Blandy’s; a bicentenary tasting celebrating 200 years anniversary



200 years. That’s impressive. Impressive for a family business. You see,  family owned companies normally have a life cycle way below 200 years. Heck, even 20 or 30 years are impressive for a family run company. Not Blandy’s though. They’re celebrating John Blandy’s founding of the company in 1811, by putting the 7th generation of Blandy’s in charge. Chris Blandy runs the show now. Before him the group has seen names such as John Blandy,  Charles Ridpath Blandy, John Burden Blandy, John Ernest Blandy, Graham Blandy, John Blandy, Adam Blandy, Richard Blandy and Michael Blandy. 200 years. That’s impressive.

Yes, the company hasn’t entirely been a family run business all those years. First a merge into Madeira Wine Association (today, Madeira Wine Company) in the first half of the 20th century where Blandy’s were the main shareholders. Then, in the 1980’s, the Symington group joined the Madeira Wine Company (MWC) when several variables called for a change; new ideas, know-how and probably financial support. This year, Blandy’s is once again mainly a family run business after having signed an agreement with the Douro based group. 90/10 now. That’s the new proportions of the ownership between Blandy’s and Symington. What an agreement to sign. Or rather, what an extra-ordinary way to celebrate the bicentenary of the establishment of Blandy’s.

The last decades has meant a lot of changes at MWC. New ideas. Another way of working. New types of Madeira wine. Much can be dedicated to the owners of the company, Blandy’s and the Symington Group, but still, it is impossible to talk about MWC without mentioning the importance of the Oenologist Francisco Albuquerque, three time fortified winemaker of the year at the International Wine Challenge, IWC.

To mark the 200 years, Blandy’s has earlier this year, arranged tastings in the US and UK; in San Francisco, New York and London respectively. The celebrations however, felt logical to end in Funchal where it all started in 1811.

To be invited to take part in the Funchal event, at the old Blandy’s wine lodge, made me feel like a Blandy. At least for one evening. A tasting to remember until senility kicks in, a tasting showing the family’s generosity and will for others to try the elixir produced by previous generations. What more can a Madeira wine nut ask for? What more can a wine lover hope for?

23rd of September. It’s time. Time to taste some truly memorable wines with some great people. Guided by Chris Blandy and Francisco Albuquerque, with an introduction speech by Michael Blandy, we’re about to taste our way through 12 wines. The atmosphere couldn’t be better; tables lined up in the Max Römer tasting room with historic murals painted by the German artist. Then afterwards a dinner in the Vintage tasting room, with some additional vintage wines to taste.

A bicentenary tasting spanning 183 years; 1994 to 1811

(In order to keep the tasting notes worth reading, I’ve tried to make them as short as possible.)

1994 Malmsey Colheita, Blandy’s (90-91 p)

I’m a huge fan of the Colheita wines of Madeira and often regard them as the most important new feature of the Madeira wine industry’s modernization. This one is no exclusion. Generous bouquet of oriental spices, tobacco, floral scents, dried figs and dates. The curry note is just so fascinating. Impressive concentration for a colheita, indicating a fine, fine year – and a good evolution in cask. Jasmine, figs, oriental spices and moist tobacco. A slight mint taste as well. Hazelnuts. A long, balanced finish with the trademark of Madeira despite the sweetness; acidity.

1985 Malmsey Vintage, Blandy’s (91-92 p)

A small harvest for Malmsey, in total contrast to the 1994 yields. The 1985 aged 24 years in 650 liters seasoned American oak, before being bottled. It’s the second time I’m having this one. Lots of things going on here; milk chocolate, wet leather, burnt sugar, brandy and wood. Elegant and managing to balance the concentrated bouquet. On the palate the real wow feeling arrives. Despite 120 grams of residual sugar, the acidity kick keeps control of what’s happening. Intense taste with orange peel, dried fruits, roasted nuts, ground coffee and a perfumed note, reminding me of a discrete Moscatel. Long finish. 1,420 bottles made.

