Revisiting two fortifieds (blind tasting)

Ideally, I make my tasting notes over several days, noticing nuances and changes. But in a blind tasting there is much more emphasis on speed. Its challenging to see how accurately (or not)  I have described the wine, its age and origins after it’s unmasked. Here were two wines that I have previously reviewed on this site – my descriptions and conclusions were (gratifyingly) consistent – with one important exception.

nv mcwilliams 25 tawny

McWilliams Show reserve Tawny limited release 25 years old 19.5%
Riverina, NSW. 500ml, bottled in 2015. Also reviewed in June 2020.

Khaki/olive colour with an orange rim. There is a lot of vanilla here, with sweet fruit and a savoury finish. Luscious, and convincing with dried citrus fruits, brazil nuts, jersey caramel. Australian for sure, and a tawny style.  South Australia or Rutherglen, and 20 years old (or more). Well I cannot be faulted for not getting the region correct. Made from Grenache, Touriga and Shiraz. Enjoy the decadence!

Drink now, 93 points.

h&h 20 terrantez

Henriques and Henriques 20 y/o terrantez 20%
Madeira. Also reviewed in January 2019

Pale orange/khaki, with a clear rim. Sea-spray, green olives, citrus peel. Tawny port style. Palate is savoury, crisp and prolonged. Acidity is pronounced, massive. Beautiful wine. Madeira? Verdelho? Palate sings with freshness, citrus, nuts, fruitcake- the works. Terrantez is rare, and fits between Verdelho and Bual in sweetness. This wine was 74 g/l residual sugar, but swamped by the acidity, that propels further tasting investigation.

Last time, due to some staleness I found, I gave 88 points. This time no problems, and rather than a life of weeks after opening, a life of months is possible- except in my household.

Drink to 2050, 94 points


Two sweet, and two strong

2000 Ch Rieussec (Fargues, Sauternes) 13.5%
1999 Ch Coutet (Barsac, Sauternes) 13%
These were served as a pair (masked). The first wine had more of a copper colour, but with definitive Sauternes character – vanilla, cumquat, wax, honey, bitter orange and citrus rind. It seemed ripe, ready, and enjoyable. 2000 was a wet year with a small crop – 65% Semillon, 24% sav blanc, 11% muscadelle.
Drink to 2025, and 92 points

The second wine also seemed typically Sauternes, albeit with less overt acidity. Pale orange colour, melon and tropical pineapple were its key features. This was also ready, but in a subtler style than the first wine. Sound, correct but few thrills. 75% Semillon, 23% sav blanc, 2% muscadelle.
Drink now, 90 points

I (correctly) guessed both wines were from the mid to late 1990’s, and from “lesser” years.

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Henriques and Henriques 20 yo Malvasia 20%

H&H 20 malvasia

Indestructible; serious Madeira will keep for months after opening! This makes a bottle price turn into a bargain. Many don’t blink at the price of a Portuguese VP that (should) be kept many years for maximum reward; the incredible Australian muscats and topaques that can cost hundreds of dollars are still a certain bargain; and there is Madeira. It’s part of Portugal, even though 1000k south-west (closer to Morocco).

The “under 10 year olds” Madeira category holds no magic for me; 15 years sometimes; 20 + usually, and older examples are available that should amaze friends who possess descriptive talents and senses alive to possibilities – not just fortified wines.

Malvasia (malmsey) is the sweetest of the Madeira varieties, and this wine will be around 100 g/l of residual sugar, with the acidity making the wines a delicious sweet and sour playground.

Dark amber colour with a clear khaki/green rim; walnuts, mahogany, espresso, earth and brick – roasted but not burnt.

This wine is a meal in a glass – fruitcake spices, dried fruits, almond, walnut, fig, dates and high acidity that leaves me begging for more.

After opening, the style benefits from a decant and a few hours- at least- to unfurl,

Drink now (there’s no improvement after bottling); 93 points

2001 Henriques and Henriques Sercial 20%

Madeira (a Portuguese island, although 1000 km SW, and lies off the NW African coast).

The styles are fortified with neutral spirit, and barrel aged in casks – in this instance bottled in 2014.  Most wines are the result of careful blending; the single vintage release is often called a colheita.

