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BEST CELLARS; chRisTmas cheeR.


If there is one style of beverage that I associate with Christmas, it must be fortified wine. Warming and spicy, my default choice would be Port, but that would overlook another Portuguese classic, Madeira.

Located in the mid-Atlantic, Madeira quickly established itself as a major trading-post en route to the Americas, Africa and Asia.

The most popular grape, Tinta Negra Mole, accounts for around 90% of the vineyards, but the best-known blends take the names of the four noble varieties. The sweetest is Malmsey (Malvasia), dark brown, rich and soft; Bual is lighter and and less sweet, but still a dessert style; the honeyed, smoky and softer Verdelho, and the fragrant and sharp Sercial, are better as an aperitif. Unless the wine is made from one of these four varieties, it is generally labelled according to age, such as 3, 5, 10 or 15 years, or style from dry, medium or rich. Increasingly popular are Colheitas, wines from a single year and bottled after 5 years in wood.

In general, the more popular styles are relatively simple and lack the complexity and length required in a good fortified wine. I'd therefore start with Blandy's Harvest 2001 (pounds 13.99 Tesco, Asda , Waitrose), a full-blown Malmsey using the Canteiro method. It has well-developed rancio characters, spice and toffee.

Beautifully packaged with a pink label is Blandy's Alvado 5 Year-Old (pounds 11.99 50cl Waitrose), a 50/50 blend of Malvasia and Bual. More sophisticated still, it's smoky, tangy and spicy, with toffee and mandarin.

Henriques & Henriques (H&H) specialist in the noble varieties. Their 10 yo Sercial (pounds 13) and 10 yo Verdelho (pounds 13) are akin to dry Amontillado and Oloroso Sherry, yet are perhaps fuller with a bit more bite. Laden with dried fruit, and more complex still, is the 15 yo Verdelho (pounds 18).

It is with pudding that the H&H 10 yo Malmsey (pounds 13) really comes into its own. For a real treat, though, try the 15 yo Bual (pounds 18) with characters of chocolate-orange, and the 15 yo Malmsey (pounds 18), which develops coffee and cream. Liquid Christmas luxury.

All these H&H Madeiras are available at Waitrose, Tanners, Wine Society and Majestic.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 3, 2009
Previous Article:The codfather; SUNDAY SLEUTH.

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