A wine blogger’s end-of-year post has a certain predictability to it: either it looks back on the best bottles drunk in the year that has come to pass (often with a skew towards expensive, rare or cult bottles), or it looks onwards to trends spotted in the wine world (cue classics like the end of Bordeaux en Primeur or the inevitable crushing of Champagne by insert sparkling wine appellation here). I wasn’t planning to write about either of them, but on the precipice of 2017, I came across the most fabulous, almost year-defining wine: HM Borges’ 20 year old Verdelho Medium Dry.
Madeira was an important stop for ships travelling between Portugal and its overseas territories, but little wine got through the arduous journey across the ocean unscathed. Brandy was therefore added to increase the wine’s chances of survival. In combination with the heat in a ship’s storage however, the wine’s taste underwent a radical transformation, creating something profoundly unique. Granted, it is quite the hurdle to send barrels halfway across the world in a schooner in order to replicate the experience, so winemakers discovered that storing the barrels underneath the roof of the winery to undergo the elements for a prolonged period had the same effect. Later on, in order to scale production to an industrial level, the wines were heated in special tanks for 90 days. The real gobsmacking, moving wines however, are those made the traditional way, up in the attic.
So, about this wine. HM Borges has been around for 150 years and is still a family-owned company. Of the grape varieties allowed, Verdelho is the second most popular one, which is not saying much at 47 hectares if you take into account the entire vineyard surface of roughly 400ha (of which about 2/3 is Tinta Negra Moll). The 20 year old notion refers to the average age of all the wines blended, and medium dry is pretty self-explanatory. Smoky and savory in the nose, with a distinct, tangy spiciness. Incredibly fresh in the mouth but a honeyed density, an almost exotic spiciness gradually takes over and lingers throughout the finish. Incredible in length, with sweetness being there to carry the flavors onwards instead of dominating them. The perfect wine to end New Year’s Eve!
Astonishingly, Madeira is not popular at all. It is something of an in-the-know wine, and I get the impression that the majority of people either associate it with the isle (which is popular but not with the hippest of crowds), or the supermarket wines that you would only use to cook. It is also not the easiest of wines to ‘get’. You have to know something about the production to know what to expect, and the various styles associated with the grape varieties used don’t make it easier to pick up a bottle at random. I would however implore everyone to give it a chance; just go to a wine merchant and I am sure he or she will be thrilled to give you a proper introduction, as it really can be a head-over-heels wine.