1976 Terrantez Vintage, Blandy’s (94-95 p)

I love this one and since it is my wife’s birth year it has been poured more than once. But I wonder if it has ever been tasting as good as tonight? Even if the weather’s been hot the last days, around 28 C, Madeira wine do taste fabulous. Forget about Madeira as a winter time drink; it is perhaps even better summer time. At least the less sweet ones. The Terrantez is a rare grape today with only a few thousand kilos produced every year. On the whole island!

The 1976 is all about elegance. Fruity notes, an ethereal air surrounding the bouquet, vanilla, green almonds, oriental spices and sandy road feel. Elegant taste and here the acidity leads the way in  a more dominant style, compared to the Malmsey wines. Pears in syrup, vanilla, ground coffee, wet earth, wood and roasted almonds. Ethereal. Pure and long. A slight bitterness in the finish which is not only the trademark of Terrantez, it also adds depth. No power package but a wine for me. Guess my weak spot is elegance…

1968 Bual Vintage, Blandy’s  (93-94 p)

1968 and Bual. That’s a great combination at another Madeira wine producer. Never tried this one though so the excitement is there, no doubt. 36 years in cask and bottled in 2004. Dark amber color. Wonder if it has seen a hot canteiro? Lovely nose of mint, tobacco,  sugar cane, smoke, dried leather, dusty sandy road and hazelnuts. Iodine as well. Quite sweet taste with smoky notes and barley sugar. Pipe tobacco, nutmeg and spices. Chocolate fudge. Good length and fine acidity. Won’t make Bual fans disappointed.

1966 Sercial Vintage, Blandy’s (93-94 p)

28 years in cask. This. Is. Seriously. Good. Stuff. I love the acidity kick in Sercial. I guess my dentist disagrees. But this is our settlement so to speak since the 1966 is not as acidity driven as for example the 1963 Leacock’s Sercial, also from MWC. Gorgeous scents of caramel, lemon peel leaning towards lime, vanilla, roasted almonds, a herbal touch and some smoke – Oolong tea. Isn’t there a note of dried flowers as well? On the palate the action kicks in. Impressive intensity, never intrusive though. Excellent and balanced acidity and perhaps a rounder touch? Or maybe it is just kept a little bit warmer? Smoke, lime, caramel and almonds. Long and pure. A bit salty. Not a prototype Sercial but nonetheless delicious. This I want to drink again. Soon.

1954 Bastardo Vintage, Blandy’s (90-91 p)

Time to visit the extremely rare and almost extinct section of the tasting. Bastardo. A red wine grape known as Trousseau in France. Not much left on the island anymore – and the only old Bastardo I’ve previously tasted is the 1927 bottled by d’Oliveiras (but from the old Adegas de Torreao partidista). 40 years in cask. From the private collection of Blandy’s. Thank you for sharing guys!

Darker nose sending out signals that this is not typical Madeira. I’m getting Maury vibes and the scents of cough medicine, Oregano, dark syrup and licorice fudge, are not really words I use that often to describe my Vintage Madeira. Still, and this needs to be said, it is quite elegant and the bouquet folds out even more after a while in the glass. Elegant taste with low acidity, for Madeira that is, and a well balanced burnt sugar taste. Quite complex, some old wood, tobacco and licorice. Herbs and sultanas. Decent length but not as the other wines tasted this evening.

1954 Malmsey Vintage, Blandy’s (96-97 p)

So, does it rival the great vintages of 1808 and 1880 as Nöel Cossart once predicted it might. Well, I leave that to the few fortunate to find out. I’m settling with the joy of drinking this beauty. Bottled in 1975, the 1954 Malmsey shows a dark chocolate nose, burnt sugar, leather, floral scents and dust. Figs in brandy, walnuts and sultanas. Concentrated yet elegant. Intense taste with lingering acidity, perfumed notes, ground coffee, vanilla and orange peel. Dusty summer road. A long ever-lasting finish. A blockbuster in suit.

