhow an acidity that keeps up the taste excellently. Caramel and soil in one, it’s quite cool and the long, powerful finish is impressive and showing its presence the best possible way.
Confessions of my weak spot for Verdelho is now official. As a contrast it is also important to inform that Boal is the grape I over the years been most skeptical towards to. The difficulties in giving it structure and not just being a caramelized and a bit monolithic wine in its younger phase has made me a bit disappointed on several Boal’s over the years. Luís gave me a demonstration how wrong I was and what Boal is all about. First the impressive 1968 but then, a masterpiece when it comes to defining elegance, the 1922 Boal Reserva (97 p).
1922 & 1903 Boal – Yes, they are divine!
Pereira d’Oliveira’s style can be quite full bodied sometimes, maybe not as concentrated as Henriques & Henriques but the 1922 differs from the house style with is sublime elegance. The sample poured is bottled in 2003 and yet again we have dark mahogany. The bouquet deluges the glass with its complex notes of roasted almonds, fresh walnuts, caramel, freshly ground coffee, dried fruits and lime peel. Do I have to mention the dusty road? 

Elegance and power at the same time in the mouth making it a divine drink with mind bogging acidity, sweetness closing in to a Verdelho and a fruity feel that’s almost youthful! I guess it needs more than 88 years and I hope my kids will get the chance to try a glass of this in fifty years! The delineation and complex, yet elegant, flavours filling the mouth sets a new reference for me. I wasn’t aware of Boal’s ability to show such elegance. Where the grapes are picked I don’t know but the terroir presence is everywhere in the finish. Some might say I am too generous in my rating of this wine but I admit it; I love elegance and this wine sets a new standard for me when it comes finesse. Man, I love this!

I’m already convinced but it doesn’t stop there; we have to move one step up before jumping to the last of the indigenous grapes! Luís pours the 1903 Boal (98 p)! I’m so filled with impressions already but the 107 years old wine is pocking on my undivided attention – and gets it.
If the 1922 was a reference point for elegance this is for combining sheer power with finesse. Dark mahogany. Enormous bouquet with a concentration that almost hurts yet still manages to be complex. Oolong tea, caramel, orange peel, sweet licorice, almost meaty and then a finish of spring honey. Wow, I’ve just been run over by a 1903 Boal!
Concentration at maximum, excellent acidity and with a taste register resembling the bouquet. Wines that seem to be just as big on the bouquet as the taste are the one’s that follows you to senility. This is such a wine. Not perfection (yet) because it still has decades to continue developing but then….maybe.
The rain is now so intense it almost sounds like fire crackers blaring the roof. The building by the way; dates all the way back to 1619 and is situated in Rua dos Ferreiros, a classic wine street in old Funchal. Continue up a few meters and the neighbouring house lodges yet another family firm, Artur Barros e Sousa, and if you continue upwards, the old warehouse of the famous partidista Adega de Torreao is situated – today owned and totally restored by Pereira d’Oliveira.
The centrally located house at Rua dos Ferreiros may not be the most practical but many of the casks are old and the location is perfect considering the possibility of attracting tourists, especially those visiting Funchal for a day when coming with the gigantic cruising ships.
The most powerful and floral wine of them all, the Malvazia ends this majestic tasting. First the birth year of Aníbal and Luís parents, the 1907 Malvazia Reserva (97 p). Dark mahogany. Rich and packed with nuances of dried fruits, nuts, burnt sugar, balsamico, figs and a floral touch (lilac’s). At the same time both impressively acidic but yet well balanced with the sweetness, powerful but not in a four square understanding, keeping its delineation from the very start to the goal. Dates, figs, coffee, honey and fresh tobacco; it’s all there. But the most impressive thing about this one is the insane acidity so wonderfully backing up the sweetness. An immortal wine?
Last one out – switching century and taking us back to 1895! Luís served us a glass of the 1895 Malvazia Reserva (95 p) and when tasting old Madeira it is impossible not to think in historic terms; what was life like back then, did the people that produced this wine ever get a chance to try it and so on. 

One of the darkest wines I’ve ever had! Not as profound as the 1907 but more elegant on the nose with its grapey style. If the 1907 should be considered a bit non-typical for Malvazia then the 1895 was more the prototype. Floral, dates, figs, elegant with ground coffee and syrup. With an acidity, that must be loved by a dentist by the way, gives the wine a most refreshing mouth feel. Some would argue it is too high, i like it a lot. The occasion determines when to serve the 1895 or the 1907, if you’re in possession of both. Should the latter be the case then consider yourself a most wanted friend!

Mr. Luís d’Oliveira – keeper of century old liquid gold.
All afficionado’s of wine, be it fortified or not, ought to sample some of Pereira d’Oliveira’s wines once in a while. They’re a true handcraft and so much more than just a drink; it’s history, life stories, respect and simply a salute to wine.
Bolo de Mel by Rita Maria G G Marques

P.S.
Some prefer the Madeiran honey cake with a Boal but the question is if it isn’t best paired with a rich Malvazia? Many are the Bolo de Mel’s you will find on the island but the one that seems to enjoy the reputation as number one is sold exclusively at Pereira d’Oliveira. For the last 22 years Rita Maria G G Marques has supplied the producer with the honey cake and yes, it is a secret recipe. Like the wines it’s divine! 

 

Wines tasted: 

10 Years old Seco Aperitivo, 90 p
1989 Sercial Colheita, 92 p
1977 Terrantez Reserva, 93 p
1966 Verdelho Reserva, 94 p
1912 Verdelho Reserva, 97 p
1968 Boal Reserva, 93 p
1922 Boal Reserva, 97 p
1903 Boal Reserva, 98 p
1907 Malvazia Reserva, 97 p
1895 Malvazia Reserva, 95 p

 

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  • Mats L

    >What a tasting! Sounds fantastic and with mr Oliveira as a tutor through the decades. I hope that you managed to bring some wine to Sweden and that I might get an opportunity to sip a taste. Do they sell in mainland Portugal too, or only in Madeira?

  • Niklas Jörgensen

    >You can buy them in some countries around Europe but they will send to you as well. UK has an importer, Denmark and Norway as well. It's sad these magnificent wines aren't offered in Sweden and that we have to settle with the few Madeira's there is…

    You will probably find them in Portugal as well but my best tips is to buy directly from d'Oliveira's! Prices are incredible considering the wines' ages. I think for example that the 1912 Verdelho was around EUR 200! 90 years on cask – not much earnings if indexed…

    Best,

    Niklas

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