Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Drink Like a President

Disclosure: I received this sample for review

I had intentions of drinking this wine on election night and going live with this blog post the following day.  However, the unexpected outcome of the election had me in a state of shock that no amount of fortified wine could get me out of.

What do presidents drink?  Historically, the answer is Madeira.

What is Madeira?  And how did it become a presidential drink?  Madeira is a fortified wine made on the Portuguese island of the same name.  The island is located 625 miles off of the coast of Portugal, so naturally, it became an important stop on the trade route from Europe to the New World in the 16th century.   In fact, the North American colonies consumed about a quarter of the island’s production by the late 18th century.  Initially the wine was unfortified, but by the time the ships reached the New World, the wine had spoiled due to sun exposure on the hulls of ships.  To combat this spoilage, the wine would be fortified with a neutral grape spirit.  This would increase the alcoholic strength of the beverage and protect it from spoilage.  However, the wine was still subjected to maderization, which is the natural aging/oxidation of the wine from the exposure to the sun and the movement/rolling on the ship as it traveled.   This gave the wine “baked” flavors of: caramel, nuts, coffee, etc.  In the New World, particularly in the North American colonies, Madeira was held to high esteem and became a drink for the upper class, including our first presidents. Thomas Jefferson was a Madeira drinker and George Washington was said to down four glasses of Madeira every afternoon. In fact, Madeira was used to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Signing of the Declaration of Independence

Today, Madeira no longer has to ride on a ship for a few weeks or months to develop those signature maderized flavors. Maderization is achieved in two ways. The slower, more natural canteiro process is where the wine is left in casks on racks (called canteiros) in lofts and are heated by the sun. This can take anywhere from 20 to 100 years! The artificial process called estufagem, is where wine is pumped into containers (called estufas) made of stainless steel and heated to mimic the maturation that used to happen on the ships. This process can take anywhere from 90 days to 6 months.

Aging Canteiros

Ok, back to 2016.  Yes, we have a new President, and while this isn’t a political blog, I’m not afraid to say that I am a combination of mad as hell and scared shitless for what the implications are for our country.  Only time will tell.  Speaking of time, the Madeira Club of Savannah, an “old boys club” in Georgia where the members get together regularly and drink old Madeira, has been meeting regularly for over 250 years. They even survived Prohibition.  That’s pretty damn cool in my book.

Blandy’s Alvada Madeira SRP $18 (500mL) 19% ABV

This wine is a combination of both Bual and Malmsey grapes, two of the “noble” varieties.  It is aged for 5 years in seasoned American oak casks using the traditional Canteiro aging system.  This is a beautifully complex wine.  The nose has intense notes of raisin, prune, roasted nuts, toffee, coffee, and even lime peel.  The wine is medium sweet and has less primary fruit flavors (raisin) and more tertiary notes of coffee, chocolate, toffee, and butterscotch.  Overall I’d call this wine elegant and refined.  Very complex.  A couple fingers worth of Blandy’s Alvada, and your insides are warmed for the night.

Blandy's Alvada 5 Year Old

Fun fact: The Blandy family is unique for being the only family of all the original founders of the Madeira wine trade to still own and manage their original wine company.

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