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February 28, 2008

The tasting of the twenty sweet 10 Year Olds

So we all like a good old Madeira wine that offers complexity, unique aromas and a tasting experience hardly matched by any other wine. But for everyday drinking you can not always open that precious old bottle and so you have to come up with something else. Whereas most of the 15YO blends are indeed very well done, it is my personal belief that the 10YO blends offer an excellent quality-price-ratio. Also I have the impression that the sweeter blends offer a higher quality in general, but that is very likely because of the fact that the dry blends are more difficult to produce. When you can't rely on a certain sweetness to carry the momentum of the wine, you have to take extra care to give it enough body and complexity. So in this tasting we concentrated on sweet and semi-sweet 10YO Madeira blends. Also these are the ideal wines for anyone new to Madeira wine.
We tried to taste wines from all the main producers that still exist, i.e. H. M. Borges Lda., Henriques & Henriques Vinhos, the different brands of the Madeira Wine Company (Blandy's, Cossart Gordon, Leacock's, Miles, the latter no longer available), Pereira D'Oliveira Lda., Vinhos Barbeito Lda. and the different brands of Vinhos Justino Henriques Lda. The wines of Artur de Barros e Sousa are not available outside of Funchal, so we did not include the Olim brothers in this tasting, even if their wines are generally considered of high quality. We did include the 10YO Malmsey blend of Broadbent Selections even though it is hardly available in continental Europe. But this brand is very popular on the American market, so we felt it needed to participate. To get even more diversity we also included a 10YO semi-sweet blend from Adegas de Torreao even though it is no longer available. The wines were obtained from different sources, mainly bought on the island itself during various holiday trips. Bartholomew Broadbent from Broadbent Selections Inc. was very helpful and provided us with some samples of the Broadbent Madeira range. Finally some missing bottles were bought online from www.madeira-shopping.com and their service was excellent.
All the wines received decanting 24 hours before they were tasted, because some of the wines had been in bottle for more than three years. To taste wines with a similar degree of sweetness we grouped the 9 semi-sweet and the 11 sweet blends into two different flights. Most of the semi-sweet and sweet ten year old blends are made from what used to be called the noble varieties i.e. Boal/Bual or Malmsey/Malvazia/Malvasia. However a few are made from Tinta Negra Mole (=TNM) and in these cases you will not find the grape's name on the label, due to regulations of the European Community. Today all these grape varieties are classified as recommended anyway, and -as can be read in the chapter about grape varieties- the Tinta grape has good potential if adequately treated and matured. And don’t forget: In accordance with EU regulations even the blends made from noble varieties have up to 15% of TNM added, mostly for reasons of lower production costs.
Today the bottle designs range from the traditional stencils (machine made or on stickers) over traditional paper labels to colorful designs that take some time to get used to. Also the bottles themselves come in all shapes, from cylindrical to curved, some very short and sturdy, others long and elegant.

The lineup of the twenty 10 Year Olds.

The lineup of the twenty 10 Year Olds.

The participants in alphabetical order:

Adegas de Torreao 10 YO Sweet Old Reserve (TNM)
Barbeito 10 YO Bual
Barbeito 10 YO Malmsey
Blandy 10 YO Bual
Blandy 10 YO Malmsey
Borges 10 YO Bual
Borges 10 YO Malmsey
Broadbent 10 YO Malmsey
Cossart Gordon 10 YO Boal
Cossart Gordon 10 YO Malmsey
D'Oliveira 10 YO Medium Sweet (TNM)
D'Oliveira 10 YO Sweet (TNM)
East India 10 YO Sweet Old Reserve (TNM)
H&H 10 YO Bual
H&H 10 YO Malmsey
Justinos 10 YO Bual
Justinos 10 YO Malmsey
Justinos 10 YO Sweet Old Reserve (TNM)
Leacock 10 YO Bual
Miles 10 YO Malmsey

First flight: 9 semi-sweet ten year old Madeira blends made from Bual or in the Bual style

