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March 19, 2012

NYC Transcendental Terrantez Tasting 2012

Terrantez – it’s the name of a grape that provokes a lot of positive associations when heard by Madeira wine lovers. This grape is synonym for ethereal quality, unique aromas, longevity and especially for a characteristic bitterness that somehow always makes me think of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of darkness”.

Even though high quality Madeiras are on the rise again, the Madeira wine business as a whole has been struggling. Since tourism on the island is booming, more and more vineyards are converted to construction sites. The production of wine is still hardly profitable because of the severe conditions the producers face. The production of Terrantez wines is even less profitable. Terrantez is a low-yielding variety, quite difficult to grow and prone to Botrytis. The total production was just below 500 kg in 2005. Even after heavy promotion from the IVBAM, the production rose to only 2200 kg in 2009. In 2004 there was less than one hectare of Terrantez on the entire island.

It is the unfulfilled dream of many collectors of old Madeira wine to taste a higher number of old Terrantez wines together. But because these wines are so rare, that dream is very unlikely to become reality. More than a year ago, a thread about a possible Terrantez tasting originated in the FTLOP-discussion board. More and more participants joined in the discussion and so Roy Hersh and Mannie Berk set out on the herculean task to organize the greatest Terrantez tasting ever to take place. Since the would-be attendees came from all over the U.S., Canada, Europe and even the Cayman Islands, some central meeting point had to be found.

 

New York City from seen Rockefeller Center

NYC seen from Rockefeller Center

New York City has been the site of many historic events, so in early 2012 another historic event was added to the long list. At the 10th of March, a total of 20 Madeira wine connoisseurs met at Del Posto restaurant in NYC’s meat packing district to start an event that will go down in Madeira wine history as the most complete Terrantez tasting ever. 18 precious Terrantez bottles were brought in after having been aired for three to seven days. Jeff Porter, the wine director of Del Posto’s, had set up the group in a separate tasting room in the wine cellar. Thanks to the perfect organization of Roy and Mannie, every detail had been taken care of. Even the rather dim light bulbs had been changed to make for better illumination to be able to assess the wine’s color. After the tasting, Abby Blake, director of private dining, booked us to a separate dining room where we faced a wonderful dinner prepared from Chef Mark Ladner. The participants of the tasting group had not only each brought a valuable bottle of old Terrantez, but also dug deep into their cellars to bring additional wines for the dinner. Champagne, Burgundy, Barolo, Bordeaux and others, some in magnums or even double-magnums made for perfect dinner wines. The wines sparked lively conversation throughout the end of this extraordinary and singular event. Roy and Mannie provided an interesting booklet for the tasting, with insides into the history of this event, the Terrantez grape and the different wines themselves, each with its own unique story. Also professional photographs were taken, so we could all concentrate on the wines at hand.

I would like to express my deepest thanks to anyone involved in this once-in-a-lifetime-event. Roy and Mannie are the first to mention of course, the latter also for allowing me to adopt a bottle of the wonderful H&H Terrantez Reserva. A big thank you goes to my brother Hans for taking photographs at professional level. Also a big thank you goes to the staff at Del Posto for this perfect afternoon and evening. This tasting would not have come to life without the generosity of Madeira wine legend Dr. Robert Maliner and his witty wife Veronica. Thank you not only for joining us and entertaining us with many interesting stories about Madeira wine (Broadbent ******!), but also for enabling many participants to join in by opening the doors of your profound collection and letting them adopt certain wines.

All in all this was an absolutely outstanding event that likely will not be repeated, unfortunately that is. The depth of vintages, producers and also the depth of participants (collectors, traders, wine writers, producers and amateurs) made for a singular feast of Madeira wine. It was a Madeira wine lovers dream come true! I feel honored, privileged and outright damned lucky to have been at this truly transcendental Terrantez tasting. Great doubts remain that I will ever participate in an event like this again. But if anyone would like to give it a try, please give me a call :-)

 

lineup

The line-up of the 18 Terrantez bottles

Tasting notes:

The wines had been arranged in six flights, going from youngest to oldest. Between the flights, the participants gave their opinions on the different wines and discussed their characteristics. Also in each round we voted for wine of the flight. At the end we would vote for wine of the night, as well as for the wine we would like to take home. The overall quality of the wines was absolutely amazing, with the majority of the wines being on the sweet side. Each wine, tasted on its own, would have scored top marks, so any marks given at the tasting have to be seen within the line-up of these spectacular wines. The following tasting notes are completed with information taken from the booklet.

