H.M. Borges – still a desert island wine?



A cascade of orange peel, sugar cane, nutmeg, vanilla and old casks fills the glass. It’s so complex and sublime you just want to sit there for an hour an savor the bouquet.
– We bottled this in celebration of Funchal’s 500th anniversary, Isabel tells me. – It is a blend of Malvazia more than 40 years old.
Maria Isabel Borges Gonçalves
It’s easy to fall for H.M. Borges Wines. For me it is all about relating back to the summer of 2009 when we spent the holiday, as a newly enlarged family, at the family summer home in the Stockholm Archipelago. One bottle of Madeira we brought with us, to enjoy a glass on the veranda at evening times when watching the sunset. My choice? The H.M. Borges Verdelho Solera 1915. Such a refined and elegant glass clearly distinguishing Solera from the more powerful frasqueira. And yes, we drank the lot that summer!
Welcome to H.M. Borges!
Now, roughly half a year later, we’re sitting in the tasting room at the old flour mill in Rua de Janeiro 83, together with Isabel Borges and her winemaker, Engº. Ivo Couto, prepared to add H.M. Borges to that list of producers and wines you have a special relation to.
Winemaker Ivo Couto desiring grand children!
This is at least how it works for me; producers I’ve met in person and had a glass with, do most of the times deliver such an impact on me that I have a special relation to their products for many years to come. Quite logical actually; wine is so much more than just a drink; it is history, a chat with nature, passion and sometimes totally impossible to understand how something that divine can emerge from fermented grape juice!
Celebration wine
When sitting there, with the old Malvazia anniversary wine in the glass I can easily say the 1915 Verdelho last summer wasn’t one lucky shot. Borges do deliver!
H.M. Borges is a well respected name amongst the Madeira cognoscente, not least Michael Broadbent. Few of us has tasted so many wines as the former senior director of Christie’s wine department has, but when asked the inevitable question of ‘Your desert island wine’ he doesn’t hesitate; the H.M. Borges 1862 Terrantez.
It all started with Henrique Menezes Borges importing provisions to the island. The profit made was used to buy supplies of older Madeira wines. Doing well he came to that point when he had enough quantities to start a business. Thus, in 1877, Borges started as a partidista, buying from the local producers, securing quality and then selling it further to the bigger producers.
After the passing away of Henrique Menezes the two brothers and daughter stepped in and took over. In 1922 the company stood on its own leaving the partidista business and were now bottling as H.M. Borges, Sucessors, Lda. They branched out in 1925 when the purchase of Adega Exportadora de Vinhos de Madeira went through.
One of the old estufagem’s at Borges
Madeira is not a big island so the likeliness to fall in love with someone else also in the wine trade didn’t come as a surprise. Therefore no raised eybrows when Henrique Menezes daughter married João Henriques Goncalves, owner of the wine company bearing the same name. Then, in 1932, Goncalves company bought Borges and the same year it was fusioned with yet another producer becoming partner, Araújo, Henriques & Co. The owner conditions has so remained.
Why is he feeding us with all this family relationships, you might wonder. Well, it actually explains the tough conditions for the Madeira producers quite well. In order to survive fusions were more or less the only way of avoiding extinction in times when the fortified wine lost more and more of its followers.
Standing at Rua de Janeiro 83 it is hard to understand that this quite small building houses not only the canteiro but just as well the estufagem’s, bottling line and laboratory. Here we start with the tasting, continue with the walk around the building and end up again tasting. Ivo, with experience both from Madeira Wine Company and today closed Silva Vinhos, has poured us a tasting to show the house’s trademark.
The canteiro

