...climbed out of the bottle and disappeared
Even serious wine drinkers and experts are challenged to get their hands on wine that's more than 20 years old. Try buying something decent for a 30th birthday from the year of birth. When it got to my brother's 40th, I fell back on single malt whisky from his year of birth - it was far easier and probably more reliable.
So when I got the chance to try a wine that was over 100 years old, I jumped at the chance. After all, I'm celebrating one year of Purple Teeth!
- "Sercial": often drunk as an aperitif, is pretty much dry with high acidity and a flavour of almonds
- "Verdelho": (a grape also known as Verdejo in Spanish speaking countries) has a bit of sweetness, smokey notes and high acidity
- "Bual": medium-rich in texture and pretty sweet with raisin flavours
- "Malvasia": often known as Malmsey, the sweetest of all Madeiras with coffee caramel flavours, and again, high acidity that stops it becoming too cloying
What we now know as Madeira came about as a further accident when one ship actually made it back to port with some of the wine. Clearly there weren't many drunken sailors on that trip. And we can thank them for their abstinence as it was soon discovered that the wine which had been on a round trip tasted even nicer due to the heat of the sun and the extended aging. Now don't try this at home! Pretty much all of the wine on your rack will be destroyed if you leave it in the heat of the sun for any length of time.
Eventually, around the 17th Century, the process of aging the wine with heat in "estufas" or warm rooms/lofts for 5, 10, 15 or even 20 years was refined. Modern day high quality Madeiras are still made in a similar way, though cheaper versions are available where the aging process is expedited by almost "cooking" the wine by running heating elements through it at up to 55 °C for a minimum of 90 days. Vintage Madeiras can still undergo traditional aging for up to 100 years.
This wine style suffered a great decline in popularity at the hands of the Russian Revolution and the American prohibition, but luckily production has survived and quality wines are still available. Got a 40th birthday coming up? I've found some UK suppliers of 1974 Madeira, though sadly none of 1914 with which to bring in the New Year. Of course, these wines are over £100 a bottle but for about £40 you can pick up one as a 21st present from 1992 or 1993. Maybe you'll want to consider buying one now for a new baby to drink with them on their 21st - at least that way you won't have to worry about storing it correctly or it going past it's best. But as with any major wine purchase, do seek advice from an expert.
Meanwhile, I've piqued my own interest in this wine style, and I hope to explore it more in the future. Hopefully I've whetted your appetite to try it too.