Torreao Old Reserve. Adegas de Torreao 10 YO Sweet Old Reserve (TNM):
Bottle: Heavy cylindrical bottle with yellow print and a small island map.
Color: Medium dark tawny, a little cloudy.
Nose: Subdued nose with lots of VA, strange smell of vegetables, not unpleasant, but simply not fitting the overall impression of spices like cinnamon, raisins and caramel.
Palate: Medium sweet with medium acidity, roasted aromas of burnt sugar and wood, also candied orange de Seville but not fully integrated, even a bit raw and spirity with a long bitter finish.
Barbeito 10 YO Bual. Barbeito 10 YO Bual
Bottle: Heavy cylindrical bottle with big stencils on the front.
Color: The color is the lightest, together with the Borges wine, showing a bright tawny.
Nose: Sweet nose with a little VA, featuring dried fruits and vanilla, promising.
Palate: The wine is medium sweet with low acidity, a little sugarcane to begin with and then more vanilla, also some fruit with lemon dominating, no roasted aromas here, but a nice fruity finish. This is a very modern and fruity Bual blend and easy to drink.
Blandy 10 YO Bual. Blandy 10 YO Bual
Bottle: Cylindrical slightly curved bottle with elegant paper label.
Color: Medium dark mahogany color.
Nose: Sweet nose with lots of VA, featuring a variety of roasted aromas, toffee, caramel and even a little roasted oak.
Palate: Very sweet and rich, the sweetest of the Bual blends, together with the Cossart wine. Also high acidity perfectly balanced with the sweetness, roasted aromas also dominate the palate, lots of toffee, coffee, oak and walnuts, leading to a long and bitter finish. This is a rich and almost voluptuous Madeira blend.
Borges 10 YO Bual. Borges 10 YO Bual
Bottle: Heavy cylindrical bottle with small slip label on the front, unusual appearance, but I liked it.
Color: The color is the lightest, together with the Barbeito wine, showing a bright and slightly reddish tawny.
Nose: Medium sweetness with a little VA, raisins and toffee and even a little beef bouillon, pleasant.
Palate: Rather sweet with high acidity that carries the wine through to the acidic finish of medium length. Well integrated with toffee and dried fruits, this wine is mainstream, but also very pleasant, mouth watering and easy to drink.
Cossart 10 YO Boal. Cossart Gordon 10 YO Boal
Bottle: Elegant curved bottle with paper label.
Color: Dark iodine color.
Nose: Sweet and fruity nose with a little VA, brown sugar and beef bouillon.
Palate: Very sweet, the sweetest of the Bual blends, together with the Blandy wine. Lots of fruit, some candied orange de Seville, toffee, medium acidity, very rounded and harmonious, ending with a short but well balanced finish. This blend is very easy to drink and exemplary for a modern fruity Bual blend and very accessible too.
D'Oliveira 10 YO Medium Sweet. D'Oliveira 10 YO Medium Sweet (TNM)
Bottle: Heavy and long cylindrical bottle with a colorful paper label.
Color: The color is the darkest of all Bual blends, a dark mahogany.
Nose: The nose is all about dark and roasted aromas, molasses, caramel, toffee and coffee and also very high on VA.
Palate: This very viscous wine is medium sweet, features medium acidity and a variety of roasted aromas that leads to a “dark” impression. Coffee, molasses, caramel, ashes, it’s all here, culminating in a bitter and roasted finish of medium length. This is an almost “malmsey-ish” Bual blend, not very typical, but definitely old-style, I liked it.
H&H 10 YO Bual. H&H 10 YO Bual
Bottle: Elegant and very long bottle with a colorful paper label.
Color: Bright iodine almost tawny color.
Nose: Subdued nose with hints of sweetness and honey, almonds and caramel.
Palate: The wine is sweet and fruity with a focus on orange, well balanced with medium acidity and a nice nutty finish of medium length. The wine is rather mainstream, but elegant, pleasant and easy to drink.
Justinos 10 YO Bual. Justinos 10 YO Bual
Bottle: Curved sturdy bottle with stencils.
Color: Medium dark iodine color, with orange rim.
Nose: Subdued sweet nose with only a little VA, sugarcane and toffee are dominating, rounded and pleasant.
Palate: The wine is rather sweet and well balanced with high acidity and quite viscous, the palate is also dominated by toffee and sugarcane, very harmonious, ending in a surprisingly bitter finish that contrasts nicely to the initial sweetness and keeps the wine from being cloying - well done.
Leacock 10 YO Bual. Leacock 10 YO Bual
Bottle: Cylindrical bottle with paper label.
Color: This wine features the second darkest color of the Bual blends, a medium dark mahogany.
Nose: Sweet nose with lots of VA, a little unfocused, but with emphasis on toffee and caramel.
Palate: Almost as sweet as the Blandy and Cossart blends with medium acidity, this wine is all toffee and sugarcane, round and harmonious with an all-toffee finish of medium length. This Bual blend is a little one-dimensional perhaps, but easy to drink and accessible.

