A Sweet Wine with Staying Power

Vinhos Barbeito Malmsey Madeira The Rare Wine Co. Historic Series Special Reserve
James Molesworth
Posted: November 12, 2009

During the recent New York Wine Experience's Four Chefs food and wine pairing seminar, Mario Batali selected a Madeira to go with chef Wolfgang Puck’s wild boar dish, which had been braised in Madeira. The pairing of a sweet wine with the dish was unique, but undeniably delicious.

The Madeira that was served was a Sercial from the same Historic Series, bottled by Vinhos Barbeito for the California-based Rare Wine Co., as this wine I recently tried. The series covers the four major styles of Madeira, and each is named for the grape that makes up the majority of the blend (85 percent), though about 15 percent of old-vine Tinta Negra Mole is also used.

Malmsey is one of the two sweetest styles of Madeira (along with Bual), a fortified wine from the island of Madeira, which belongs to Portugal and sits off the coast of Morocco. This Malmsey bottling ($47 at retail) shows delicious charred orange peel, date, clove and caramel notes, along with a tangy hint of green tea piercing the finish. It’s sweet, but offset by almost edgy acidity, making it easily drinkable on its own, or with heftier cheeses. For me, it was 91 points, non-blind.

And one of the best things about Madeira? A little glass goes a long way to satisfying a wine thirst, and then the open bottle can be kept indefinitely, as the wine is already oxidized during the vinification. It’s the only “cooked” wine that’s good to drink (hence the term maderized for poorly stored wines that show overly mature characteristics).

WineSpectator.com members: Learn more about the history and styles of Madeira in this feature story.

• Plus, get scores and tasting notes for more Madeira.

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