Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Excellent Tour and Tasting at Henriques & Henriques Winery on Island of Madeira

(June 2013) - We arrived at the aging cellars of Henriques & Henriques Winery around 12:30 and spent a delightful two hours exploring the barrel rooms and tasting more than 20 amazing Madeira wines. Though the still wine is fermented elsewhere on the island, the historic cellars are located in Camara de Lobos, a suburb of Funchal near the ocean.

Currently the 3rd largest producer on the island, and the only winery to own 11.5 hectares of vineyards (28.6 acres), Henriques & Henriques was founded in 1850 by Joao Joachim Henriques, but today is co-owned by CEO Humberto Jardim and partners from France. Paulo introduced Lupe and me to Humberto, who toured us through the winery and regaled us with fascinating tales of history and his long friendship with John Cossart, the very illustrious winemaker who passed away in 2008.

Innovative Barrel Program

We were impressed with the innovative processes being implementing in the various barrel rooms where the Madeira is aged for 5, 10, and 15 years as well as at least 20 years for vintage wines. Humberto has developed a method to recycle and re-condition barrels so they can be re-used. He has also entered into an innovative partnership with America whiskey producers in which they trade barrels in order to obtain new flavor profiles for the Madeira and the whiskey. Later, during the tasting, we were able to taste a Madeira that had been aged in an American whiskey barrel, and there was a distinct smoky flavor in the wine. Humberto is also experimenting with barrels made of Spanish oak.

We were enthralled with the multiple rooms of aging Madeira under the “canteiro system,” in which the wine is aged in old barrels (usually 700 liters, but some also much larger in French foudres) in rooms that are heated by the sun. The wine in the barrels is usually not topped, and therefore allowed to oxidize in order to achieve the distinctive nutty dried fruit notes of a classic Madeira. Humberto reported that his evaporation rate ranges from 1.5% to 7% depending on the location in the cellar and size of barrel.

Fascinating Quotes from Humberto

As the tour progressed, we became more enchanted with Humberto’s obvious love and pride for Madeira wines, his exceptional knowledge of the island and its history, and his poetic and charming eloquence when describing his wines. My favorite quote was: “We enslave the wine to all thing it doesn’t like, such as oxygen and heat, until finally it says, ‘I give up. I’m Madeira.’”

He also described each of the 4 noble Madeira grape varietals in clever ways:
Sercial is an excellent aperitif on a hot day, where its searing acidity can wash away fatigue. Generally 49 – 65 grams per liter residual sugar.
Verdelho is bolder and makes a good pairing with fish. Generally 65 – 80 grams per liter residual sugar.
Boal is like an English tea where you can have it with cakes and sandwiches. Generally 80 – 96 grams per liter residual sugar. We were also informed that Boal is known as “Malvasia Fino” in Portugal.
Malvasia (they prefer not to use the British word “Malmsey”) is a perfect dessert on its own, but can also work magically with custards and creamy based desserts. Generally 96 – 120 grams per liter residual sugar.

A Tasting of More Than 20 Magical Madeiras

For the tasting, Humberto escorted us to the technical tasting room next to the lab, so we were able to watch some of the workers analyze the wine as we enjoyed more than twenty different Madeiras. He explained that the best Madeiras are like a perfectly balanced triangle of sugar, alcohol, and acidity. Nothing should stick out, but all three should work together in harmony.

My favorite wines of the tasting were as follows:
1998 H&H Single Harvest Tinta Negra Mole, Medium Rich with wonderful texture on the palate
1964 H&H Sercial – mind-blowing, with a classic nose of nuts, cheese, dried orange and refreshing acidity
15 Year Old H&H Verdelho – very well balanced, dried fruit & nuts
20 Year Old H&H Verdelho – honey notes with a finish that goes on forever
2000 Vintage H&H Boal – toffee, carmel, salt, yum!

Wines which I found a bit unusual, but worth mentioning were: a 20 year old H&H Terrantez with the distinctive spiciness that comes with that rare grape varietal; a 1954 H&H Terrantez of oily texture with molasses and metal notes; and a 1957 H&H Boal that had been fermented with stems and showed amazing texture and weight on the palate with crisp acidity.

H&H Wine Labels & Visitor Center

I was impressed with the memorable labels of Henriques & Henriques wines with their distinctive H&H symbol highlighted in a box, and color coded to match the different wine levels, such as generic (3 years of age), 5 year, 10 year and 15 year. Very easy for consumers to spot on a store shelf and easy to remember – however perhaps a tad tall for distributor’s tastes, I was told. Colheita and Vintage wines are wisely sold in the traditional dark Madeira bottle with the white stencil letters.