I have previously listed some Madeira internet resources on this blog; one I missed with many details of the wine reviewed is here.

The grape variety Sercial generally makes the driest styles, with sweeter ones ranging through Verdelho, Bual, and Malvasia (Malmsey). Young Madeira styles don’t have the complexities which emerge after 15 or more years (or much longer). But 15-20 years aging suits my budget!

Bright amber colour; scents of salinity and mixed nuts (almond, hazelnut) with citrus peel.

Superb palate, supple and rich, with orange cake, stonefruit, salinity, mixed nuts and astonishing length. Sweetness (55 g/l), is folded in with depth of fruit, and balanced acidity. This wine is fresh, complete and riveting.

To 2030 and 94 points.

Henriques and Henriques 15 y/o twins from Madeira

These wines proved much more of a success than the 20-yo Terrantez I described  in January 2019.

Madeira (a Spanish island) is essentially a lost cause in Australia; there is little readily available; tastings are rare, and presumably its only imported to cater for the (well-heeled) minority that love the style. I have been to precisely one tasting – it didn’t take long to realise that 5 and 10 year old examples didn’t provide excitement or distinction. Don’t bother!

Like many other regions producing fortified wines, there is a cachet (and price premium) for vintage (colheita) examples. Madeira is renowned for its acidity; they will last for decades and provide pleasure over weeks even when opened. The better examples are matured in old large oak, with its inherent slow oxidation and evaporative losses delivering further complexity as the wine mature.

Bibendum and TSA (the Spanish Acquisition – love that name!) import; but good luck finding retail distribution; bits of Blandy’s, and Barbeito also seem available in Australia with a decent Google search.

Here is another website which includes a wealth of information about Henriques and Henriques wines.

pair 15 yo madeira

Henriques and Henriques 15 yo Verdelho Madeira 20%
Amber colour; it exudes a mix of dried pear, roast coffee bean and fruitcake spices, with a pleasing touch of floor polish. Its relatively dry (72 g/l rs) for the style, and presents somewhat as a cross between a tawny style and an amontillado sherry; hazelnut, date and caramels make a winning presence. It’s not straightforward to suggest food matches, but a charcuterie platter or a French onion soup will work.

Drink now, and 91 points

Henriques and Henriques 15 yo Malvasia Madeira 20%
Teak and mahogany colour; iodine, fig, orange peel. The palate (110 g/l rs) is entirely balanced; bitter dark chocolates, salted pecan and peanuts; this chewy wine has enormous presence and style. The acidity cuts a swathe through the richness. Very smart! Match with a stiff coffee or an aged cheese- perhaps a cheddar or Comte?

Drink now, and 93 points for this wine of intrigue.

Henriques and Henriques Terrantez 20% (Madeira)

I am well out of my comfort zone here, as respectable Madeiras are not easy to find, or affordable in Australia, so my tasting experience is limited. This wine was an opportunity to increase my knowledge; although retail at around $125, an extravagant exercise.

Madeira is an island of Portugal, but lies roughly 1000k south-west of the mainland, and has a Mediterranean climate.

The main variety used in making (cheaper) Madeira is Tinta Negra Mole; the higher quality varieties are Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, and Malvasia (Malmsey), in order of increasing sweetness.  Terrantez is another quality variety, but an outlier – due to its rarity. Cheaper, earlier drinking madeiras are made by heating, and cooling the wines; higher-quality wines rely on barrel aging and associated oxidation, so these wines are “sherry-like”. Once opened, they can be consumed – very slightly chilled- over several weeks.

There is more extensive detail on the internet than I expected; an excellent resource on Madeira wine is here, another from Nicks is here and a blog from a mad-keen devotee here.

h&h 20 terrantez

It’s amber in colour with a clear, almost green rim; bouquet has spices, walnut, fruitcake, curry powder, dried fruits/fruitcake, but there is a stale note too. The palate is better; medium-dry, lively with fresh almond, citrus peel, fig, coffee , abundant acidity and a dry crisp finish.

The wine will not improve after bottling, but will hold for a long time; the touch of staleness (real, or unappreciated with my naivety at the style) restricts my score to 88 points.