Vinhos Barbeito: A grande finale

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-There are more modern instruments, but we like this old one, Americo says when explaining for me how they measure the alcohol content in the wines.

We’re standing in the laboratory of Vinhos Barbeito together with Americo Pereira who’s guiding us around in the top modern facilities of the company. But still, everything is certainly not just new, expensive and shining machines; the mix of respect for tradition and modern thinking has put Ricardo Diogo Freitas, the managing director, on the Madeira map as one of the wine’s  shining stars.

Being one of the youngest companies, founded in 1946 by Mário Barbeito, the firm has since the joining of Ricardo seen a development that makes Barbeito quite unique in their interpretation of Madeira. A co-ownership with a Japanese company has most likely secured some financial stability – it is not easy being a Madeira wine producer – but in the end it is all about one thing the end customer will notice: What’s in the glass!

Diogo’s Wine shop

Barbeito was badly hit by the flooding in Funchal on the 20th of February. Not the wine making or storing facilities, no, their retail outlet shop in central Funchal was hit and damaged severely. Many truly unique bottles were lost, wines that can never be replaced – and although insurances cover it is heart breaking to hear. But sadly it didn’t stop there. Mário Barbeito, the founder of the company had yet a passion and that was Cristoforo Colombo. Mário collected an impressive amount of literature and other documents on Colombo; all which was gathered after his passing away and made in to a museum. A museum in the cellar of Diogo’s Wine shop….

Americo

The disaster that hit the Diogo’s shop, and the museum, post poned our meeting with Barbeito making me even more excited of what were to come! The day before leaving the island after five weeks Americo made sure we got a most memorable experience with us home. Showing up at the same time was also Maik Göbel, a real Madeira aficionado who also makes sure the wines can be enjoyed in Germany.

Recent plantings of the noble grape varieties

Americo gave us the grand tour around the facilities, checking out the different stations of the process such as the bottlings machine, the new mechanical lagares look a like, the temperature controlled section and of course, the canteiro.

After that a wide range of wines to taste and the one’s mentioned below are as usual the one’s in the upper end of the quality hierarchy. Not rated and judged were the samples tasted from 2009. However, since it was the last visit we had before going home, I got a great chance to compare with previous cask samples at other producers places. Barbeito’s style do differ. It has more colour, a concentration and fruit that’s different from other 2009’s tasted.

-These are to be used in the historic series we produce for the American market and The Rare Wine Co., Americo tells us.

Rarely I am that impressed by the younger wines but Americo pours the exception, the 5 years old Sercial (86 p). For a typical Sercial style with nice intensity and no alcoholic feel, this is really a good one. Also a good indication on what to expect from a producer when their more simple wines show class!

The 10 years old series of Barbeito really deserves attention from the consumer in search of a Madeira packed with personality, but without resulting in a huge hole in the wallet. All the four noble grapes on the 10 years level impresses but I have to be honest; it is particularly the Verdelho I’m always making sure I have a bottle of at home.

For me, the 10 years old Verdelho (93 p) from Barbeito is the best example of the grape variety and age, amongst all the producers. The bouquet is all about elegance; christmas spices, orange peel, smoke, fudge in a quite complex style. Fine, refreshing acidity in a medium dry style with notes of spicy fudge, wet earth and nutmeg. In Europe retailing between EUR 25-30 which only makes it even more fun to drink since you know it is not one of those once in a life timee experiences.

I am almost just as fond when it comes to the 10 years old Sercial (91 p). Fine maturity even though young on the nose. Roasted almonds, herbs, paint, dried apricots and just a hint of vanilla. Dry and refreshingly acidic this wine is the perfect starter together with a creamy mushroom soup. Almonds, mineral, green notes of lemon and a herbaceous touch to it. Quite intense finish.

The Boal and Malvazia are fine wines as well, especially the sweeter one, although they don’t really reach the same level as the Verdelho. The 10 years old Boal (90 p) has notes of caramel, wet rocks, burnt sugar and dried fruits to it in the bouquet. Fine balance between acidity and sweetness complemented by candy like taste of fudge, vanilla and just dried fruits. Elegant taste of caramel and mineral in the finish.