style has, in my opinion, always been leaning to the more elegant side and with lower acidity than other producers. That I had to revise when having a line up of the company’s wines. Sure, the younger wines still do have a lower acidity but the variation when ages goes up and colheitas are added, are bigger than I thought. For example is the 10 years old Malmsey a brilliant example of sweetness balanced by acidity. Also I find a slight change in style in more recent bottlings tending to be more fruit driven and concentrated than before.
Ivo – walking the canteiro
Walking around the Borges house with Ivo is great, getting the chance to see the different parts of the process. With MWC’s top modern equipment in mind I am yet again reminded of just how different the conditions are amongst the producers.
– Wait here, Ivo says. – I will just bring the key.
1887 Terrantez
Entering the canteiro with the oldest casks demands a key. The amount of casks are much less here – once Borges was famous for their larger quantities of old wines, today these are dimished to a lesser number remaining. Actually the really old ones are in demi johns, hidden in a corner awaiting…what? Ivo pulls the cork on one of them:
– Here, smell this one, he says.
Caramel, vanilla, smoke and wet earth jumps out of the demi john filled with a 1887 Terrantez! It’s heaven and I ask Isabel later if they are going to bottle them and sell.
– No, we can’t sell them, she says. – IVBAM regulations prohibits sale because we can’t certificate the origin and age.
– They were bought so long ago we don’t have any documents to proof them.
I can’t but think it is sad these will just be standing there in a corner. Naturally the wines can be enjoyed by the owners but it’s probably a substantial amount of money they miss out not being able to sell them. Pity, I would have bought one even if it says only – wine 1887 – on the label!
2009 Tinta Negra Mole
Ivo pours a 2009 just to let us taste the latest harvest. Having tasted samples of other producer’s 2009 Tinta Negra Mole as well I am thrilled the style differs so much. This one hadn’t undergone estufagem yet and it had a nose reminding me of a young ruby port meeting a French Maury. A bit medicinal on the nose, reminding me of cough medicine, but with fresh newly crushed red berries in the background. A touch of herbs and wet earth. Very educative to sample!
Borges Colheita’s are impressive and very different from the style I usually has thought was the trademark of the company. The 1998 Colheita Malmsey (92 p) harvest is most impressive in its floral and darker style. Burnt sugar, vanilla and figs on the nose. A quite full bodied style with fine accompanying acidity. More modern in its approach with fine fruit, powder sugar, nutmeg and flowers in the taste. Long refreshing finish. Bravo!
Frasqueira’s, Colheita’s and Solera wines, I admit, are the one’s that get my attention mostly. I am on the hunt for extra ordinary wines and experiences but my wallet doesn’t always permit too much extra vaganza, so when finding 10 years old wines which really delivers I am most enthusiastic! One of those is the 10 years old Malmsey Reserva Velha (91 p) from Borges. Not only is it a really good glass, it is also priced at EUR 16 in the lodge which is nothing but a bargain!
The style doesn’t differ that much from the colheita Malmsey. A bit tougher in its appearance with dark chocolate, flowers, peaches, burnt sugar and smoke on the nose. Fine, high and most refreshing acidity gives this Malmsey’s sweetness balance. I know, this is what attracts me, and do you share my passion for acidity gripping freshness, then go for the Borges.
Ivo then pours a Boal 1977 (93 p) which has fine amber colour. With some age Boal delivers a scent that I refers to as terroir; the dusty summer road. It is present here as well and together with fudge, sugar cane, herbs and dates it is an elegant version of a Boal. Elegance is also the trademark in the mouth and the style is just what I expect to emerge from Borges. I like it a lot and its dusty, vanilla fudgy taste goes well with the honey and figs that comes after a while. Fine acidity in a mineral driven finish.
Last glass in the prepared tasting was the celebration wine of Funchals 500th anniversary. The more than 40 years old Malvazia (95 p) blend is an extra ordinary wine. Limited in its production to a 1000 bottles it is already sold out a long time ago.
This is divine! A dark amber colour with the already mentioned bouquet of orange peel, sugar cane, nutmeg, vanilla and old casks. What is it with fine wine that always tickles my nose – and almost makes me sneeze? This one does it and perhaps it is the wine’s concentration and glass filling bouquet? A great complexity both in the bouquet and taste and I find myself returning to that specific glass several times during the tasting. Just to smell it!
It is, for a blend, very concentrated and the amalgamated taste is pure love. White peaches, pipe tobacco, sugar cane, vanilla and ground coffee backed up by the dusty road. Long, lingering finish. No, this one I don’t spit; it would not only be rude it would also be a waste of ages, even if it’s not even lunch yet!
– Do you wish to taste our Solera, Isabel says when the discussion on the solera’s of the island deepens.
Ivo brings the 1940 Solera (94 p) and pours a glass. A fine amber colour. Elegant nose that folds out in the glass. Almost floral on the nose with figs, dates and corinth’s. Fine fresh tobacco and some old casky feel. Lovely balance, medium sweet in a medium body and with good intensity. Not that acidic but what a delicious glass! 


It is not mentioned during the tasting, and I actually first found out when returning home, that the 1940 Solera originates from the today non-existing producer of Veiga França (see the eminent Madeira Wine Guide by Peter Reutter). Bought by Borges who continued the cask ageing before bottling, I am most happy to have two bottlings left from the Veiga França Solera 1940 to compare with. But frankly , the Borges version has gained weight, or rather intensity, compared with how I remember the younger bottling from the extinct Veiga França.
What’s left of the celebration wine!
Now, where do I find a bottle of the celebration wine? I need something that splendid to compete with the sunset this summer as well!