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Blandy's 5 Year Old Verdelho Madeira
Best known for intense, impressive and age-worthy fortified wines, Portugal is unique in that it relies almost exclusively on its many indigenous grape varieties. Bordering Spain to its north and east, and the Atlantic Ocean on its west and south coasts, this is a land where tradition reigns supreme. Due in part to its relative geographical and, for much of the 20th century, political isolation, Portugal has developed independent of its fellow European compatriots. A long and narrow country, Portugal claims considerable diversity in climate and wine styles, with milder weather in the north and significantly more rainfall near the coast.
While Port (named after its city of Oporto on the Atlantic Coast at the end of the Douro Valley), made Portugal famous, Portugal is also an excellent source of dry red and white wines in various styles.
The Duoro Valley produces full-bodied and concentrated dry red wines made from the same set of grape varieties used for Port, which include Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Spain’s Tempranillo), Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cão, among a long list of others in minor proportions.
Other dry wines of the mainland include the tart, slightly effervescent Vinho Verde of the north, and the bright, elegant reds and whites of the Dão as well as the bold, and fruit-driven reds and whites of the Alentejo.
The nation’s other important fortified wine, Madeira, is produced on the eponymous island off the North African coast.
A fortified wine named after the solitary island from which it comes, Madeira’s home is a steep, volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean that rises to over 6,000 feet at its highest point. As is the case with many wine styles of the world, Madeira was born more or less out of a mistake.
During the 1600 and 1700s, the island of Madeira was an important pit stop for sea treks to the Americas and the East Indies. Shippers would load up on Madeira wine on their way across the Atlantic. Given Madeira’s likelihood to spoil on the journey, they added a little brandy to help preserve it. The subsequent heating and cooling of the casks, as they made their way across the sea, deepened and improved the wines’ flavors.
Today there are two main types of Madeira. Blended Madeira is mostly inexpensive wine but there are a few remarkable aged styles. Single varietal Madeira, made as both non-vintage or single vintage wines, is usually the highest quality Madeira and has the longest aging potential.
Four different grape varieties are used.
Sercial shows lemony, spice and herbal notes with a stony mineral character and make great aperitif wines.
Verdelho is smoky and dry and pairs with a variety of foods.
Boal is complex with flavors of roasted coffee, caramel, cocoa and dates.
Malmsey is the sweetest and fruitiest with roasted nut and chocolate notes.