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)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Oh' that seems so interesting! I haven't try to have a tour in a factory of wine. You really enjoy visiting there. Thanks for sharing.

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