First flight:

1886/1887 Blandy’s Terrantez

This is the first wine to start the afternoon. The 86/87 blend once belonged to Graham Blandy who passed in on to his children in 1972. Bob Maliner bought the bottle from Christie’s in 1979. The bottle bears a simple white label with black lettering, showing the misspelled word “Terrantrez”. The wine is supposed to have spent only 13 years in wood, but the medium dark iodine with reddish rim suggests longer cask age. The wonderful nose is powerful, almost funky with some volatile acidity and dark molasses. The palate is medium dry, austere, very concentrated and quite powerful, almost a little raw with its high, piercing acidity and a rather prominent backbone of typical Terrantez bitterness. The finish is long and highly acidic and still the Terrantez “heart of darkness” shines through. May be the wine needed even more airing? It got four votes from the tasting group. 92 points in 3-2012.

1872 Quinta do Serrado Terrantez

This wine had not been part of the huge Quinta do Serrado parcel sold by Christie’s in 1989 and 1990. The Rare Wine Co. bought this wine, which came from the same vast estate as the 1827 Boal and the 1830 Malmsey sold by Christie’s, directly from the Henriques family in 1997. This Terrantez is darker than the previous wine, still medium dark iodine. The nose is also very powerful, less VA, but still well detectable, toffee and a little vanilla also there. The first sip shows an elegant and very balanced wine, with lots of molasses, also a hint of vanilla, medium sweetness, but still enough acidity as a counterweight. The wine has a wonderful silky texture, goes on with gingerbread aromas and ends with a typical Terrantez bitterness to keep it interesting. Even though I liked it a lot, the wine got zero votes from the group. 94 points in 3-2012.

1870 Blandy’s Terrantez

Patrick Grubb, longtime British Madeira wine merchant, sold this bottle in 1995, stating that it had be bottled in 1962. The color is almost the same like the QdS 1872 T, maybe a little darker and a little more on the cold side. With its rich nose of figs, molasses and a yeasty background it is quite promising, also a little VA boosts the expectations. On the tongue the wine is rather sweet, very appealing, quite fruity and grapey, very accessible with a rounded and well balanced appearance that is all about fruit. Still it has enough acid to keep the wine from being too sweet. The finish is quite long, but the typical Terrantez bitterness barely shows in the end. This is a very interesting wine. I liked it more, every time I came back to it and it overtook the QdS for first place just in the last seconds. However this wine is not very typical for Terrantez, it reminds me a little of a rich Boal. The group gave it 14 votes, making it the wine of the first flight. 94 points in 3-2012.

 

glasses

Shades of Terrantez

 

Second flight:

1862 Rutherford & Miles Terrantez

This first of the three 1862 Terrantez wines is an absolute rarity with only three bottles appearing at auction between 1971 and 2010. This one comes from the collection of Bob Maliner. The color is medium dark and rather warm chestnut brown with orange rim. After a small initial amount of VA, the nose displays caramel with a spicy background. In the mouth the wine is powerful and concentrated, quite sweet in the beginning, but then it evolves into a spicier Terrantez with high levels of acidity and the typically bitter Terrantez backbone. Like a story unfolding, the wine develops as you taste it, a wonderful Terrantez for grown-ups. It got 5 votes from the tasting group. 95 points in 3-2012.

