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The first time I tasted Madeira was during the fortified unit of my WSET Diploma. It was a revelation; the sheer complexity of flavour, freshness and unique ageing process that came together in that wine simply blew my mind.
From that point on I was not just a Madeira fan, I became a Madeira advocate. In my opinion, we should all drink more of it.
Tasting through the Pereira D’Oliveiras wines reminded me just how compelling Maderia can be. It was especially interesting to sample a range of styles offered by D’Oliveiras, from more entry-level blended styles to vintage-specific wines with serious age. The Five Year Old Reserves present a fantastic launching point into Madeira, highlighting the important interplay between varietal character and sweetness. Despite their relative young age, these wines seriously punch above their weight. The Medium Dry and the Medium Sweet stood out in particular; each wine offers a world of character and complexity, constantly yielding new flavours and aromas up for discovery.
With such solid foundations, it was no surprise that D’Oliveiras vintage offerings are world-class. In addition to extended ageing, these wines are produced as purely varietal expressions. Tasted in parellel with the bracket of Five Years Olds, it was fascinating to experience the difference between the styles first-hand. The wines across both flights were layered, with complex profiles of fruit, spice and funk. What struck me as the key differentiator was the impressive level of concentration and depth expressed in the vintage wines. Again the Vedehlo and Boal stood out and had me returning to them multiple times, with each sample more revealing than the last. It is a delight to imagine the quality and development just waiting to be explored in those very old, rare D’Oliveiras wines – some of which have close to a century under their belt!
From the Five Year Reserves through the Very Old Frasqueiras, I think there are few Madeiras as engaging and rewarding to drink as those from Pereira D’Oliveiras.
In the course of its long and storied history, Pereira D’Oliveras has established an impeccable reputation as one of the great classic Madeira shippers. Regarded as one of the most traditional house, and one of the few to survive from the pre-Phylloxera era, D’Oliveiras practise an uncompromising devotion to the quality of their wines, employing techniques perfected over centuries.
Founded in 1850, D’Oliveiras maintain 3 bodega warehouses in Funchal, one of which dates back to 1619. Through acquisition and marriages with other wine-producing families they have accumulated rich holdings of ages wines, including a number of remarkable bottlings and extremely rare varietal expressions.
We’re excited to offer a broad selection of these today, on a pre-arrival basis. Below we have included independent reviews. These notes do not come close to capturing the astonishing quality in the bottle, nor the emotion involved when tasting such wines. All the wines offered are bottled in 750ml format.
Today’s offering covers 3 Classifications of Maderia across 7 Varietal & their associated Styles
The Five Year Old Reserve
A blended Madeira with an average age of five years, some or all of which will have undergone estufagem in tank. A proportion of the blend is likely to have been aged in cask. Most are made from Tinta Negra, but some are blended with or made from the so-called noble varieties (see below). These wines are simply classified as dry, medium, medium sweet and sweet. These are serious wines and show a depth and complexity you would expect to find in a much older age bracket, with the Medium Dry and Medium Sweet (Verdehlo and Boal additions respectively) showing particularly well.
Meaning ‘harvest’ in Portuguese, Colheita wines are produced from a single year, or harvest, and are bottled after spending at least five years in ageing in cask. These are effectively early bottled frasqueira or ‘vintage’ wines, which share the individuality if not the concentration or the complexity of a wine aged for a minimum of twenty years (see below).
Vintage Madeira, also known as Frasqueira or Garrafeira, must be aged for a minimum of 20 years in cask, and a further two years in bottle before release. On the category, Alex Liddell, author of Madeira (Hurst & Company, 2014) has written, “These wines are the glory of Madeira and, with the best examples of dated wines from the past, the yardstick by which it is to be judged to be a world class wine.” Below we offer 16 vintage wines from D’Oliveras’ cellar. While we have not tasted every wine, the quality and style of those that we have—the Terrantez 1988 and Bastardo 1927 for example—will live on in our memories for many years to come. Put simply, these compelling wines can be considered D’Oliveras’ ‘Grand Cru’ offering.
“Top-quality madeira is one of the world’s most wickedly underrated fine wines. I know you will have read that about sherry – and that’s true too – but I can understand why people don’t like sherry. It does have a characteristic flavour that some palates will find offputting. But madeira tastes like the elixir of life itself.”
