Recently, Catavino featured an article on the 12 Essential Tips to Visiting Madeira and a Beginner’s Guide to Madeira Wine – a crash course, if you will, on one of the most under appreciated styles on market! What we didn’t cover, however, is how you can find a Madeira wine that works for you.
Today, we bring you an interview with one of our favorite Madeira experts, hailing from the eclectic pea soup and pancake capital of the world – Sweden, to explain the differences between each of the main producers. We’ve been following Niklas for years, and love both his witty style of writing and his mad obsession for Madeira wine. It won’t take long for you to become an avid follower as well.
Who is this mysterious caricatured Madman passionate about Madeira?
Hi Catavino! Well, I’m not as mysterious as the drawing might indicate, and I have aged since it was made! But to make a long story short (er); I was working for a Danish company approximately decade ago, when on a retreat, a caricaturist at one of Denmark’s biggest daily newspapers was asked to do a quick caricature of each one of us. It took him two minutes to draw this and I just loved it. A few years ago I stumbled across it again and decided to make it into my profile picture. Call it ironic humour if you will, but it’s become a trademark and one I dare to update!
Behind the drawing is Niklas Jörgensen, Swede born Dane. I’ve lived in Stockholm – my self-described home – for over 14 years, alongside my wife and two daughters, working for a country code top-level domain registry. Well, that and contributing editor at one of Scandinavia’s biggest wine magazines, Livets Goda, in addition to my Mad about Madeira site – which is pure unpaid passion.
My wine fascination started over 20 year ago, as a result of my passion for cooking. I had been accepted in a chef’s school at the age of 19, but just before starting, I bailed. Late nights cooking in a stressful environment didn’t sound glamorous at all! So I quit before I started and decided I was better suited as an amateur chef. Cooking is my favorite moment in the evening, a time to relax, think and meditate. Wine became the logical transition, and working a year at a library instead of training as a chef, allowed me to read every wine book on the shelves. Eventually I worked for Kjäer-Sommerfeldt, a well known wine company in Copenhagen where I dove head first into French wines – Bordeaux becoming my number one.
But I’m a restless soul and decided to move to Stockholm without a job. At the turn of the century, finding a job was easy, but it didn’t fulfill me. So I took a second job in a wine cellar in Stockholm – insurance businessman by day and wine aficionado at night. My first daughter was born in 2007, a great Vintage Port year, but having two jobs and a newborn didn’t work out so well. I eventually quit, but desperately missed wine. I had never heard of wine blogs and html was Greek to me, but there I suddenly was, blogging about Madeira wine. I also created another site, winevirtuosity.com, but haven’t contributed much due to a lack of time. Since 2014 I contribute to the printed magazine in every issue and also run a blog (in Swedish) on the online site.
Why Madeira? Your adoration could have extended to Port, Sherry or Tequila for that matter. Why this particular fortified drink?
You know, I’m actually mad about Port as well. I also love Moscatel de Setubal and other Vinho Generoso wines from Portugal; but strangely, Sherry’s never grabbed me. I like the wines but they don’t have ‘it’ like Madeira and Port. It’s my own, most subjective opinion, and I know Sherry is kind of struggling in the same uncool league as Madeira, alas, nope. I think I’m simply in love with the ‘sense of place’ feeling you can get when you drink wine. Sure, Madeira is a manipulated product created by man, but there is a uniqueness in it which just keeps on surprising me.
I came in contact with Madeira around 20 years ago. And it was all about age. When you’re new to wine, there’s this fascination when it comes to old wines. And back then even a student like myself could afford a 50+ years old Vintage Madeira. Heck, I even bought Port from the 70’s for no money at all! Sure, I might have sacrificed one or two study books but it was for the greater cause. Besides, taxation law really sucks.
These wines were a new world to me. It was all so new, and the bouquet! So I grabbed up older bottles., before I discovered today’s Madeira. Between annual visits to the island and tastings, new replaced old. The colheitas for example, are great for Madeira. They don’t collide with the uniqueness of the island wines, and they’re a perfect introduction to Madeira as a whole. Plus, the hospitality and generosity by the producers was priceless, a fabulous motivation to learn more! I know I’ve been a pain sometimes, with all my questions, but hopefully I can now give back to Madeira. Today, when I think of Madeira wine, I don’t immediately associate it with old wines but with wines that has never been better, wines that has such nerve which is unparalleled in the world of wine. And I’ve never been more mad about Madeira than I am today!
As we’ve confessed earlier, Madeira is no easy beast to wrap your brain around, but fortunately for us, there’s only a handful of Madeira Houses. By knowing a general style for each house, one might be able to better navigate the wine shelf. Do you have any simple way to remember the style of each house? Maybe a cheat sheet of sorts?