1862 H. M. Borges Terrantez

This is Michael Broadbent’s famous desert island wine, reaching an extraordinary six stars in his book “Vintage Wine”. Dr. Maliner told us how Michael Broadbent first tasted this wine from Bob’s collection and after having tasted the 1862 started crying because Michael was so overwhelmed with it. It certainly was the wine of the flight, reaching 13 votes with its sweet sandalwood nose, including an appetizing whiff of VA and its warm brown color, quite similar to the R&M 1862 T. On the palate the wine is rather sweet, misleadingly harmonious at first, but quickly a bitter Terrantez backbone and lots of acidity burst through, together with caramel and hints of coffee. Contrary to the R&M this wine is very complete and ready, with a mellow but still quite complex and long finish. I admit even though the wine is very good I had entertained higher expectations because of Broadbent’s six star rating, however it was still wine of the flight. 96 points in 3-2012.

Undated H. M. Borges Terrantez

After being sold at the 2008 Leacock sale from Christie’s, the question remained, if this wine could be the 1862 HMB Terrantez. Apart from the wines quality also the stenciling hints at the HMB wine. So now, finally side by side with the 1862 HMB Terrantez came the moment of truth. This wine has the same warm chestnut brown color; however the nose is quite subdued, still sweet and harmonious though, almost like a small brother of the HMB wine. On the palate it is quite sweet, with lots of acidity and a well detectable Terrantez bitterness in the background, leading to an acidic finish with some caramel in the end. However I was distracted by a vegetable-like aroma that never really got away. Judging from that single experience I don’t think it’s the same wine like the 1862 HMB. On the other hand it had been tasted at the two Leacock tastings and had shown much better. This time it got no votes from the tasting group. 92 points in 3-2012.

 

booklet

A booklet with lots of information accompanied the wines

Third flight:

1846 H. M. Borges Terrantez

This first wine of the famous 1846 vintage was bottled in 1900. The appearance is somewhat cloudy; the color is muddy medium dark iodine, a little on the cold side. The sweet toffee nose is elegant and promising. On the palate the wine is very sweet but also highly acidic with loads of caramel. The Terrantez bitterness is not as prominent here as in some other wines of the tasting, but the wine is very complete, rounded, with a creamy texture, complex with layers of different nuances of sweet toffee and caramel and ends with a long and almost creamy finish with just a hint of bitterness. The group gave it three votes. 96 points in 3-2012.

1846 Cossart Gordon Terrantez Special Reserve

Next was the Cossart Gordon Special Reserve. The wine is a little darker than the HMB of the same vintage. The nose is rather subdued, a little caramel there, also some diesely aromas but going well with the overall impression of age. In the mouth there is lots of sweetness, powerful acidity, but perfectly balanced and rounded, also caramel, a hint of cinnamon, bread and molasses, with a general impression of richness and opulence. The whole wine is carried on a bitter Terrantez base layer to a long acidic finish. It’s a very well defined wine with power and complexity, wonderful. It got three votes from the group. 97 points in 3-2012.

1846 Avery’s Terrantez

This wine was probably purchased by Avery’s of Bristol in the 1950ies from the Madeira Wine Company, called Madeira Wine Association back then. The color is medium dark iodine with a grayish rim. The nose is not very prominent, but promising with phenolic sweetness, spices and some caramel. The first sip lets me immediately think of the CG wine, just as sweet, just as powerful and also well balanced. It’s all there, the typical Terrantez bitterness as well, the molasses and the long finish. For me the wine was a little less complete though, when compared to the Cossart Gordon wine. It could well be the same wine however, may be bottled at a different date with a different label, who knows? It got 6 votes from the tasting group, tying it with the Leacock wine for wine of the flight. 96 points in 3-2012.