Jancis Robinson, www.jancisrobinson.com
The Varietals & Styles
There’s a great trick to Madeira. The variety they are made from is not only used on the label, it also indicates the style particularly in terms of sweetness. Like all of the worlds great sweet and fortified wines the sugar level is not the main factor, balance with natural acidity is the key.
Ranging from the driest style to the sweetest style, the Madeira types are:
Sercial is nearly fermented completely dry, with very little residual sugar (0.5 to 1.5° on the Baumé scale, or 9-27 g/l). This style of wine is characterised with high-toned colours, almond flavours, and high acidity. This is a white grape variety that probably originates from the region of Bucelas, near Lisboa, where it is traditionally grown under the name Esgana Cao (Dog Strangler), having been introduced in Madeira, where it was given the name Sercial.
Verdelho has its fermentation halted a little earlier than Sercial, when its sugars are between 1.5 and 2.5° Baumé (27-45 g/l). This style of wine is characterized by smokey notes and high acidity. Verdelho can be found since the seventeenth century and was probably brought from northern continental Portugal during the early days of settlement on the island. Before the arrival of phylloxera Madeira in 1872 Verdelho represented approximately two thirds of the vineyards of Madeira.
Terrantez, the rarest of the group, almost became extinct on the island but has been making a comeback. Its style ranges in sweetness from that of Verdelho to that of Bual, never being quite as dry as Sercial nor quite as sweet as Malvasia.
As most of the varietals on the island, Terrantez was brought from the north of mainland Portugal, where it goes by the name of Folgasão. For many centuries this varietal has always been used in the production of premium wines, achieving high prices in the market.
Rare, Terrantez grapes are white, thin-skinned and extremely fragile. The compact bunches and berries make it prone to botrytis and berry splitting. The yields are very low and ripening late.
Bual also called Boal or Malvasia Fina on mainland Portugal. It has its fermentation halted when its sugars are between 2.5 and 3.5° Baumé (45-63 g/l). This style of wine is characterized by its dark colour, medium-rich texture, and raisin flavours. Bual, or Boal as it is also called in Madeira, is a white grape variety that originated on the Portuguese mainland (or continente as it is known in Madeira) having been planted in the Douro and Dão for centuries, where it goes by the name of Malvasia Fina. This varietal name covers not one but 16 grape varieties in Portugal, as Cincinnato da Costa writes in “O Portugal Viticola”. In Wine Grapes (Robinson et al.) viticulturalist Rolando Faustino suggests that it is probably from the Douro but due to its wide genetic diversity neither Dão nor the Lisbon region can be ruled out.
Malvasia (also known as Malvazia or Malmsey) has its fermentation halted when its sugars are between 3.5 and 6.5° Baumé (63-117 g/l). This style of wine is characterised by its dark colour, rich texture, and coffee-caramel flavours. Like other Madeiras made from the noble grape varieties, the Malvasia grape used in Malmsey production has naturally high levels of acidity in the wine, which balances with the high sugar levels so the wines do not taste cloyingly sweet.
Malmsey should not be viewed as a single variety (there are so many different grapes named Malvasia) but as style of wine. In “Wine Grapes” (Robinson et al.) the authors make this point, stating that Malvasia is a generic name given to a wide range of distinct white-, pink-, grey-, or black-skinned varieties which share an ability to produce sweet wines high in alcohol. The planted area is now stable at around 39 ha (96 acres).
The majority of the Malvasia growing on Madeira is a grape known as Malvasia Branca de São Jorge, a white grape variety introduced as recently as the 1970s in the parish of Sao Jorge in the district of Santana, on the north side of the island at lower altitudes (150m – 200m).
Tinta Negra (also known as Negra Mole) is Madeira’s main red grape variety and accounts for nearly 90% of the island’s vitis vinifera plantings.
For many years, it was regarded as a generic work-horse variety, used to make quality wine across all sweetness bands, but not varietally recognised on the label. Tinta Negra arrived on Madeira from Portugal in the early 19th century. Its dominance is easily explained: it offers higher yields of easy-to-grow, disease-resistant fruit that is versatile enough to contribute to all the major Madeira styles, from dry to sweet, from young to seriously aged, from inexpensive to off the charts! With its very low levels of pigment combined with the effects of barrel-age oxidisation, its final colour is extremely close to that of the traditional white grapes.