Today we have Vinhos Barbeito, Blandy’s, H M Borges, Justino’s, Henriques & Henriques, Pereira d’Oliveira, Faria & the latest addition which still hasn’t bottled yet, Madeira Vintners. Some producers also bottle under several labels, for example Blandy’s adds the Cossart Gordon, Leacock’s and Miles labels to their portfolio, respecting their historic differences in style. One could claim that the differences aren’t huge, for someone new to Madeira perhaps none at all; but that would be a lie because when you’ve opened your mind to fortified wines, allowing your senses to not only detect oxidized notes, alcohol and sweetness, then the differences become clear.
I would say three factors differentiates the producers; the level of oxidization, the level of perceived acidity and the type of cask used.
If we start with Blandy’s, their style is quite rich and powerful, yet elegant, and the use of American oak mainly gives the House a unique trademark style. Their popular label, Cossart Gordon, is extremely elegant with even greater acidity than the Blandy’s label. Blandy’s has been a driving force for Madeira wine and their importance can’t be emphasized enough.
A younger house with “only” 70 years in the business, is Ricardo Diogo’s Vinhos Barbeito. The style is quite different compared to Blandy’s. Ricardo works with seasoned old French oak casks instead and the wines are perceived as more acidity driven.
A total contrast to these are of course the wines of d’Oliveiras. No one is in possession of more old wines than these guys and no one bottles later. Last year, for example, they released a 1901 vintage. These wines are more oxidized – very noticeable, and displays loads of tobacco, dried fruits, nuts and concentration.
At H M Borges the style is also traditional but very elegant. Never the power of d’Oliveiras but such fine blended wines. Ivo Couto is a very skilled winemaker and master blender.
Justino’s upgraded a lot of their casks some one or two decades ago, and their quality is constantly increasing as their winemaker Juan Teixeira ups his game. The House style is leaning towards elegant wines and aren’t as acidity driven on the palate. Their Tinta Negra based Colheita is an excellent introduction to fine Madeira for a newcomer.
At Henriques & Henriques you’ll find a more powerful style of Madeira with quite rich wines. They’re becoming a bit more modern in style the last years. The series of 15 and 20 Years Old blends are powerful and elegant at the same time. The last one bottling, Faria, is not only involved in Madeira wine but in stronger liquors as well. They buy from a bigger bulk producers; hence the focus is on simple wines, although they now have a nice 10 Year Old on the market.
In general, you will notice the difference in style from the Houses with Colheitas, or with wines that have aged, beginning with a 10 Year Old.
If someone were to dive into Madeira, where do you feel they should begin?
Every producer offers a wide range of wines, from vibrant three year old Madeiras to Vintage wines with a minimum of 20 years in cask. I’d say, let your curiosity lead the way and not your wallet. Try what attracts you. My main suggestion is avoid buying a lot of young wines. They’re not bad, after all, how many regions in the world demand three years as a minimum age for an entry wine, but to find the Madeira nerve, I’d opt for 10 years old wines. This is where the real action starts. Start with my own favorite, the Verdelho. It’s such a lovely introduction to great Madeira, this semi-dry style of wine which also goes extremely well with several food pairings. The latter is probably one of the main reasons why fortified wines isn’t something you just pick up as we like to have our wine with a meal. Chill it a bit, drink it from your white wine glass, if you don’t have any copitas, and either serve a creamy mushroom soup or some hard cheeses like an aged Parmigiano or Gruyere alongside it. You’ve hereby been warned for a fantastic pairing!
Then move ahead. Try the drier style of Sercial with some Serrano, Parma, Salame and salted almonds. Geez! And we think of Champagne as the perfect aperitif! For the sweeter tooth, we have the Bual and Malvasia. They’re excellent companions to cheeses as well, but also fruit. In the summertime, one of my favorite pairings is fresh strawberries, whipped cream with some vanilla, and a glass of 10 Years Old Malvasia. Few wines handle the acidity of fruits and berries better than Madeira. And when you feel up to the next step, there’s the Vintage labeled wines, the Colheita or Vintage. The former is a kind of interrupted Vintage and what you often get is a wine of 10 to 15 years of age, a peek into the future and what awaits in a few year’s time. I think that someone new to Madeira will quickly understand the beauty of these wines and notice the unselfishness that comes with being a Madeira producer. The will and need to wait for decades before a wine might be released into the market. Something unique in today’s wine world where it’s all about putting the wines on the shelves as soon as possible, even before it’s bottled in some cases! We need wines that tell us to calm down, to relax. Madeira will do that for you.
Having fallen in love with the island during our last visit, we’re already plotting our next visit back, but would love to know your top non-wine related highlights that we should pay attention to!
What I like with Madeira is the fact that there’s activities for everyone. Both daughters of mine, 8 & 6, loves Madeira. The oldest one has already been four times! If you ask them it’s the great hotels that has caught their attention. The huge swimming pool areas. Myself I must say the skywalk at Cabo Girão. I completely hate standing on this glass ceiling looking almost 600 meters down to the coast line, but at the same time. it’s so fascinating. And the view on a good day is a memory for life!
Thank you so much for such a fantastic interview Niklas! And should you want to explore Madeira’s gorgeous coastline or crave an indepth wine geek tasting, let us know! We’d love to customize a trip specifically for you!
Gabriella and Ryan Opaz