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31 July 2018

Madeira: Henriques & Henriques and D'Oliveiras

Henriques & Henriques wine cellar is found just up the hill in the touristy fishing village of Câmara de Lobos a few kilometres to the west of Funchal, which is one of the main grape-growing areas on the island. These mostly small blocks of vineyard are strung along dangerous terraces lying above miniature banana plantations and steep market gardens, and offer a spectacularly dramatic backdrop to the town whether approaching from the coastal path to the east or staggeringly winding and elevated cliff-edged roads to the west as you descend into its vast awesome natural amphitheatre.
The Henriques family were already longstanding landowners in this area supplying grapes to Madeira houses in Funchal before setting up their own cellar in 1850, Maria Aguiar informed me on a trip there last month. By 1925, the company was known as Henriques & Henriques named after the two brothers, Francisco Eduardo and João Joaquim, who expanded the business focusing on their own production and especially for export. Traditionally, the main markets were the UK and US, although Japan for example among others has now become very important. Germany continues to take the largest volume of Madeira wines, but this is mostly entry-level quality: H&H's three year old sweet wine is still the biggest seller in Europe. The last of the Henriques family involved in the business passed away without heirs in 1969 when it was bought out by the remaining partners.
In 1994, H&H moved location from Funchal to the new ageing cellar, offices and shop in Câmara de Lobos; and a modern winemaking facility was also built nearby at their Quinta Grande property which was replanted to become their principal vineyard covering ten hectares. This lies at 600-700 metres altitude where the micro-climate can be cool and misty, so the vines were trellised using contemporary techniques to create better canopy exposure. The minimum potential alcohol content of grapes only has to be nine percent (by volume) by law though (remembering that the final wines are fortified anyway), with picking taking place as early as mid August but sometimes lasting into October progressing from vineyards by the sea and working upwards to the high ground.
H&H doesn't grow the island's predominant (red) grape variety, Tinta Negra, at Quinta Grande, as it can easily be purchased from other growers; the focus here is on the so-called noble white varieties as well as the very rare Terrantez grape (maybe from northern Portugal originally). "We are the largest producer (relatively speaking), but there's very little left," Maria told me. "Some growers are replanting Terrantez because of its premium price." Hence why the winery only makes limited-edition gracefully matured wines from it.
Coming back to H&H's barrel cellar and tasting room in Câmara, the facility houses three storeys for cask ageing. Maria explained that, by removing the bottling plant and other winemaking equipment (now at Quinta Grande), they made room to be able to reassemble those traditional big tuns. They also have their own cooper and workshop there, which you don't see much nowadays, as "barrels are reused for decades so are cleaned and repaired here." At ground level, there are some standard stainless steel vats used for storing base wine and aged wines drawn from cask waiting to be bottled. I spotted three rows of new barrels as well belonging to whisk(e)y distillers sent here for "seasoning." For example, Jameson and Bushmills keep barrels here used for ageing Madeira which are then returned to Ireland (empty obviously).
Speaking in general taste and style terms, although some of the cheaper, less-aged Madeira wines can be perfectly okay, it's definitely worth paying more money for wines aged for ten (or more) years as this is when Madeira gets really interesting and of high quality. Tasting through the Henriques range exemplifies this well (see tasting notes below). By the way, high acidity levels are common in Madeira wines due to a unique combination of climate (never usually that hot, varying cloud cover etc.), volcanic terrain, traditionally-trellised vines (latada or pergola method) planted at altitude on terraces (there is very little 'flat' land on the island) and early picking.
This acid structure partly explains why the so-called dry wines do actually taste quite dry despite containing a relatively large amount of residual sugar (RS), shown here in more readily understandable grams per litre (g/l) rather than degrees Baumé used by Madeira winemakers. And inversely why very sweet wines often don't end up too sickly because of that acidic balance; oxidative ageing characters (the casks are heated in fact and not topped up while some of the contents evaporates) also influence your perception of sweetness and the taste of these wines - those tangy nutty notes in particular - as well as alcohol levels of 19 to 20% abv typical of them being fortified.
More @ www.henriquesehenriques.pt.
There's also some useful facts and figures on this site: www.madeirawine.nl.

