Vol. 1, No. 22, June 14, 1999
© Copyright 1999 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.
Madeira: A wine for the long haul
James O'Grady's recent query offers a good example: "I want to purchase a nice wine that will age for 25 years," he wrote. "I am getting married this summer and I want to buy a bottle we can drink on our 25th anniversary. Obviously I would like it to taste better then then now. Any suggestions?"
Perhaps surprisingly, this isn't as easy an assignment as you might think. The vast majority of the world's wines are meant for immediate consumption, not for aging; and most of the rare beauties that will hold out for 25 years require very specialized storage at a constant 55F (13C) -- too cold for air conditioning but too warm for a refrigerator -- in order to show their best after all that time. Even the greatest Bordeaux from the finest vintages stand little chance of surviving that long at room temperature.
The two most durable wines I know of are Vintage Port and Madeira, both of which are fortified with brandy, which makes them both strong and long-lived.
Madeira in particular is almost indestructible, having been developed to survive, and even improve, during long ocean voyages from its island source off North Africa to thirsty markets in East India and the New World. Strong and warming, Madeira ranges from very sweet (Malmsey) to medium sweet (Bual) to rather dry (Verdelho and Sercial), with burnt-sugar, earthy and caramel flavors, always with a firm, even steely acidity; and it will almost literally last forever, even under very poor storage conditions. What's more, Madeira remains surprisingly affordable for an ageworthy wine, generally ranging from $20 to $35 for a recently produced bottle sold in the U.S.
So if you're looking for a wine to hold for a celebration in the distant future and you don't own a wine "cellar," you can hardly do better than a Madeira for a wine that's likely to last.
I'm particularly interested in gathering your stories on this topic. If you've tried to hold a wine for the long haul under less-than-optimal conditions, either successfully or not, I hope you'll get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me about it. And, as always, don't hesitate to drop us a line if you'd like to comment on our topics and tasting notes, suggest a topic for a future bulletin, or just talk about wine.
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A fine Madeira
Clear, dark copper-amber. Rich aromas of "stone" fruit, plums and prunes, citrus and odd but appealing earthy nuances, truffles and wild mushrooms and the leafy, not-quite-dank character that wine tasters call "forest floor." Sweet and tart, full and strong, piercing acidity making a sturdy structure for warm stewed-fruit flavors with earthy notes. U.S. importer: Europvin USA, Emeryville, Calif. (June 13, 1999)
FOOD MATCH: After-dinner sipping. Try it with nuts and cheese.
You start out buying a bottle of wine for dinner, then a case to work through, and before you know it you’re starting to collect wine. Then you begin reading wine accessory catalogs, shaking your head at the prices of free-standing cellar units. If you're at this stage in your evolution as a wine fancier, you might enjoy a new article that we've added this week on The Wine Lovers' Page. Mike Bassman, a New York City wine fancier, offers his tips - and those of our Wine Lovers' Discussion Group - on selecting, buying, installing and using a commercial wine cellar in his article, Buying a Stand-Alone Wine Cellar. Please be assured that this is not a commercial sales pitch but the personal views of Mike and other group participants based on their experiences as consumers.
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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.
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