I’d love to kick this post off by somehow linking Madeira to the holidays, but that would be disingenuous of me; the truth is that I love the fortified Portuguese (mostly) dessert wine, and drink it pretty much any chance I get to wrap my grubby little hands around a bottle of the stuff.
For a guy like me, discovering a forgotten bottle of Madeira in a liquor cabinet of one’s house is kind of like a pothead finding a stash of Sativas weed and a stack of previously-unreleased, high-quality Grateful Dead live bootleg recordings in one of their bedroom dresser drawers. And so, with eyes wider than a nine-year-old’s on Christmas morning, I found myself face to face with (what I think was – more on that in a minute or two) either a 1967 or 1970 Manuel de Sousa Herdeiros Verdelho Madeira.
How I got to the confines of the liquor cabinet in the first place: Last week, we had cooked up a fine pasta-and-sausage meal for us; so fine that the little Dudettelete, for whom dinner typically lasts something like fourteen hours, had cleaned her plate in record time. I mentioned that I’d just received a sample shipment of spirits, and I sprinted to the long-neglected liquor cabinet (you’ve got to move a small toy store’s worth of toddler stuff to get at it now), with the intention of finding an equally long-neglected, unopened bottle of The Macallan 12 Year Old Single Malt.
I knew The Macallan was in there. I did not know that the Manuel de Sousa Herdeiros Verdelho Madeira was in there. Queue the wide-eyed wonderment…
When I got back to the dinner table, complete with Verdelho and sh*t-eating grin, my daughter caught on quickly to said wonderment.
“Where did it come from, Daddy?” she asked.
“I don’t know sweetheart,” I answered, “I forget who gave this to us, it must have been a gift, and must happened many years ago, before you were born.”
“Daddy! It was Christmas Magic!” she retorted with toddler excitement, as if she’d grasped something truly profound. “The Elf on the Shelf must have brought it to you!”
Seems I owe the elf (who is even smaller than I am – photog proof included herein). Big time.
So now we not only know that Madeira is more bad-ass than Iron Man, and that it can produce wines that still taste flamboyant when they’re over one hundred years young, but we also know that it apparently has connections to North Polean magic, courtesy of Saint Nicholas (and elves). Damn, is there anything that this stuff can’t do? Next thing we know, we’ll see headlines about how Madeira saved entire families, including pets and goldfish, from collapsing buildings.
I can for sure tell you that it survives a bad case of cork comprise, though.
After opening the bottle and declaring it sound, we drank (a lot) of it, I put the closure (visible in fairly poor shape) back in the bottle, like a doofus. Trying to pop the top off later for another pour easily separated cork from stopper, at which point we watched the separated piece of cork slide slowly but surely down the large neck of the bottle and into a bath of old Manuel de Sousa Herdeiros Verdelho Madeira. DOH!
Thankfully Madeira is mostly indestructible. It’s already been exposed to light, heat, and air. More air isn’t going to do much to it; and so I emptied the entire contents (sans large floating cork bits) into a tall beer glass, then destroyed the large chunks of cork still left in the bottle (this can be done by allowing the cork to get part of the way back up the neck, and then using knives and corkscrews to gently rip the rest of the destabilized cork apart). Rinse the bottle, use a funnel and strainer to get the wine back into the bottle (minus sediment and smaller cork bits), and we are back in business. I wouldn’t have dared try that with any other type of wine if it had seen anywhere near the same kind of age – but Madeira is Madeira. It can handle it. It has bad-ass written into its DNA.
As for how it tasted (and still tastes… well, what’s left of it, anyway)…
?? Manuel de Sousa Herdeiros Verdelho Madeira (Madeira)
As you’ll see from the photos, it’s difficult to discern when this bottle was produced, and one of the only bottles on the market these days is from 1900 and will set you back nearly $700. Two dates are visible on the paper surrounding the opening of the bottle, one from September `67 (assuming that’s 1967, and a harvest date?) and one from November 1970 (Bottling date, perhaps?). There is a price ($16) printed on that same strip of paper at the end of the neck (also pictured), assuming that was the release price. I’ve no idea from whence this bottle came, how long we’ve had it, or how it came to be in our possession.
A hint of caramel, more than a hint of toast, wood and Oloroso Sherry, and more than anything else a fine nuttiness that I think would remind most people of walnut shells, though just about any nut shell will do here. I’m not going to say that it was profound, because it wasn’t; but it was certainly an extremely solid Verdehlo, sitting just left of center on the spectrum of nutty-to-sweet, and possessing still some dried fruits and powerful life force. It’s a tough combination to say No to, basically. We woke it from its long slumber, but upon awakening it was just as amicable as the day it settled down for a long nap, a day that probably predates my existence on this planet.
By the way, I didn’t give any Madeira to the Elf that night (he’s a teetotaler from what I understand), but I might have (after several glasses of the stuff, anyway) caught a twinkle coming from his beady little eyes.
So queue up ELP’s Father Christmas, that old Burl Ives holiday tune and any other Christmas schlep that I used to think was corny… because right now, brothers and sisters, so long as that Mysterious Madeira is flowing… right now, I believe…!