We ended our tour in the large public tasting room, and I was interested to see how they were set up for tourists with a large open floor plan, tasteful displays, a tasting sample station when you enter, and state of the art cashier and checkout counter.
We were honored when at the end of the tour and tasting Humberto accompanied us to a wonderful 5-course lunch at Restaurant Vincente with local food and – of course – Madeira wines. (See prior posting)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Operations Tour and Tasting at Barbeito Winery, Island of Madeira, Portugal

June 2013 - Our appointment to visit Barbeito Winery was scheduled for 10:30am, and Paulo drove his SUV expertly around the many twists and turns on the narrow road to the hilltop location. The CEO and winemaker, Ricardo, greeted us and we started the tour at the grape reception platform. As the tour progressed, we became more and more impressed with Ricardo’s energy, passion, and innovative spirit.

Barbeito produces around 170,000 liters of wine per year (around 19,000 cases), including a variety of third-party labels such as the famous Historic Series. Ricardo said they purchase all of their grapes from local farmers with an ideal brix of 17 (quite low!), but needed to achieve the fresh acidity for which Madeira is known.

Fermenting Madeira Grapes and Achieving Sugar Levels

The white grape varieties (sercial, verdehlo, boal, and malvasia), which make up 15% of the island’s production, are pressed and then transferred to small stainless tanks for fermentation with natural yeast. Sometimes, the boal and malvasia ferments may also includes skins and/or stems. In general most are fermented to dryness, and then grape concentrate is added to achieve the correct sweetness level:

* Extra dry (< 49 grams per liter of sugar) * Dry (49 – 65 g/l) – usually Sercial * Medium-Dry (65 – 80 g/l) – usually Verdelho * Medium-Sweet/Rich (80 – 96 g/l) – usually Boal * Sweet/Rich (> 96 g/l) – usually Malvasia between 100 -120

For the Tinta Negra Mole (making up 85% of the island’s production), Ricardo destems and crushes lightly, and then will often ferment in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks outfitted with robotic lagares – one of his innovations. Interestingly the ancient method of making Madeira was to trod by food (lagares) in the same method that port is made.

If needed for coloring or palate feel, carmel may be added after fermentation when the wine is fortified. However, it should be noted that the carmel is not for flavor, but more to achieve a desired color which consumers prefer.

Estufa and Canteiro Aging Methods

By law, generic Madeira (made with Tinta Negra Mole) must be aged a minimum of 3 years. For this less expensive type of wine, the estufa method is generally employed. Here the fermented wine is fortified with alcohol to 17.5 – 22%, and then placed in large stainless steel tanks with hot water circulating around the wine to heat it to 47 – 52 degrees Celsius for a minimum of 3 months. It is then aged in either tank or large wooden neutral barrels for an additional 2 years before it is blending and bottled for sale.

Higher quality Tinta Negra Mole and wines made of the 4 white noble grapes, often go through the more expensive canteiro method. Here the freshly fermented wine is fortified and then placed into large 700 liter neutral barrels in a heated room for 5, 10, 15 years, and/or 20+ years for vintage wines. By law, wines labeled Colheito must aged 5 to 20 years. There are also some 30 and even 40-year-old Madeiras.

Ricardo pointed out the unique zinc-covered cement ceilings in his canterio aging room, as well as the large windows that he opens at night to cool the room. He explained this helps to slow down the sugar and allow the acidity to balance the wine. His viewpoint is that a room that is always hot is not as good for the wine, and that natural cooling at night is more similar to the ancient sea voyages that helped to create the original Madeira’s. Overall, he reported that his average evaporation rate is 3 to 8%, depending in which of his 5 aging facilities the wine is stored.

Another interesting innovation to point out, is that when transferring the wines from the fermentation tanks to barrels, Ricardo came up the creative idea of moving the wine through stainless steel pipes that also serve as a fence rail around the parking lot! (see photo)

Blending and Fining

Ricardo and his staff taste through the wines in order to determine which ones will be labeled generic, 5, 10, or 15 years. For Colheito and Vintage wines, there are only declared in very good years. After the wine has aged according to the desired number of years for the label, it is blended. By law up to 15% of another grape varietal can be blended, so many of the wines labeled as noble grapes, e.g. Sercial, often have some Tinta Negra Mole added. This is because Tinta Negra is much easier to grow and provides good flavors. Ricardo said he currently has around 33 different blends.

Small Sercial & Verdelho Vineyard

We visited the small demonstration vineyard Ricardo has planted of Serical and Verdelho vines. He is experimenting with VSP trellis and cane pruning, but has come to the conclusion that the traditional high pergola method actually works better for these grape varieties.

Tasting of 15 Wines

We began our tasting with a tank sample of 2012 Tinta Negra. I was surprised at the light rose color, and the fresh fruity characteristics of the wine. Next we tried a tank sample that had gone through the mechanical lagares method, and found it to be deeper colored with more tannins and berry flavors due to the more intense extraction. We also tried a 2012 Malvasia, which he had fermented partially with stems. It was much more intensely flavors with a textured mouthfeel.

We then tasted through a variety of vintage wines ranging from 1988, 1992, 1996, 1997, and 2001. My favorites of the tasting were the Barbeito 1992 Sercial, 2001 Malvasia, and a Barbeito 20-year-old Malvasia.