The 10 years old Malvazia (91 p) shows typical grape notes with its floral touch on the nose, backed up by sugar cane, figs, dates and orange peel. Big nose. In the mouth it impresses with fine intensity, figs, dates, spices and flowers in a sweet but balanced style. Long, lingering finish.

Americo now pours a line up of colheita’s starting with the 1997 Single harvest Tinta Negra Mole (91 p). The grapes comes from a single vineyard in the lower parts of Estreito de Câmara de Lobos and shows how good a Tinta Negra actually can be if given the proper treatment and respect. 3849 half liters bottles were made and the result?

A fine straw and slightly amber colour. Lovely citrusy aromas, lemon peel, almonds, fudge and a scent I recognise as wet earth. It’s pure, refreshing and the old oak casks adds a nice complexity to the grapey style. Fine and elegant in the mouth it never looses its freshness and stringency. Not a blockbuster – this is simply a perfect wine to sip as a starter or refresher between meals. Fine acidity, although not as present as in the other noble grapes, balances the sweetness well.

The VB Reserva Meio Seco is an oddity, one that is the result of pure random! Americo tells the story how he and Ricardo was tasting through a wide range of wines in their retail outlet shop of Diogo’s one evening. When getting tired they had without thought poured the Bual and Verdelho in the same glass and later that evening, when Ricardo was smelling them, he reacted on the glass with the mix. Both were impressed by the result and the random pour resulted in the bottling of a blend of the 2001 Bual and the 2003 Verdelho, Cascos 12d and 46a (92 p).

A fine light amber colour. Spicy, smoky and quite fruity with notes of apricots and white peaches on the nose. Hazelnuts, smoke, toffee and a most refreshing taste of grapefruit! Long, medium dry finish with a lingering mineral feel. Fun!

The 2001 Boal Cascos 48 and 84 (92 p) – a palindrome Ricardo couldn’t resist when finding out how well the casks had developed. Intense, caramel nose with smoke, apricots, orange peel and toffee. Lovely bouquet! The medium sweet taste, quite powerful, is harmoniusly backed up by impressive acidity and the notes of vanilla, dried apricots, sugar cane syrup, wet rocks and fresh tobacco are splendid. Long vivid finish.

I have said it before in a post on the 2000 Malvazia Single Cask 40a (93 p) – this might be the best colheita Madeira i’ve tasted. Tasting it now, at Barbeito’s only makes the experience even better! The funny about this one is that it wasn’t ment to be. In March 2007 Ricardo Diogo V. Freitas decided that amongst the 32 casks of their 2000 Malvasia, cask 44a were to be bottled as a single cask Malvasia. But the bottling never started and the delay ended up with the cask staying in the 620 liters oak barrel. In November the same year Ricardo retasted the casks and found that the cask 40a had developed impressively in the period between April and October, most likely due to the hot summer of 2007, which made him reconsider. 40a had gained more concentration, weight and had also developed a nice freshness. So the cask, with a capacity of 750 liters, ended up being bottled in January 2008. 1026 half litre bottles. That’s it. No more, no less!

Almost like perfumed grape juice this wine catches me right away! The oak is there and so is also some orange peel, fudge and matchsticks. Sulphur you think on the last scent, but I am not sure. More of a feature from the soil. However, it is an elegant bouquet with lots of freshness and grape aromas!Even if it’s less than a decade old it is still showing some complexity in the mouth. What strikes me is the balance between acidity and the grapey sweetness. Delicious! No signs of oxidation in the taste but some scents of raisins and figs can be detected. Flowery and long, long extract filled finish. Bravo! Worth an effort trying to find one of the around thousand bottles made of this rare and true beauty!

Madeira aficionados in UK; I envy you. The two bottlings Americo now pours are uniquely for Fortnum & Mason who sends their team every year to find a really good colheita to go with the pudding.

– They try a lot of casks before settling for one that then is bottled and sold during Christmas in UK, Americo tells us while serving the 2001 Malvazia from Cask 426 a (92 p).

It’s such a nice Malvazia, not up reaching the same heights as the 2000 Single cask 40, but still with young, vivid, floral nose and dates, peaches and burnt sugar backing up. Good intensity, enough acidity to balance and a mineral feel to it. Dates, grapey taste, wet rocks, caramel, vanilla and a touch of ground coffee. Good pick Fortnum & Mason!

