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Senior editor James Suckling joined Wine Spectator in 1981 and retired in 2010. As European bureau chief, he was based in Tuscany and tasted the wines of Italy, Bordeaux and Port.
James Suckling

A Century-Old Wine Worth Staying Up Too Late

D’Oliveira Verdelho Madeira 1900

James Suckling
Posted: November 20, 2009

A nightclub in Las Vegas at 1 a.m. is not the perfect moment for a serious tasting of a rare old Madeira, but it was certainly a delicious experience. I was in town for The Big Smoke event hosted by Wine Spectator’s sister publication, Cigar Aficionado. My Vegas-based friend Gil Lempert-Schwarz met me during dinner at the Grand Award-winning Delmonico Steakhouse and said he had something special to go with some cigars.

We decided to drink the 1900 D’Oliveira Verdelho and smoke at the V Bar at the Venetian Hotel. It seemed like the right thing to do after a taxing wine dinner. (You make some bad decisions in Vegas late at night!)

The V Bar was happening. The Black Eyed Peas’ "I Gotta Feeling" was blasting over the speakers, just the right vibe for opening our ancient Madeira. I hadn't had an old Verdelho in years. I remember drinking the stuff on occasion with legendary wine critic Michael Broadbent in London in the 1980s, in his offices at Christie's. THIS was a whole different affair, sir!

We fired up our Cubans. We decanted the fortified wine. (Yes. The V Bar had a decanter.) We poured the glasses as the music continued: "I gotta feeling (woohoo) that tonight's gonna be a good night."

And yes, it was. What a fabulous example of such a rare and wonderful wine. "Fill up my cup, mazel tov!" the song went on.

I can still taste it now, more than a week later. It cut through the rich cigars and decadent ambiance like a knife through soft butter. Awesome stuff: 95 points, non-blind. The acidity was jolting and rocked me out of my jet lag, almost on to the dance floor. (Can't tell you more because what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.) The dried lemon rind and other citrus fruits were supercharged and touched every taste bud. The wine was full-bodied and dry, with a caramelized quince and kiwi flavor. We drank a number of glasses. To be honest, it was rough getting up a few hours later to give a presentation on Cuban cigars at a seminar, but it was worth it!

WineSpectator.com members: Read the original review for D’Oliveira Verdelho Madeira 1900 (92, $265)

• Plus, get scores and tasting notes for more Madeira and learn about the history and different styles of the wine in our article Madeira: The oldest new wine you can buy.

Greg Flanagan
Bethel CT —  November 20, 2009 8:13am ET

I consider myself a relative "newbie" in the wine world. I have been drinking wine for nearly 20 years and only recently (the past 5-7 years) have I truly dove into the research, leg-work, tastings, point comparisons, vineyard tours, collecting, etc...etc...

My question or point is this....

Doesnt the cigar smoke alter the taste of wine? Every single time that I have tried to pair a wine with a cigar (some very nice ones included) the taste of the wine is completely different...in many cases, unpalatable. Am I doing something wrong? Are there certain wines that "go" with certain cigars? while other dont?

I would never have popped a 100 year old vino with a cigar...because of my past experiences.
James Suckling
 —  November 20, 2009 3:26pm ET
I am not a great fan of cigars with wine. It detracts from the overall quality of a wine, particularly dry wines. Red wines with their tannins are very troublesome. But I think that Port and Madeira go very well as well as other sweet wines. Champagne works too.
Mladen Vukmir
Zagreb, Croatia —  November 20, 2009 7:42pm ET
Let's be true... wines and cigars is a combination that positively suck.

As a teenager, once I hitchhiked and a car that picked me up was driven by a chef. I offered him a cigarette and he declined by saying: "thanks but I am driving to my work." Enough said.

Also, my father smoked cigars that I was "borrowing" a as a young man. My recollection is that once you smoke a cigar your tongue remains toasted for next 24 hrs.
James Suckling
 —  November 22, 2009 5:59am ET
I guess it depends on what you are smoking my friend...
Greg Flanagan
Bethel CT —  November 22, 2009 8:39pm ET

Another question.....when you DRINK a wine, as you did with this 100 year old, dont you appreciate/understand the wine much more than just tasting and spitting? Do you really get everything you can from spitting?....In my brief experience I find a large difference.....
James Suckling
 —  November 23, 2009 4:50am ET
I believe I do Gary. It's a question of training yourself. Besides, I can't DRINK 30 wines a day in my tasting room!
Greg Flanagan
Bethel CT —  November 23, 2009 8:28am ET

I understand....however, in past tastings I have run wines that we have tasted and DRUNK (the same wine).....and hands down---with numerous winos in agreement---swallowing the wine gives a true taste while spitting gives an idea........just as I am sure you appreciated the 100 year old much more than just taking a sip and then spitting...

James Suckling
 —  November 23, 2009 10:01am ET
In a perfect world...
Encino, CA, USA —  November 24, 2009 5:33pm ET
I've had so many wines that tasted like "cigar box" or "tobacco." If I had tried them while also smoking a cigar, I wonder how much that would have affected my tasting notes. The delicious irony.
Jim Mason
St. John's —  December 19, 2009 6:44pm ET
I find the richness and sweetness of a Ruby port works well with most cigars. And the smoke does not detract from the flavour of the wine, cause, well, it's a Ruby port. However I don't like acidic and sweet wines like Tokay with cigars.

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