Notes on a selection of Henriques & Henriques wines (unless specified, as in the varietal 'classics', the main grape variety is Tinta Negra):
Monte Seco - The story goes that this wine was created during the Second World War because of a shortage of dry Martini. Manzanilla-esque styling (such as toasted almond aromas) but weightier with a dry and refreshing palate. Tastes much drier than you'd expect with 25 g/l RS, as it's nice and tangy. Good value at €6.50 cellar door.
Rainwater (73 RS) - This 'medium-dry' wine apparently gets its name from someone famously describing Madeira 'as soft as rainwater.' Nuttier walnut tones, again tastes tangy vs sweet, attractive enough easy-going style.
Finest Dry 5 Year Old (51.5 RS) - Richer and more oxidised but definitely drier with roasted almond flavours, more complex and lingering finish. Attractive good-value wine.
Full Rich 3 Year Old (108 RS) - Much browner and sweeter with brown sugar and aged nutty characters, surprisingly well-balanced though.
Full Rich 5 Year Old (111 RS) - More 'madeirised' with caramel and molasses notes, fruitier though with big mouthful and length, more complicated flavours too.
1997 Single Harvest (aged in Bourbon barrels and bottled in 2004/5, 108 RS) - More vanilla and caramel on the nose, rounded and fairly punchy palate, rich although balanced finish despite the power and sweetness with a touch of grip and texture too. A warming Christmas pudding of a wine!
Sercial 10 Year Old Dry (55 RS) - Much fresher nose with citrus and apricot then concentrated tangy almonds on the palate, nice power vs cut, complex long finish. Lovely. €15.50 50cl.
Verdelho 15 Year Old (72 RS) - Candied orange, smoky too, very intense mouth-feel making it taste relatively dry actually, concentrated and rich vs tangy nutty smoky and elegant finish. Delicious too.
2000 Boal Colheita Single Harvest medium-sweet (96 RS) - Coffee and caramelised brown sugar aromas, very lush mouthful vs 'kick' and 'cut', tangy pecan nut flavours linger with warmth; very concentrated big wine, wow. Try with chocolate or coffee and walnut cake, proper vanilla ice cream.
Malvasia 20 Year Old (114 RS) - Very powerful nose with toasted cocoa bean tones, vanilla and treacle, very intense flavours, lingering roasted walnuts, powerful long finish, textured even with rich coating. Wow.
Terrantez 20 Year Old medium-dry (75 RS) - Made from this now rare variety, this is the youngest wine H&H makes from it. Orangey brown colour, very complex aromatic nose, spicy too with roasted almond and hazelnut, again very intense palate with salty tang almost, unusual and long finish with peppery and tangy vs sweetish yet almost bitter dry combo; delicious lingering finish. €53
1898 Solera Verdelho medium-dry (77 RS, bottled in 2008) - A solera (similar to the protracted cask ageing process used for sherry, where wines of different ages are slowly blended together from one level of barrels to another etc.) is normally stopped after ten years and the final wines bottled; this one is kept in cask. It doesn't really look any older than the other wines! Tangy and intense, oaky notes on a rich backdrop cut by unbelievably fresh acidity, very long complex and lingering flavours with an almost dry-tasting flourish. Tastes lively still.
1900 Solera Century Malmsey sweet (123 RS, bottled in 1999) - Deep brown with orangey edges, raisins molasses and candied citrus on the nose, super concentrated and rich but again with fresh cut and power running underneath; lasts forever. What can I say: daft to try and 'score' it or anything as futile!

Pereira D'Oliveira Vinhos is a well-respected 'century-old Madeira house' formed by the merger of five independent family producers and shippers founded between 1820 and 1949. Their pretty old cellar and tasting room (front of building above) is located in the centre of Funchal old town, just up a side street heading up from the Jesuit Church, where you can taste some of their basic range wines for free (charges apply for the dearer wines depending on what you want to try). At the top end, the cellar holds stocks of bottles of old vintages from about 2005 to 1850 (not every year obviously) as far as I could see when I went there last month. Here are a few quick notes then on three of their entry level qualities sampled in situ (all 19% abv):
D'Oliveiras Medium-dry (aged 3 years in cask) - Nice and nutty and smooth on the palate, neither too sweet nor too dry with attractive weight vs tangy finish.
D'Oliveiras Medium-sweet (aged 3 years in cask) - Richer and sweeter with more pecan nut and caramel flavours, has a little 'cut' although it's a bit cloying on its own. Would be nice with cake or ice cream.
D'Oliveiras 5 Year Old sweet - Sweet brown sugar flavours, seems fierier and punchier with roasted walnut and tangy notes, longer and more interesting finish in the end despite the amount of residual sugar.
I brought back a pack of four miniatures of D'Oliveiras' 15 Year Old Madeiras (€14), one of each style, which were on an altogether higher quality level overall. I preferred the Dry and Medium-Dry 15 Year Olds the best with their nutty tangy toasty complexity; the sweetest of this range is still good although correspondingly rich dark and sweet.

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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.