wines of Blandy's, Madeira
A report on Madeira's largest producer, with a tasting going back to
the early 19th Century
Madeira’s history as a fine wine owes a
lot to the geographical location of the island in the Atlantic
Ocean, where it was an important hub for sea traffic. It’s perhaps
for this reason that in the USA Madeira used to be the wine of
choice, especially on the east coast, from the 17th century onwards.
But this situation changed as fewer ships passed Madeira, and the
arrival of the steamships.
Still, Madeira (the wine) is more than a
historical artefact. It’s actually pretty serious, and old Madeira
is one of the treasures of the wine world. And Blandy’s, one of
the top Madeira producers (and the largest in terms of exports) can
trace their history back 200 years.
The first Blandy to arrive in the island
was John Blandy, who moved out to Madeira on account of ill health
early in 1808. As well as selling wine, he developed a business as a
shipping agent – many ships stopped in at Funchal on their way to
other destinations. John’s son, Charles Ridpath Blandy, continued
the business, and during the oidium crisis in the 1850s he had
foresight enough to buy up old stocks of wine on the island,
enabling Blandy to continue to sell wine even if very few grapes
were being harvested.
In 1925 Blandy’s joined a group of wine
companies called the Madeira Wine Association. This helped the
various companies survive a tricky patch for Madeira wine. Then, in
1989, Blandy’s offered the anglo-British Port family the
Symingtons a partnership in the newly named Madeira Wine Company (MWC).
This lasted until 2011, when by mutual agreement the Blandy family
bought out the Symingtons’ share.
The company is currently run by the 6th
(Michael) and 7th (Chris) generation of the family. The notes below
are from two tastings in 2011 – one at the London trade fair with
Chris, and then a spectacular 200 year anniversary tasting a month
later with both Michael and Chris.
The biggest issue facing the Blandy
family is sourcing enough grapes from this small volcanic island.
‘We struggle every year to find the quantity of grapes we’d
like’, says Chris Blandy. Madeira may not be mainstream, but
enough people have realized how good it is that Blandy’s could
sell more if they could make it. But then, given that the top wines
take 20 years to reach the marketplace, it’s not so easy to
respond quickly to demand. ‘We have problems getting enough
Sercial and Vedelho these days,’ says Michael Blandy, although he
says there is enough Bual, which is his favourite variety.
Madeira is aged in cask, and the
evaporation can increase both the acidity and sweetness. Typically,
over a 10 year period the acidity will increase by 2 g/litre and the
sugar by 25 g/litre through dehydration (these figures will
obviously depend on the starting point of both). So it’s
interesting to know when the wine is bottled when you are dealing
with an old vintage.
Blandy’s Alvada 5 Years Old Madeira A 50/50 blend of Bual and Malvasia. Rich, nutty and intense with
some warm raisiny notes. Lively and quite powerful with sweet raisin
and spice notes. Delicious. 89/100 (05/11)
Blandy’s Harvest Malmsey 2004
Madeira The single-harvest wines are a new thing for Madeira, and they
are like the equivalent of LBV Port. They are bottled from a single
year before the 20 years required for proper vintage Madeira.
Elegant, fresh and a bit nutty with spicy, citrussy notes. Lively
with nice freshness and good complexity. 91/100 (05/11)
Blandy’s Malmsey Colheita 1992
Madeira (bottled in 2009) Lively, fresh and nutty with lovely wax, citrus and raisin
notes, as well as hints of old casks. Complex and long with
mouthfilling richness and good acidity. Impressive. 93/100 (05/11)
Blandy’s Bual Colheita 1991 Madeira
(bottled in 2009) Complex nose is fresh and tangy with citrus, spice and orange
peel notes. The palate is nutty, waxy and complex with great
acidity. Lively and nutty with good intensity. Impressive wine.
Blandy’s Bual 1980 Madeira (bottled
in 2009) Complex, lively and intense with fresh, nutty, citrus peel
notes. Waxy and intense with lovely fruit precision and fresh
acidity. Brilliant. 94/100 (05/11)
Blandy’s Malmsey 1985 Madeira Matured in seasoned American oak casks (650 litres) for 24
years, 1420 (2 casks) bottled. 117 g residual suagr. Full
brown/orange colour. Very rich nose of raisins, fudge, warm spices,
tar and a hint of treacle. Lovely rounded palate is rich and bold
with real intensity and great acidity. Lively and rich, this is a
powerful, complex wine. 93/100 (06/11)
Blandy’s Terrantez 1976 Madeira This grape almost became extinct in the late 1980s. It is from
the Dão region, where it’s known as Folgasão, Aged for 26 years
in 1000 litre American oak casks. 90 g/litre residual sugar.
