The wines of Blandy's, Madeira
A report on Madeira's largest producer, with a tasting going back to the early 19th Century

Madeira’s history as a fine wine owes a lot to the geographical location of the island in the Atlantic Ocean, where it was an important hub for sea traffic. It’s perhaps for this reason that in the USA Madeira used to be the wine of choice, especially on the east coast, from the 17th century onwards. But this situation changed as fewer ships passed Madeira, and the arrival of the steamships.

Still, Madeira (the wine) is more than a historical artefact. It’s actually pretty serious, and old Madeira is one of the treasures of the wine world. And Blandy’s, one of the top Madeira producers (and the largest in terms of exports) can trace their history back 200 years. 

The first Blandy to arrive in the island was John Blandy, who moved out to Madeira on account of ill health early in 1808. As well as selling wine, he developed a business as a shipping agent – many ships stopped in at Funchal on their way to other destinations. John’s son, Charles Ridpath Blandy, continued the business, and during the oidium crisis in the 1850s he had foresight enough to buy up old stocks of wine on the island, enabling Blandy to continue to sell wine even if very few grapes were being harvested.

In 1925 Blandy’s joined a group of wine companies called the Madeira Wine Association. This helped the various companies survive a tricky patch for Madeira wine. Then, in 1989, Blandy’s offered the anglo-British Port family the Symingtons a partnership in the newly named Madeira Wine Company (MWC). This lasted until 2011, when by mutual agreement the Blandy family bought out the Symingtons’ share.

The company is currently run by the 6th (Michael) and 7th (Chris) generation of the family. The notes below are from two tastings in 2011 – one at the London trade fair with Chris, and then a spectacular 200 year anniversary tasting a month later with both Michael and Chris. [As an aside, it is ridiculous that I’m writing this up so late, but this tasting deserves to be written up, and because it is Madeira these notes are still relevant even a couple of years after first tasting the wines.]

The biggest issue facing the Blandy family is sourcing enough grapes from this small volcanic island. ‘We struggle every year to find the quantity of grapes we’d like’, says Chris Blandy. Madeira may not be mainstream, but enough people have realized how good it is that Blandy’s could sell more if they could make it. But then, given that the top wines take 20 years to reach the marketplace, it’s not so easy to respond quickly to demand. ‘We have problems getting enough Sercial and Vedelho these days,’ says Michael Blandy, although he says there is enough Bual, which is his favourite variety.

Madeira is aged in cask, and the evaporation can increase both the acidity and sweetness. Typically, over a 10 year period the acidity will increase by 2 g/litre and the sugar by 25 g/litre through dehydration (these figures will obviously depend on the starting point of both). So it’s interesting to know when the wine is bottled when you are dealing with an old vintage.

THE WINES

Blandy’s Alvada 5 Years Old Madeira
A 50/50 blend of Bual and Malvasia. Rich, nutty and intense with some warm raisiny notes. Lively and quite powerful with sweet raisin and spice notes. Delicious. 89/100 (05/11)

Blandy’s Harvest Malmsey 2004 Madeira
The single-harvest wines are a new thing for Madeira, and they are like the equivalent of LBV Port. They are bottled from a single year before the 20 years required for proper vintage Madeira. Elegant, fresh and a bit nutty with spicy, citrussy notes. Lively with nice freshness and good complexity. 91/100 (05/11)

Blandy’s Malmsey Colheita 1992 Madeira (bottled in 2009)
Lively, fresh and nutty with lovely wax, citrus and raisin notes, as well as hints of old casks. Complex and long with mouthfilling richness and good acidity. Impressive. 93/100 (05/11)

Blandy’s Bual Colheita 1991 Madeira (bottled in 2009)
Complex nose is fresh and tangy with citrus, spice and orange peel notes. The palate is nutty, waxy and complex with great acidity. Lively and nutty with good intensity. Impressive wine. 94/100 (05/11)

Blandy’s Bual 1980 Madeira (bottled in 2009)
Complex, lively and intense with fresh, nutty, citrus peel notes. Waxy and intense with lovely fruit precision and fresh acidity. Brilliant. 94/100 (05/11)

Blandy’s Malmsey 1985 Madeira
Matured in seasoned American oak casks (650 litres) for 24 years, 1420 (2 casks) bottled. 117 g residual suagr. Full brown/orange colour. Very rich nose of raisins, fudge, warm spices, tar and a hint of treacle. Lovely rounded palate is rich and bold with real intensity and great acidity. Lively and rich, this is a powerful, complex wine. 93/100 (06/11)