1846 Leacock Terrantez

The last wine tasted from the 1846 group was also the most mysterious one. Until the 2008 Leacock sale at Christie’s, this wine had not been traded at any auctions. It sure is darker than the other 1846 Terrantez wines, with a dark chestnut brown. This is might be due to the fact, that for reasons unknown this wine was matured in malmsey casks, so it became sweeter and darker than the normal run of Terrantez. The nose is sweet with toffee as is the palate with its sweet and balanced toffee richness. The acidity is not as prominent as in the other 1846 wines, as is the Terrantez bitterness. Nevertheless the wine delivers the complete package, with creamy caramel, a little nutmeg and a wonderfully bitter Terrantez finish of considerable length. So is this the same wine like Avery’s and the CG? Hard to tell, but when Eric inspected the bottles, he found all three glass bottles to be identical. So does this prove that the same wine is in all three bottles? Certainly not, but it proves that the wines must have been bottled at about the same time and also probably in the same facility. By the way, thinking back to the wonderful Blandy’s 1846 Terrantez wine I tasted with Roy in Seattle in 2007, I am quite certain, that the Blandy’s wine was completely different from any of the other 1846 wines tasted this time. The Blandy’s wine was not as sweet, more on the smoky side and with a strong hint of vanilla that I did not really find in the other 1846 wines this time. The Leacock wine gained six votes, tying it for wine of the flight with Avery’s Terrantez. 96 points in 3-2012.

 

Placemat

18 wonderful wines in one place

Fourth flight:

1834 Barbeito Terrantez

This whole fourth flight shows a step up in darkness of color. The 1834 Barbeito Terrantez features dark coffee brown and at first is not very promising with its very subdued caramel nose that also shows a hint of cinnamon as well as some ripe honey aromas. In the mouth however the wine is very powerful, highly concentrated, like an elixir, very sweet, with tons of yummy caramel, toffee, molasses, all balanced by powerful acidity, lasting forever it seems with its long acidic finish with a well integrated Terrantez backbone. It got three votes from the group. 97 points in 3-2012.

Henriques & Henriques Terrantez Reserva

The “heavenly quartet” of old H&H wines is well known, but there are more members of this group, amongst them an old Verdelho and this Terrantez Reserva. Only a few bottles have been left and that means that H&H will not sell this wine, so it is really nowhere to find. This bottle belonged to the John Cossart collection and had been sold to the Rare Wine Co. From what Alan Gardner had been told by John Cossart, the wine might be either vintage 1825 or 1827. As Mannie Berk told us, the wine had been rather closed after the long bottle storage. So the Reserva was put into demijohns and aired for six months before being bottled and recorked in fall 2011. This wine is the lightest in color of the fourth flight, with its dark and shiny iodine. The nose is very pleasant, sweet and grapey, elegant. On the palate the wine is medium sweet, rounded and mellow, not as heavy and powerful as the other two examples of the flight, but combines elegance with enough power, acid and complexity, with caramel and toffee floating on a layer of typical Terrantez bitterness. The wine is lean, elegant, well defined and very precise and focused, with a very long acidic finish. It is a wonderful sample of Terrantez, with four votes from the group. 97 points in 3-2012.

1802 Acciaioly Terrantez

This is the darkest wine of the tasting with a dark cola color and a slightly reddish rim. The nose is very pleasant with sweet caramel, aromas of liquorice and toffee. And then the palate – wow! The wine is so powerful, it rolls over you like a tank; it is power and concentration in perfection, yet very complex. You really have to work your way through this wine, through layers of caramel, toffee, molasses, cinnamon, as well as a nuance of roasted coffee. And then when you think you reached the end, the wine opens up and shows a beautiful Terrantez “heart of darkness” glowing vibrantly in the dark. The finish has to be measured in minutes, with the pleasant Terrantez bitterness shining through till the very end. This is a wine to kneel down and pray. It is certainly one of the top three Madeira wines I have ever tasted, interestingly all of them Terrantez wines, with an unknown 1839 and the 1846 Blandy’s being the other two. This perfect sample of Terrantez got 11 votes from the group, making it wine of the flight. 99 points in 3-2012.