In 2017, after 200 years of cultivation for Madeira, Tinta Negra was re-classified as a preferred, or traditional grape. This means that Tinta Negra wines can be labelled varietally now, rather than being released as generic Madeira of a certain age, but in all instances the sweetness will need to be denoted on the label rather than being assumed, as is the case for most other traditional varieties (Terrantez being another exception).
Bastardo is the Portuguese name for the red grape Trousseau, which is native to the Jura. It yields fruit with high acidity, naturally plentiful sugar and some bitterness. Dark, rich and very fruity, it may legally be bottled within all sweetness categories, but seems naturally best fit either side of medium. Like Terrantez, Bastardo plantings are extremely rare on the island of Madeira and is more likely to be encountered in historical bottles.
About Pereira D’Oliveiras
Founded in 1850, Pereira D’Oliveiras is the most traditional of houses. Their wines are the most concentrated and earthy of Madeiras, yet brilliantly fresh and persistent. Today, D’Oliveiras is run by Luis D’Oliveira, one of three brothers in the partnership, direct descendants of founder, João Pereira D’Oliveira. Fellow fifth-generation family member Anibal D’Oliveira, along with his son Felipe, is the winemaker.
Pereira D’Oliveiras recently acquired Barros i Souza, whose brands will be kept in the market. They had previously taken over 5 other exporter-producers whose businesses were failing, and whose stocks have augmented D’Oliveiras’ rich holdings of aged wine. The house intends to oppose the international conglomerate tendency and to maintain a presence of Portuguese family ownership as the face of Madeira.
Each year they buy fruit from about 140 growers in various parts of the island. Production per annum is about 150,000 litres, but the bodega’s holdings of mature wine total around 1.5 million litres of rare old gear in addition to current commercial reserves.
Based in Funchal, they maintain three bodega warehouses; should you get a chance to visit, their tasting and sales outlet is in the oldest of these, dating back to 1619, in a former school building at 107 Rua dos Ferreiros.
The History of Maderia
Madeira is the world’s most robust and long lived wine. They can easily live for centuries and stay fresh for months after opening. For those who have not tasted Madeira; it is a fortified wine from the Portuguese island of the same name, made in a range of styles from dry(ish) to sweet, yet always with an elegance and a distinctive, refreshing tang to close (this is what separates it from other, heavier tasting fortifieds).
Erin Scala explores Madeira with Ricardo Freitas of the Barbeito winery on Levi Dalton’s podcast I’ll drink to that. The discussion of the history of Madeira and the winemaking at Barbeito give some great insights into the region and its wines.
The Zoom below with Chris Blandy is an excellent exploration of the history of Madeira, vineyard zones, viticulture, winemaking, and beyond during the first 25minutes. The balance covers tasting a range of Blandy’s Madeiras. Informative, not quite the same as having a glass in front of you!
In the Vineyard
D’Oliveiras work with approximately 140 growers in various parts of the island to source their fruit.
Methods of Training the Vine
In the past, on the north side of the island, vines were grown along “balseiras”. This method consisted of training vines along available trees (principally chestnut, oak, laurel and beech), and then either training the vine vertically or allowing them to wind through rocks or over the ground.
Although this method produced high quantities of grapes, the grapes rarely reached maturity because of limited exposure to the sun, a result of the difficulty in pruning the vine. The growers faced a number of further obstacles as a result of the vines climbing high in the trees; pruning difficulties, applying treatment for oidium, and in harvesting the grapes.
These difficulties slowly brought about a change in practice, hastened as the supporting trees were destroyed by oidium, powder mildew.
The replacement vines were then planted in the pergola format.
Madeira’s steep slopes are notorious, working the vineyards is a manual labour of love. Almost all the vines on the island are planted in miniscule terraces, known as “poios”, criss-crossed by the red or grey of the basalt walls that support them. The traditional method of training the vines across pergolas are a classic of Madeiran viticulture, creating a magnificent and unique landscape.
Vines grow best on the sunny south facing slopes, especially those at between 350 and 750 metres of altitude.
The trellises of vines are a masterpiece of Madeiran viticulture, creating a magnificent landscape unique to the island.
The network of man-made irrigation channels, known as “levadas” extends to over 2000Km/1200 miles. This guarantees the equal distribution of water between the 1800ha/4500 acres of agricultural land, which is divided into multiple small holdings belonging to over 4000 Madeiran viticulturists.
