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The wines of Barbeito, Madeira

Vihnos Barbeito (Madeira) Ltd
PO Box 264, Estrada Monumental 145, 9000-098 Funchal, Madeira
Tel: +351 29176 1829 Fax: +351 29176 5832

First, some background about Madeira. Itís a fortified wine style from the volcanic Atlantic island of Madeira, part of Portugal. The wineís distinctive flavour comes from a special heating process. Traditionally, casks are left in warm lofts to maderize over a number of years (canteiro wines), although a cheaper process used for lesser wines involves heating the wines artificially in concrete or stainless steel tanks known as estufas. Because of this heat exposure, Madeiras are pretty much bomb proof and will drink well from an opened bottle for a number of weeks or even months. The market for Madeira in the UK is tiny, at 35 000 bottles, and this is heavily dominated by two companies Ė the Madiera Wine Company (Blandyís, Cossart, Leacockís et al) and Henriques and Henriques Ė who account for 95% of the UK market. Itís also staggeringly seasonal, with over 90% of sales each year in the lead up to Christmas.

Now to Barbeito, a recent addition to Raymond Reynolds impressive portfolio of Portuguese wines and their first venture into Madeira. Barbeito is a family-owned company formed in 1946, and their philosophy is to offer 100% canteiro wines, with no added caramel or deacidification. This is authentic Madeira. The range was presented by Ricardo De Freitas, managing director and grandson of the founder. Barbeito wines will be launched on the UK market from this September, and stockists include Berry Bros, Halifax Wine Co, Nobody Inn, Fortnum & Mason, La Vigneronne, Butlers Wine Cellar, Ballantynes, Clifton Cellars and La Forge.

Barbeito ĎSingle Harvestí Tinta Negra Mole 1995
Tinta Negra Mole is traditionally a bulk variety, but Barbeito are trying to show that itís possible to produce interesting wines from it. This example is cask matured and displays a wonderfully complex nose with spice, vanilla and caramel notes. The palate is medium sweet with a lovely texture and huge spicy, rich complexity. Quite wonderful. Excellent (£13.95 for 50 cl)

Veramar Boal (5 Year Old)    
100% Boal from a single harvest. Sweet caramelly edge to the nose which has a freshness to it as well as notes of toffee and honey. Sweet, intense palate with a lovely texture. Rich, full and complex. Very good+ (£8.99 for 50 cl)

Boal 10 Year Old
According to, Ricardo Diogo Freitas, Barbeito are trying to make a fresh style. This is 100% natural colour, without any added caramel. Their stated goal is to make Ďinteresting winesí. Quite pale colour. Lovely intense spice and caramel nose. Good balance on the palate which is rich and full with complex sweet flavours and good acidity. Quite sweet in style, this is wonderful. Very good/excellent (£18.99)

20 Year old Blend, Malvasia Special Reserve
Quite deep, sweet intense nose with some sweet herb notes and a caramel and toffee edge. Rich, intense, complex palate has high acidity and quite a bit of alcohol. Lovely complex stuff with a caramel and toffee edge. Very good/excellent (£33)

Boal Vintage 1978
Ricardo calls this the young wine. A deeper orange/brown colour. Very intense almost savoury nose. Complex, smoky and toffee-ish. Bold spicy-edged palate is hard to describe: itís not too sweet but it is very complex. Very good/excellent (£38)

Malvasia 1900
Itís not often you get a chance to taste a wine thatís more than a century old. Deep brown with a yellow/orange rim. Remarkably intense nose with toffee and caramel complexity, and complex lifted acidity. Itís a little unusual. Huge, dense, thick palate with high acid. Notes of spice, toffee and coffee combine with the high acidity to create a remarkable wine. Excellent

See also: a more recent review (November 2003) of Barbeito's wines; Spotlight on Madeira
For tasting notes of other Portuguese wines click here

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Wines tasted May 2002, article published September 2002