Until yesterday, I did not realize that June 10th is Portugal’s National Holiday but shortly after sitting down for a Madeira luncheon, the assembled dignitaries filled us in that, normally, on that day they are kicking back on their decks and patios with family and friends. This year they chose to celebrate with us – a room of wine writers, fellow dignitaries and lovers of their favourite wine…Madeira. Now, Madeira is sweet stuff – it is essentially Ports made on the island of Madeira – so it is a wine that would not normally be associated with food. Like Eiswein, Sherry, Port or Icewine, Madeira is normally associated with dessert or on its own as an after dinner drink so pairing Madeira with food is an adventure unto itself.
When we arrived, our host for the afternoon, Mr. William Delgado, showed us into the cocktail reception area where we were offered Henriques & Henriques 10 YO Sercial. The island of Madeira is extremely small and Henriques & Henriques is the oldest producer of Madeira still operating on the island today.
“Sercial is one of the four recognized grapes in making Madeira and this 10 year old version was great paired with appetizers like Cod Fritters, Lobster Spring Rolls, Beef Tartar and Goat Cheese appetizers. Mostly caramel and spice on the nose, the flavours were light and smooth with a slight lingering finish.”
Once lunch was ready to be served, we were brought back into the main dining room to enjoy a lunch of:
Selection of Jacobs & Co dry-aged beef:
USDA Prime Whole Roasted Tenderloin
Oakleigh Ranch Wagyu Striploin
Alberta Wagyu Bavette
Sauté Mixed Mushrooms
Duck fat French Fried Potatoes
Selection of local & Portuguese Cheeses
Devils Food Chocolate Cake
The wine pairings with each of these courses were experimental they told us and some of them worked exceptionally well while others were not quite perfect. It would have been interesting to try the 10 YO Sercial that was served with the appetizers with the Beef Consumme because the Blandy’s 10 YO Verdelho was a little too heavy for this extremely lightly flavoured Consommé. Both the Madeira and the Consumme were delicious but the match did not quite work.
With the second course – the trio of beef – we were asked to pair it with the Henriques & Henriques 15 YO Verdelho and see which cut of beef the wine went best with. “The Verdelho 15 YO has a lovely rich, amber colour and has mostly citrus notes on the aromas. It is silky smooth, with very deep flavours of caramel, honey and nuts with a hint of tartness and a slightly long finish.” Although the third cut of beef - the Alberto Wagyu Bavette – was my favourite cut of beef on the plate due to the extra flavor it exhibited as compared to the other two cuts the 15 YO Verdelho seemed to pair best with the second cut of beef – the Oakleigh Ranch Wagyu Striploin
After the main course was cleared, we went into the “flight of wines” paired with local and Portuguese cheeses, fruit and honey. They had another task for us to decide upon – which of these two wines went best with the cheeses. Our two choices were the Cossart Gordon 5 YO Bual and Justino’s 10 YO Bual and they gave us two white cheeses, one blue cheese, an apple slice, a dollop of honey and some bread.
“The Cossart Gordon 5 YO Bual had a light brown colour and a distinctive sour cherry aroma with a slight nutty undertone. The flavours were a combination of raisins and currants and it went particularly well with the two white cheeses and the honey.”
“The Justino’s 10 YO Bual had this very interesting, almost cherry colour to it while the aromas were distinctively green and medicinal. It had an extremely complex palate of green apple, raisins and cooked fruit which paired wonderfully with the green apple slice and the blue cheese.”
Both of these wines brought different things to the table – and the cheese plate. Although the aromas associated with the Justino’s 10 YO Bual were not the most pleasant, it was kind of like a Pinotage – if you can get past the aromas normally associated with Pinotage you are rewarded with an amazingly tasty wine. The same could be said for the Justino’s 10 YO Bual so if you ever have a chance to try this particular Madeira, remember to forget what you are smelling and taste it anyway – you will be richly rewarded. The consensus at our table on the Cossart Gordon 5 YO Bual was that it was a typical Madeira and one that could be enjoyed in a variety of ways.
Our final course of the luncheon – the Devil’s Food Chocolate Cake – was paired with another flight of Madeira’s: the Justino’s Fine Rich Colheita 1996 and the Justino’s Broadbent Bual 1978. Now, along with the Devil’s Food Chocolate Cake, which had a Chocolate Ganache Frosting, there was also Chocolate ice cream and a rolled chocolate cigar.
“The Justino’s Colheita 1996 has an orange red colour with the aromas of nuts and cream – which is not typical for Madeira’s. The flavours were honey, spice and a slight amount of citrus. Essentially, this is very far from a typical Madeira but so interesting you just have to try it. The unique pairing that I found was that the chocolate ice cream brought out a major spicy undertone in this Madeira…imagine what this would be like with a pint of Haagen Dazs Chocolate.”
“Now the Justino’s Broadbent Bual 1978 was a real treat. It had a dark cherry colour and a complex set of aromas – smoke, honey, nutty, caramel, cherry, toast (which was almost an afterthought) were the key players but if you really wanted to analyze all of the aromas, you could easily have come up with a list as long as your arm. The flavours were mostly chocolate and toffee but there was also a hint of honey, figs and citrus to round it out. It was the most harmonious, the most perfect pairing of the afternoon because it went seamlessly with the Devil’s Food Chocolate Cake.
After the delicious luncheon was complete, we were welcomed back into another room to try some other Madeira’s that were not featured in the luncheon. Although there were many lovely ones to choose from, two in particular stood out for me.
Blandy’s Duke of Clarence Full Rich
Blandy’s Terrantez 1976
“The Blandy’s Duke of Clarence Full Rich showed an extremely powerful nose right up front. It actually reminded me of my Grandma’s Plum Pudding that we always have with Christmas dinner. The flavours are spicy and full bodied – mostly cooked fruit but with a kick of tartness on the finish. This could be paired with just about any cake or pudding recipe out there but would also be great on its own.”
“The colour on Blandy’s Terrantez 1976 is really quite amazing – it is a bright amber colour but with a greenish rim which actually is a sign of high quality Madeira. Although the aromas do not seem as powerful as the Duke of Clarence Full Rich, the Terrantez 1976 is just as complex. Raisins, currants, cooked fruit, citrus with even a distinctive hint of orange peel at the end are the major aromas coming into play here. You can find more of those aromas developing into the flavours combined with tangy freshness, a hint of tartness and a long lingering finish. The interesting thing is that the winery actually says it can hold until 2076 if you wanted to wait that long…but why would we do that when it is drinking so well right now. I would rather wait until 2016 or 2026 to see what it is like for my 40th or 50th birthday.”