1950 Sercial Vintage, Blandy’s (92-93 p)

I know my mom is a bit jealous now. It’s her birth year. My father-in-law’s as well. 31 years in American seasoned oak. The 1950 Sercial differs a lot from the 1966. If one can talk about terroir wines in Madeira, this is most definitely such a glass. Flowers, almond oil, marzipan, lime peel, brandy and wet rocks. On the palate I am amazed by the freshness. 61 years old? This one? Lemon peel, wet rocks, a touch of caramel, marzipan, wood and bitter almond oil. Elegant, slim style with terroir written all over it. Fine length. Residual sugar? 52 grams.

1920 Bual Vintage, Blandy’s (97-98 p)

Here we go again! I’m a lucky guy, I realize that. To taste this once is a blessing, twice a real treat. Three times…..well, you do the math. The bouquet is to die for in the 1920 Bual. Concentrated nose with complex scents of marzipan, vanilla, kirsch, Oolong tea, burnt sugar and walnuts. After a while in the glass a seductive note of newly ground coffee emerges. Impeccable balance in the mouth with integrated sweetness and acidity. Dark bitter chocolate, dust, ground coffee, smoke, sugar cane and a clean vanilla taste. it is just so complex and full of subtle notes. Incredible length. One of the best Bual’s out there…

1910 Sercial Vintage, Blandy’s (95-96 p)

74 years in American oak casks (recorked in 2003). One looses contact with reality when having wines like this. Dark amber color. On the nose it shows vanilla, caramel, old wood, some paint, roasted almonds, a mineral feel and lemon peel. I’m comparing the wine with the 1950 and 1966 Sercial in the tasting and the feeling is that the 1966 is heading the same way as the 1910. A long life that is. On the palate it is just an insane experience with freshness as its trademark. Mineral driven feel, tobacco and iodine. Salty almonds and vanilla fudge. Dried flowers. Long and intense finish. Francisco Albuquerque explained the reason for the 1910’s fresh taste… canteiro storage and hence less evaporation.

1874 Boal Vintage, Blandy’s (93-94 p)

This is rare stuff. Must not spill a drop. 1874. Phylloxera had arrived to the island and partnered with Oidium. The wine industry were on its knees and making vintage wine in 1874 have to be considered a real effort. Bottled in 1921, recorked in 1986. The Bual shows ethereal scents with sugar cane, slight floral notes, tea, humus and old wood. Elegant, slim taste with refreshing mineral feel, good acidity and a dusty old wood feel. A touch of smoke and dried fruits. Hazelnuts. No long taste but delicious. I’m honored.

1811 Bual Solera, Blandy’s (93-94 p)

Bicentenary tasting it is and hence the final glass is from the founding year of the company. To some extent since it is a Solera. Around ten per cent remains from 1811. The wine has spent 89 years in cask and was bottled in the year of 1900 (recorked in 1986). I’m sending a thought to the man who started it all back then, John Blandy. Would he ever have thought that a young Blandy of the seventh generation would stand there, 200 years later, presenting the family’s wines?

Dark amber color. Complex bouquet of leather, old wood, smoke, vanilla, mandarin peel, paint and coffee. yes, it is old and there’s a VA note on the nose. Still, it’s alive and kicking! On the palate there’s a slightly volatile acidity, making it a bit difficult to judge the acidity level of the wine. Still, balanced with tobacco notes, dust, sugar cane, smoke, herbs and vanilla fudge. Good length. I’m drinking history and the tears are close….

N.B. For a closer look at MWC and Blandy’s, check out this post from last year’s visit.

N.B.2. Some of the wines are still possible to buy at the best Madeira retailers around the world. Others are from the family’s private collection and likely only to be found, occasionally, at auctions. Check with The Rare Wine Co or The Madeira Collection for example. Or ask Blandy’s, where to find their wines.

N.B.3. Some of the wines I’ve tasted a few times before, like the great 1920 Bual. The consistency has been impeccable.

N.B.4. Can I come to the next one as well? When you do the 300 years celebration? I promise to evolve like a Vintage…

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