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Barbeito Madeira Tinta Negra Colheita 2004

Barbeito Madeira Tinta Negra Colheita 2004

Today I kick off a week (well, four days) featuring wines from the 2004 vintage, which are of course celebrating their fifteenth birthday this year. I will start tomorrow with notes from a tasting of the 2004 vintage in the Loire Valley, followed by some wines from the 2004 vintage in Bordeaux the day after. Finally, on day four, a small selection of tasting notes on wines in the 2004 vintage from other regions, including some famous names from Rioja, Italy, the Rhône Valley and Alsace.

We start here, though, with one of my secret pleasures, Madeira. Having long been drawn to this enigmatic crag of volcanic rock in the Atlantic Ocean and its idiosyncratic wine, I spent a few weeks there back in 2013 (I have to confess it feels more recent than that) and was completely entranced, particularly by the wines I tasted at Barbeito. Vinhos Barbeito was founded in 1946 by Mário Barbeito de Vasconcelos, at a time when there were still dozens of producers and exporters of Madeira. Today there are, at my last count, just seven, Barbeito being one of these, now under the control of Mário’s daughter, Manuela de Vasconcelos. This family business turns out a broad range of wines including an exciting selection of single-vintage and single-cask wines, and obviously today I am checking in on a 2004.

Barbeito Madeira Tinta Negra Colheita 2004

Tinta Negra is regarded as the workhorse variety on the island, accounting for 80% of plantings, and it is often overlooked in favour of more rarefied wines made using Verdelho, Sercial, Boal, Malvasia or every Madeira-lover’s holy grail, Terrantez. As with Carignan in the Languedoc, Melon de Bourgogne in Muscadet and other oft-derided varieties, however, I think Tinta Negra has had an unnecessarily hard time of it over the years; it seems to me that if the grapes are treated with the same respect as the other more famed varieties the results can be very good indeed.

The team at Barbeito seem to agree, and the Barbeito Tinta Negra Colheita 2004 is evidence of this. The fruit is sourced from a single vineyard in Estreito de Câmara de Lobos on the south coast of the island, west of Funchal, and it was picked in two passes, the first a week before full maturation in order to provide the wine with more acidity. After a traditional fermentation the wine was aged using the canteiro system, in other words it went into barrels of French oak. The alternative, for anyone who needs a reminder (including me) is the aging in heated tanks or estufas. This latter method is popular for big-volume early-drinking wines particularly those under five-years old on release, while the canteiro system is reserved for wines of higher quality.

In December 2015, after just over ten years in barrel, the 2004 Barbeito Madeira Tinta Negra was bottled, with just 3265 half-litre bottles released. In the glass it displays a fabulously rich, bright and burnished golden-bronze hue, and on the nose it is sweetly composed, with the scents of baked oranges, raisins, dried fig, coffee bean and toast, with a little twist of dried clay representing a touch of oxidation. The palate has impressive weight and texture, with a substance that is vinous, sinewy and tense at its heart, while the midpalate is full and fleshed out by sweetness and its 19.1% alcohol. While it carries some sweetness it has energy, balance and definition. While still undeniably textural and – as the label says – meio seco (medium dry) it felt much drier than I expected, especially in the finish. I was therefore surprised to learn it is carrying 66 g/l of sugar, as I would have thought the figure to be much lower, testament perhaps to the wine’s firm acid backbone. It lingers some time on the finish, with lots of peppery energy and that acidity too, keeping it clean and incisive. While it might not have the finesse of a grander cultivar, this Tinta Negra is a delightful wine which seems to capture some of the acid-driven vivacity I have encountered in very much older examples of Madeira, especially very old vintages tasted during by visit there. That is a great result. 93/100 (25/11/19)

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