Blandy’s Terrantez 1976 Madeira
This grape almost became extinct in the late 1980s. It is from the Dão region, where it’s known as Folgasão, Aged for 26 years in 1000 litre American oak casks. 90 g/litre residual sugar. Brown/orange colour. Not excessively aromatic, it has a treacly nose with some raisin notes. The palate is slightly baked and is off-dry, spicy and complex. Quite a savoury style. 91/100 (06/11)

Blandy’s Sercial 1966 Madeira
Bottled in 2004 after 28 years in cask; 47 g/l residual sugar, 10 g/litre acid. Brown colour. Fine herby, raisiny aromatic nose with some fresh citrus notes and some fudgy complexity. Fresh, complex palate is dry with lovely acidity and savoury notes of herbs, old furniture and citrus peel. Great concentration and a fresh, acidic finish. 94/100 (06/11)

Blandy’s Bastardo 1954 Madeira
The only noble red grape variety on the island, this is really rare, and it’s the last Bastardo vintage in the company’s collection. Bottled after 40 years in cask. 94 g/l residual sugar, 7 g acid, pH 3.45. Nose of leather, herbs and old furniture, with a bit of treacle. The palate is soft-textured with real elegance in an off-dry style, underpinned by spicy complexity. Wonderful. 95/100 (06/11)

Blandy’s Malmsey 1954 Madeira
Bottled back in 1975, just a few remaining. 125 g/l residual sugar. Deep brown in colour. Sweet, rich raisiny nose with fudge and tar notes. Very rich and complex on the palate with powerful flavours of raisins, fudge and spice. Lovely acidity with some citrus freshness, and notes of tea leaves and herbs, treacle and raisins. Beautifully complex. 96/100 (06/11)

Blandy’s Verdelho 1952 Madeira
93 g/l residual sugar. 2300 bottles were bottled in 1973 after 21 years in cask. Brown colour. Pungent rich nose of fudge, spice and cask with some strong treacle notes. Rich, warm spicy notes and also some citrus freshness on the palate. Powerful, savoury, intense and fudgey. Lively and spicy with real complexity and intensity. The sweet richness is beautifully balanced by the citrussy acidity. Edgy and delicious. 97/100  (06/11)

Blandy’s Bual 1920 Madeira
Bottled in 2006; VA of 1.44 g/litre; residual sugar 93 g/litre. There is still one barrel of this left unbottled. Deep brown colour. Rich nose is refined: sweet, fresh, lively citrus peel and old cask characters. Elegant mid-weight palate is complex and spicy with citrus notes as well as old cask and a hint of raisin. Long finish with marmalade freshness. So complex. 96/100

Blandy’s Sercial 1910 Madeira
74 years in casks, bottled in 1984, recorked in 2003. Orange brown with a hint of woodsmoke to the elegant, fine, nutty, spicy nose. Some marmalade notes. The palate is fresh with citrus peel, almond. Mellow and quite light in personality with a subtly nutty, long finish. Tastes quite dry with a hint of sweetness. Long complex wine with precision and high acidity. 96/100

Blandy’s Bual 1863 Madeira
Aged for 50 years in American oak casks before bottling. Rebottled in 1986. Just a few remain. Deep brown colour. Intense nose with treacle, marmalade and raisins. Smells very sweet. Powerful palate is bold and intense with richness and sweetness, as well as a lively citrussy edge. Wonderfully powerful and long, with thick-cut marmalade and fudge richness. 97/100

Blandy’s Verdelho 1822 Madeira
Matured for 78 years in oak, bottled in 1900, and rebottled in 1986. Just a few remain. Brown colour. Intense, bold, spicy nose with attractive treacle, herb and earth notes. Lovely acidity and finesse on the palate, which is elegant rather than powerful. Mellow with a subtle citrus peel freshness and fine acidity, as well as some cask notes. Warming finish is so long. 97/100

Blandy’s Bual Solera 1811 Madeira
Not a vintage wine but a blend of vintages, bottled in 1900, with the oldest wine 1811 and the youngest 1890. Very fine expressive nose of marmalade, spice, citrus peel and nuts. The palate is lively and complex with sky high acidity, and notes of marmalade and old casks. Complex and alive with warm spices, an eternal finish and lovely acidity. 98/100

A video of the Bicentennial tasting:


See also:

A guide to Madeira

Wines tasted as indicated (month/year)  
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