A few years’ ago I was a regular wine lecturer on Celebrity Cruises. On one memorable voyage we sailed from Barcelona to the Caribbean along the trade winds route to the New World and East Indies used by sailing ships in the ‘Age of Exploration’. Our last port of call before heading across the Atlantic was Funchal, Madeira..
In the 16th – 18th Centuries the island was a providore for all the ships. It was great business for the locals – the only problem was that in the early days they discovered that the on board heat of the voyage did strange things to the wine, and amazingly the customers preferred this new style. The producers started simulating the effects of the voyage by storing the wines in rooms heated by the sun. They also copied the port houses and added some spirit to stabilise the wine…..and Madeira as we know it was invented. The wine became a great success in the colonies of America. It was a great favourite of Thomas Jefferson and his mates…..And used in a large quantity to toast the Declaration of Independence. It is still popular these days- and it was noticeable that most American guests on the ship picked up six packs of their favourites for ‘back home’.
That day I visited the remarkable Blandys Wine Lodge and tasted wines going back centuries. They were fascinating; some rich and sweet and some bone dry. My all-time favourite was a more modest wine
BLANDY’S 2001 HARVEST MALMSEY
This was heated in the lofts of the winery. Over the years the wine casks are gradually moved down levels until finally resting in the cooler ground floor. Luscious dried fruit, vanilla and oak flavours abound with a dry-ish finish. Wonderful stuff!
I drink this at regular intervals. A casual glass with a lunchtime snack of bread and English cheddar – the tangy taste of the cheese combines brilliantly with the rich, rounded toffee flavours. Needless to say in the evenings it goes brilliantly with any rich dessert, but it is also brilliant in the cold weather as a warming glass before bed.
£38.50 bottle £6.40 a glass
Prices subject to change