Madeira is one of my favorite fortified wines. When I was a general manager at Mason's restaurant located in the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco I brought Madeira into the restaurant as a compliment to our port selection.
My immersion into Madeira wine began at a tasting hosted by the Wine Spectator featuring the legendary Michael Broadbent. I was introduced to Michael Broadbent as a wine writer. I read his book "The Great Vintage Wine Book" which has 6,000 tasting notes dating back to the 17th century. His tasting notes are estimated to number over 90,000 in more than 140 notebooks. He has received the acknowledgment of "Master of Wine" and has lectured on the subject of wine since the mid-1950's.
In the early 90's I went to this "Madeira" event to find out more about the subject from this legendary wine expert. I went not knowing what to expect but found out that this beverage would become my favorite "fortified" beverage.
A brief history of Madeira includes the fact that Madeira was poured during Thomas Jefferson's toast at the signing of the declaration of independence in 1776. Madeira was also savored at the inauguration of George Washington. Madeira was so ubiquitous that it perfumed ladies handkerchieves; was given to military personnel for serving their country; and was frequently recommended for sick and overworked people.
Madeira is a fortified (fortified with brandy) wine aged under heat and produced in the demarcated region of Madeira located off the northwestern coast of Morocco composed of two inhabited islands, Madeira and Porto Santo. There are five distinct grapes: 85% of Madeira is produced with the red grape, Negra Mole which is a crossing of Grenache and Pinot Noir. But you are also introduced to four other "noble" grapes which are white wine grapes including Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, and Malvasia (aka Malmsey).
There are four levels of sweetness marked on every Madeira wine bottle label:
Sercial - Dry
Verdelho - Medium Dry
Bual - Medium Sweet
Malmsey - Sweet
Another layer to add to this tapestry of flavor is the fact that Madeira is unique not only due to its wonderful sweetness and textured palate, but also for its ability to endure. Madeira doesn't change in any way when left open. I've tasted Madeira open twenty years and the flavor was alive and full of the same structure that was so engaging when first opened.
Which brings me back to my Broadbent tasting. When I tasted the different styles of Madeira and learned of its history coupled with the commitment to produce a world class beverage... I was transfixed on the quality and mouthfeel of this transcendent wine. That is why I purchased for the Fairmount a case of 1873 Madeira to be enjoyed by the aristocratic clientele frequenting this beautiful restaurant, Mason's, atop Nob Hill in San Francisco.
When patrons would ask about the 1873 Madeira I would simply turn to them and state, "Personally, I drink no wine made this century". Of course that wasn't true but it certainly got their attention.
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