The pergolas on the north side of the island have to be enclosed or protected by hedges, to protect the vines from the winds and the salt spray. Fences built from heather and bracken are a familiar sight along the north coast, particularly between Seixal and Ribeira da Janela.
On the south coast, the pergola and trellis systems predominate. Although the grapes are raised above the ground, there is so little space between the vine and the earth, that weeding, pruning, tying back the vine, clearing the leaves and even harvesting is difficult.
Today, most vines in Madeira are trained along low lying trellis just above the ground, constructed in a fashion similar to that of the Vinho Verde region.
In Porto Santo, thanks to the geological and climatic conditions, most vineyards are to be found along the coast, where free standing vines are grown.
The viticultural landscape of Porto Santo constantly evolves, as new vines are planted and cordon trained.
In Madeira there is a move to convert back to the vine stock used before the period of oidium and phylloxera. Although this strategy is already being implemented by the growers, its success depends in part on the support received from the producers and exporters of Madeira wine.
In the Winery
The initial winemaking steps of Madeira start out like most other wines: grapes are harvested, crushed, pressed, and then fermented in either stainless steel or oak casks. The grape varieties destined for sweeter wines – Bual and Malvasia – are often fermented on their skins to leach more phenols from the grapes to balance the sweetness of the wine. The more dry wines – made from Sercial, Verdelho, and Negra Mole – are separated from their skins prior to fermentation. Depending on the level of sweetness desired, fermentation of the wine is halted at some point by the addition of neutral grape spirits.
The wines undergo the estufagem aging process to produce Madeira’s distinctive flavor.
Colourings such as caramel colouring have been used in the past to give some consistency (see also whiskey), although this practice is decreasing.
Barrels of Madeira in the sun: the unique estufagem process in Canteiro helped protect the wine for long sea voyages through tropical climates.
What makes Madeira wine production unique is the estufagem aging process, meant to duplicate the effect of a long sea voyage on the aging barrels through tropical climates. Three main methods are used to heat age the wine, used according to the quality and cost of the finished wine.
Two of these are illustrated below:
Cuba de Calor: The most common, used for low cost Madeira, is bulk aging in low stainless steel or concrete tanks surrounded by either heat coils or piping that allow hot water to circulate around the container. The wine is heated to temperatures as high as 130 °F (55 °C) for a minimum of 90 days as regulated by the Madeira Wine Institute. However, the Madeira is most commonly heated to approximately 115 °F (46 °C)
Armazém de Calor: Only used by the Madeira Wine Company, this method involves storing the wine in large wooden casks in a specially designed room outfitted with steam-producing tanks or pipes that heat the room, creating a type of sauna. This process more gently exposes the wine to heat, and can last from six months to over a year.
Canteiro: Used for the highest quality Madeiras, these wines are aged without the use of any artificial heat, being stored in lofts where the natural warmth of the sun gently heats the wine. In cases such as vintage Madeira, this heating process can last from 20 years to 100 years. This process is used by many of the top Madiera brands, including Broadbent and Justino’s. Justino’s produces more than 50% of all Madeira. Adding in the other brands owned by Justino’s, such as Henriques & Henriques, the family which owns Justino’s is responsible for producing over 70% of all the Madeira on the island.
When I was at Yarra Yering we set up an Estufa, using the Canteiro process kicking of with a few barrels made from Viognier. Not quite sure what ever happened to it!
The word “canteiro” derives from the name of the traditional supporting beams on which the American oak casks are placed. This unique process consists in the ageing of the wines in seasoned oak casks for a minimum period of four years. The casks are never 100% full, which allows the wine to slowly oxidize and to transform the primary aromas into tertiary aromas or the classical “Madeira Bouquet” of spices, roasted nuts, dried fruits smoke, amongst many others. On average, the company loses 7% of volume of wine per year through evaporation and it is the winemaker’s decision when to transfer the wine from the hottest attic floors to the lower cooler floors that ensures that this loss of volume is controlled. This natural heating over time also leads to the progressive concentration of the wine. Wines produced in the “canteiro” system are stored in casks by the variety name and vintage year.
Where in the World is Pereira D’Oliveiras ?
Is on the Portugese, the island of Madeira is situated in the Atlantic Ocean, about 900Km south-west of Lisbon, and 600km west from the North African coast. The winery is on the southern coast to the west of Funchal, in Câmara de Lobos.
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This offer has expired, wines are subject to availability. We'll do our best to satisfy your tastebuds.