Second flight: 11 sweet ten year old Madeira blends made from Malmsey or in the Malmsey style

Barbeito 10 YO Malmsey. Barbeito 10 YO Malmsey
Bottle: Heavy cylindrical bottle with big stencils on the front.
Color: This wine displays the brightest color of all the Malmseys, showing a bright tawny.
Nose: The nose starts with a little VA, then dried fruit and an interesting smokiness, promising.
Palate: This blend is medium sweet with well balanced medium acidity, rather light in general but very fruity, lean and elegant, ending in a long fruity lemon finish with just the right amount of tickling acidity to leave the mouth refreshed. The Barbeito blend is the lightest of Malmsey blends, well done in the modern fruity Madeira style.
Blandy 10 YO Malmsey. Blandy 10 YO Malmsey
Bottle: Cylindrical slightly curved bottle with elegant paper label.
Color: The color is a medium dark mahogany.
Nose: The rich nose is dominated by sugarcane and toffee, maybe also a little walnut here, also some VA that adds to the impression of richness.
Palate: The wine is sweet and rich, but the high acidity keeps it from being cloying, toffee and caramel lead to a long and slightly smoky finish. This is a well-done example of a rich “non-baked” Malmsey blend.
Borges 10 YO Malmsey. Borges 10 YO Malmsey
Bottle: Heavy cylindrical bottle with small slip label on the front, unusual appearance, but I liked it.
Color: The wine shows a dark iodine color.
Nose: The nose offers a little VA, lots of caramel and orange, promising.
Palate: The wine is very sweet with very high acidity, in fact the highest in all the Malmsey blends together with the D’Oliveira wine. The palate is very fruity, lemon, orange, even a little grapefruit – it’s all here, towards the finish the wine shifts to a more toffee and caramel style and then ends with an acidic finish that underlines the fruity impression once again. This wine is a good combination of fruit and toffee – well done and pleasant to drink.
Broadbent 10 YO Malmsey. Broadbent 10 YO Malmsey
Bottle: Heavy cylindrical bottle with stencils.
Color: This blend shows a dark iodine color.
Nose: The nose starts with a little VA and shows walnut and molasses, then also a strange eucalyptus note that seems a little unusual but not out of place, every time I smelled it again I liked it even more.
Palate: This very viscous wine is sweet with medium acidity, starts with walnut, molasses and toffee, then also a little glimpse of orange flavour, but then shifts back to a nice long walnut finish. Well done – and to all of you who ever wondered if this is the same wine like the VJH 10 YO Malmsey, just with a different label: the eucalyptus nose was easy to recognize in this wine, the VJH nose was very different. These are definitely two separate wines.
Cossart 10 YO Malmsey. Cossart Gordon 10 YO Malmsey
Bottle: Elegant curved bottle with paper label.
Color: The color is the darkest of all Malmsey blends, a dark mahogany.
Nose: The nose is spicy and fruity, showing just the right amount of VA to make it interesting, also a little toffee here.
Palate: This wine is sweet with high acidity and also perfectly balanced, very fruity, almost grapy, elegant, with a long fruity finish – a good example of the modern fruity style of a Malmsey blend.
Oliveira 10 YO Sweet. D'Oliveira 10 YO Sweet (TNM)
Bottle: Heavy and long cylindrical bottle with a colorful paper label.
Color: The wine shows a medium dark mahogany color.
Nose: The nose starts with tickling VA, then lots of sweetness, butterscotch, caramel and dried fruits.
Palate: The wine is sweet with very high acidity, in fact the highest in all the Malmsey blends together with the Borges wine. In contrast to the nose, the palate is surprisingly fruity; an impression that is also emphasized by the high acidity, also a little caramel here, but the long finish is again all fruit, with orange dominating. This is a perfect mouth watering example of a sweet TNM blend.
East India Sweet Old Reserve. East India 10 YO Sweet Old Reserve (TNM)
Bottle: Curved sturdy bottle with stencils.
Color: The wine shows a dark iodine color.
Nose: The nose shows an interesting pepper note, also a little VA and toffee, then shifting towards more roasted aromas like coffee and ashes.
Palate: This TNM blend is sweet with medium acidity, displaying aromas of raisins, caramel and also a slightly bitter and burnt taste, the wine is well done but the finish is rather spirity, before it ends with an impression of roasted coffee.
H&H 10YO Malmsey. H&H 10 YO Malmsey
Bottle: Elegant and very long bottle with a colorful paper label.
Color: This wine shows a medium dark mahogany.
Nose: The nose is all raisins, also some roasted aromas here and a little VA.
Palate: The H&H blend is very sweet but this sweetness is also perfectly counter-balanced with high acidity, toffee is dominating the palate, but a little smokiness and the high acidity keep the wine from being cloying, the finish is also a little smoky so it all works out perfectly. This wine may not be the most complex one, but is very pleasant to drink.
Justinos 10YO Malmsey. Justinos 10 YO Malmsey
Bottle: Curved sturdy bottle with stencils.
Color: The color is a slightly reddish medium dark iodine.
Nose: The nose shows almost no VA, lots of raisins, figs, also sweet vanilla and a strange but not unpleasant Martini-rosso-like aroma that reminds me of cough syrup.
Palate: This blend is sweet with high acidity, overflowing with toffee and a long toffee finish. The cough syrup is there as well, but again this is rather interesting than disturbing. Even though VJH also matures the Broadbent 10YO Malmsey, the two wines are definitely not the same.
Justinos Sweet Old Reserve. Justinos 10 YO Sweet Old Reserve (TNM)
Bottle: Curved sturdy bottle with stencils.
Color: The color is a slightly reddish medium dark iodine.
Nose: The nose starts with a whiff of VA, then toffee and caramel as well as candied orange de Seville.
Palate: The wine is sweet with medium acidity, then –quite unexpected- an all-roasted kaleidoscope of aromas: coffee, roasted onions, ashes, also raisins; it all ends with a long bitter finish. The overall impression of this well done wine is rather “dark”.
Miles 10YO Malmsey. Miles 10 YO Malmsey
Bottle: Cylindrical bottle with paper label.
Color: Medium dark iodine brown.
Nose: The nose displays toffee, molasses and caramel, very pleasant and rounded, just a little VA to make it more interesting.
Palate: This wine is rich and viscous, good sweetness with perfectly balanced medium acidity, caramel and toffee first, together with a little VA, then raisins, figs, marmalade, it ends with a smoky and slightly burnt and bitter finish. This blend lacks a little in definition but is very pleasant and a perfect desert wine of the old Malmsey style.

