Portugal, Madeira

The Barbeito family Madeiras are almost unique in their total non use of caramel to colour the wines. The natural pale colour of theise great Madeiras gives an impression of their being light and perhaps less concentrated than others, but on tasting the wines this impression is quickly dispelled. They are brighter and more pure than most other producers but they have beautiful texture, wonderfully intensity and are immensely long.

I have authored several in-depth articles on Madeira, and those familiar with them will be aware of my views on Vinhos Barbeito. I previously described winemaker Ricardo Freitas as a “game changer” and I still espouse that opinion. If Madeira can be accused of being hidebound by tradition with outmoded techniques, then Ricardo is the man with the passion, ideas, the talent and let us not forget, the finance, to shake up a once somnolent industry content to ply its trade to tourists. What he achieves is a level of precision and delineation that is second to none, a lucidity of aromas and flavors that can be intoxicating. One fundamental tenet is Ricardo’s refusal to add caramel that is habitually used in order to deepen color and make the wines sweeter. He firmly believes that this practice has no place in fine Madeira, and I am inclined to agree. Meeting Ricardo, you can tell that he is a man obsessed with his wines, obsessively figuring out how to blend and when to bottle. Just take a look at the minutiae on the back label, where you can read Ricardo’s thought process, almost verbatim, how he singles out a cask or elects to blend one with another or moves one to a warmer environment to enhance oxidation. His limited production “Signature Wines,” are released between 11 to 16 years after the vintage and are all sold in convenient 50cl bottles. They are fresh, varietal-expressive Madeira wines made in a relatively un-manipulated, un-oxidized style (whereas the “Historic Series” is much more “classic” in style). They are generally made to be consumed upon release and present a fabulous introduction to the delights of Madeira at an inexpensive price. I would also say that as Ricardo has learnt his craft, I feel that these bottlings have improved as time has gone on. The “Historic Series” was first released in 2002. The goal was to produce moderately priced Madeira that tastes like a vintage wine and offers depth, power and concentration, while expressing each noble grape variety. The idea came when Ricardo found a parcel of sixty-year-old Tinta Negra that he blends up to the legal maximum (15%) with 10-to-15-year-old noble varieties such as Verdelho and Bual. They are marketed under titles linking them to cities where Madeira prospered in the 19th century. These wines tend to really come together with six to eight months in bottle, and these reviews apply to Madeiras that will be released later this year. The bottles under the “Barbeito Family Collection” come from Ricardo Freitas’s mother and grandfather’s reserves and usually spend a significant amount of time in demi-john. Neal Martin,  (Aug 2012)