 

1795-1760

The 1795, 1790 and 1760 Terrantez wines

Fifth flight:

1795 Companhia Vinicola da Madeira Terrantez

Finally, we arrived at the 1795 vintage – certainly the most famous vintage of Madeira wines. For years I had been hunting for a tasting note of the CVM 1795 Terrantez, but apart from a few personal reports there never was a published TN to be found. This bottle of 1795 CVM T had been bought by Alan Gardner at a Christie’s auction prior to 1991. It was a stenciled bottle and according to Alex Liddell there were only ever two dozen of these. So now the CVM stands in front of me and shows a warm medium dark iodine color with chestnut rim. The nose is wonderful with an overall impression of warmth and concentration, also showing some toffee and vanilla. In the mouth there is an initial wave of brown sugar sweetness, also vanilla again, caramel, sweet toffee, all coupled with high acidity with perfect balance. Also some darker aromas linger in the background, ashes, roasted coffee and of course the typical Terrantez bitterness. The acidic finish is very long and ends with a short glimpse of coffee. This wine is very impressive, a little more focused than the other two 1795 wines and got eleven votes from the tasting group, making it first wine in this flight. 97 points in 3-2012.

1795 Barbeito Terrantez

This wine is a long time favorite of mine. Unfortunately since the last bottling of the remaining 23 bottles in 2006 it has become increasingly harder to find. However it still surfaces at auctions from time to time. The wine originally belonged to the Hinton family. Oscar Acciaioly bought the wine from the HIntons and later it was devided between his descendants. Marion Barbeito bought part of the remaining wine and returned it to wood. The wine was also sold as “1795 Terrantez Garrafeira Particular” with stopper corks. The color is a warm and medium dark iodine, the nose has little VA, is quite floral, ethereal, very elegant. On the palate the wine is rather sweet, rounded, with some caramel, toffee and that typically bitter Terrantez background. The wine is powerful, concentrated, a wonderful example of a sweet-style Terrantez with a long finish of Terrantez bitterness and warm toffee. The tasting group gave it five votes. 96 points in 3-2012.

1795 F. F. Ferraz Terrantez

For decades this wine had been extremely rare, when suddenly 20 bottles sold in one day at Christie’s Leacock sale in December 2008. This wine had also been part of the Graham Blandy collection, passed on to Adam Blandy and then given to Chris Blandy who brought it to the tasting. The bottle itself is quite impressive, dark and heavy with a relief of F. F. Ferraz & Co Lda Madeira on the shoulder. The wine itself shows a medium dark oaky brown, a little cloudy. The nose is lean and elegant, shows a little VA, very promising. The palate is quite sweet, with high acidity, concentrated and powerful, loaded with toffee and typical Terrantez bitterness and a long acidic finish. Personally I didn’t like this wine as much as the other two 1795 wines, since this sample didn’t seem as multidimensional as the CVM and the Barbeito wines. But some participants who had the 1795 FFF before thought, that it did not show up to its ability. However it still got 2 votes from the tasting group. 95 points in 3-2012.

Sixth flight:

1790 H. M. Borges Terrantez

The final flight featured two wines from one of my favorite producers: H. M. Borges. Henrique Menezes Borges left several old Madeira wines that he considered being his best to his children. The 1790 shows beautifully brilliant medium dark iodine with a slightly reddish rim. The nose displays an initial blast of piercing VA, then burnt sugar and pleasant toffee. The wine is medium dry, highly acidic and very, very concentrated. A little toffee and caramel are enveloped by a rising cloud of dark Terrantez bitterness. It’s a powerful wine with the concentration and bitterness almost overwhelming, ending with a bitter finish of medium length. This Madeira might be a little over the top but is nevertheless still very impressive. It got zero votes from the tasting group. 94 points in 3-2012.

1760 H. M. Borges Terrantez

This was the last wine of the tasting, last but certainly not least. The 1760 Terrantez shows the same brilliant reddish dark iodine like its younger brother from 1790. The nose also shows a little initial VA, with some roasted aromas, caramel and a note of petrol. On the palate the wine is highly concentrated and very, very acidic. The wine is so powerful, almost over-concentrated; you have to fight the first attack of overwhelming acidity and Terrantez bitterness and then suddenly the pace becomes slower and aromas of caramel, toffee, cloves and coffee shine though. The finish is long and quite bitter, but with a short glimpse of acidity at the end. It is a very good and powerful wine, almost over the top, but still hanging in there. What a wonderful wine to end the truly Transcendental Terrantez Tasting; with 18 votes from the group. 95 points in 3-2012.