Conclusions:
1. The overall quality of the 10YO blends has improved dramatically since the 1970ies. I have tasted a lot of old blends from these times and quite often the wines were of low quality, exhibiting insane amounts of VA, and displayed strange vegetable soup aromas. Also most of these blends had little to offer besides a uniform “baked” taste and were usually rather boring, compared to other fortified wines.
2. The variety of the styles featured today is remarkable. Many wines still offer a mainstream combination of aromas and that is good too, since most of them are easy and pleasant to drink. Other wines are still very much on the traditional side with roasted and/or even baked aromas. Also there are many wines showing the more modern style of Madeira with an emphasis on fruit and complexity. Compared to the 1970ies, today you really have a wide variety to choose from and I am very happy about this diversity of styles.
3. Comparing the blends made from Tinta Negra Mole with the other blends, again I got the impression that TNM can reach the same levels of quality as the so-called noble grapes. It is my hope that TNM can help promote Madeira wine in general by making the production of quality blends with a good quality-price-ratio easier and also more profitable. In the end this will help the producers to shoulder the economic problems that still slow down the replanting of the noble grapes. So may be TNM can not only play its part in the disaster of Madeira wine (even though this is not entirely true since the direct producers i.e. grapes not from the Vitis vinifera family were the main cause for the bad quality after oidium and phylloxera) but also in the revival - in fact I believe it already does.