Brown/orange colour. Not excessively aromatic, it has a treacly nose
with some raisin notes. The palate is slightly baked and is off-dry,
spicy and complex. Quite a savoury style. 91/100 (06/11)
Blandy’s Sercial 1966 Madeira Bottled in 2004 after 28 years in cask; 47 g/l residual sugar,
10 g/litre acid. Brown colour. Fine herby, raisiny aromatic nose
with some fresh citrus notes and some fudgy complexity. Fresh,
complex palate is dry with lovely acidity and savoury notes of
herbs, old furniture and citrus peel. Great concentration and a
fresh, acidic finish. 94/100 (06/11)
Blandy’s Bastardo 1954 Madeira The only noble red grape variety on the island, this is really
rare, and it’s the last Bastardo vintage in the company’s
collection. Bottled after 40 years in cask. 94 g/l residual sugar, 7
g acid, pH 3.45. Nose of leather, herbs and old furniture, with a
bit of treacle. The palate is soft-textured with real elegance in an
off-dry style, underpinned by spicy complexity. Wonderful. 95/100
Blandy’s Malmsey 1954 Madeira Bottled back in 1975, just a few remaining. 125 g/l residual
sugar. Deep brown in colour. Sweet, rich raisiny nose with fudge and
tar notes. Very rich and complex on the palate with powerful
flavours of raisins, fudge and spice. Lovely acidity with some
citrus freshness, and notes of tea leaves and herbs, treacle and
raisins. Beautifully complex. 96/100 (06/11)
Blandy’s Verdelho 1952 Madeira 93 g/l residual sugar. 2300 bottles were bottled in 1973 after
21 years in cask. Brown colour. Pungent rich nose of fudge, spice
and cask with some strong treacle notes. Rich, warm spicy notes and
also some citrus freshness on the palate. Powerful, savoury, intense
and fudgey. Lively and spicy with real complexity and intensity. The
sweet richness is beautifully balanced by the citrussy acidity. Edgy
and delicious. 97/100 (06/11)
Blandy’s Bual 1920 Madeira Bottled in 2006; VA of 1.44 g/litre; residual sugar 93 g/litre.
There is still one barrel of this left unbottled. Deep brown colour.
Rich nose is refined: sweet, fresh, lively citrus peel and old cask
characters. Elegant mid-weight palate is complex and spicy with
citrus notes as well as old cask and a hint of raisin. Long finish
with marmalade freshness. So complex. 96/100
Blandy’s Sercial 1910 Madeira 74 years in casks, bottled in 1984, recorked in 2003. Orange
brown with a hint of woodsmoke to the elegant, fine, nutty, spicy
nose. Some marmalade notes. The palate is fresh with citrus peel,
almond. Mellow and quite light in personality with a subtly nutty,
long finish. Tastes quite dry with a hint of sweetness. Long complex
wine with precision and high acidity. 96/100
Blandy’s Bual 1863 Madeira Aged for 50 years in American oak casks before bottling.
Rebottled in 1986. Just a few remain. Deep brown colour. Intense
nose with treacle, marmalade and raisins. Smells very sweet.
Powerful palate is bold and intense with richness and sweetness, as
well as a lively citrussy edge. Wonderfully powerful and long, with
thick-cut marmalade and fudge richness. 97/100
Blandy’s Verdelho 1822 Madeira Matured for 78 years in oak, bottled in 1900, and rebottled in
1986. Just a few remain. Brown colour. Intense, bold, spicy nose
with attractive treacle, herb and earth notes. Lovely acidity and
finesse on the palate, which is elegant rather than powerful. Mellow
with a subtle citrus peel freshness and fine acidity, as well as
some cask notes. Warming finish is so long. 97/100
Blandy’s Bual Solera 1811 Madeira Not a vintage wine but a blend of vintages, bottled in 1900,
with the oldest wine 1811 and the youngest 1890. Very fine
expressive nose of marmalade, spice, citrus peel and nuts. The
palate is lively and complex with sky high acidity, and notes of
marmalade and old casks. Complex and alive with warm spices, an
eternal finish and lovely acidity. 98/100