An even more exciting choice made by the classic English quality house of Fortnum & Mason is the 40 years old Boal (93 p). Bottled in 50 cl size, just as the colheita, it is a splendid example on how good Boal can be with age. Yet again I find the mineral feature that for me resembles a dusty road  in summertime; it gives the wine that extra dimension and this is an awesome Boal! Quite dark amber colour. Besides the dusty road the elegant bouquet shows spices, caramel, vanilla and tobacco. Elegant, intense and firm acidity in the semi sweet taste.Such a complex taste whit notes of vanilla, walnuts, herbs, dates and caramel. Long, pure aftertaste. Great wine – great Boal!

Americo pours four vintage Madeira’s; the 1978 Sercial, 1988 Sercial, the 1981 Verdelho and the 1978 Boal. The Sercial’s are both tremendous wines where the 1978 Sercial (94 p) clearly shows what good age does to the grape. Roasted almonds, wet earth, paint, an almost fruity feel and vanilla fudge. Intense, yet elegant taste with the typical mind bogging acidity. Lime peels, wet rocks, almonds and nutmeg; all rounded up in a long finish. Love it!

The 1988 Sercial (92 p) is also typical for the grape and style but doesn’t have the same nuances as the 1978. Though; quite rich and intense young nose with orange peel, nutmeg, paint and herbs. A more full bodied Sercial with good intensity, excellent acidity and notes of roasted almonds, wet earth, green apples and ground coffee.

The 1981 Verdelho (94 p) was extra exiting to taste since I have purchased it, and this beauty didn’t dissapoint! Actually one of the better young Verdelho’s I’ve tasted and the explosion of spices, pears, wet rock scents, toffee and sugar cane in the bouquet is a joy! A dryer style of Verdelho in the mouth and a great wine to match with food! Great delineation and wonderful structure. The pears, spices, toffee and mineral feeling are so harmonious I just wonder if this would benefit from further ageing in casks? Long, intense aftertaste. I can’t wait to try it when the mushroom season arrives and just gently fry some cep’s and chanterelle’s in butter and garlic, put it on a piece of roasted bread and sprinkle some Pecorino over it. Welcome to heaven!

The vintage Boal is excellent and shows potent power. 1978 Boal (93 p) is an explosion of caramel, syrup, hazelnuts, orange peel and a slight volatile touch to it which just makes it more exciting. Dusty road, mature red apples, smoke, tobacco and burnt sugar in the semi sweet taste which is nicely balanced by the refreshing acidity. Shouldn’t I know my Madeira better I would be shocked to hear about the residual sugar in a wine like this!

Finally, the Lote 7199 is a 20 years old Malvazia (93 p). I am amazed of just how good and concentrated it is for a blend. A wine to seek up for those who loves the Malvazia, desires a vintage wine but doesn’t want to pay the prices frasqueira wines retail at. Elegance is written all over it and I get the feeling of a dusty warm summer road on the nose together with flowers, walnuts, smoke and figs. Excellent mouth feel with the sweetness in perfect balance with the aciditty. Concentrated with notes of figs, dates, ground coffee, orange peel and walnuts. Long finish. A wine not hiding its presence!

 

The 30 years old Malvazia Lote Especial (96-97 p)is a wine of gigantic proportions. One of the greatest non vintage Madeira’s I’ve had and it is almost so concentrated it hurts drinking the wine. With its most complex nose it jumps out of the glass and the floral notes, caramel, vanilla, dark chocolate and nutmeg seduces me. What a bouquet! The intensity in the taste is mind bogging and yet thye wine is elegant. Believe it or not but it actually reminds me a bit of the 1967 d’Yquem which the Malvazia Lote Especial share some similarities with. The fresh dates, the floral touch, dates and figs together with tobacco may not sound as a Sauternes; no, it is more the awsome concentration they share. Never ending lengthwith lingering acidity – this is what wine is all about!

Sold out and according to Americo it will take some years before Ricardo dares trying to create such a masterpiece again. Thankfully I found the bottle at Berry Bros & Rudd for, if I may borrow the expression from the wine critic Robert Parker, life is too short not to drink the 30 years old Malvazia Lote Especial.

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