Text Sarah Ahmed
There cannot be many places in the world where you can buy a bottle of 19th century wine over the counter direct from the producer. Correction. Eight 19th century wines over the counter.
Pereira d’Oliveira’s cellar in Funchal, Madeira is that place. What a hoard of treasure it is too, crammed with bottles and barrels! A hoard takes a hoarder. How come Pereira d’Oliveira has such a marvellously abundant back catalogue, a veritable embarrassment of riches?
Part of the explanation lies in the fact that Pereira d’Oliveira is an amalgamation of six Madeira firms: João Pereira d’Oliveira, João Joaquim Camacho & Sons, Júlio Augusto Cunha & Sons, Vasco Luís Pereira & Sons, Adegas do Torreão and, very recently (October 2013), Barros e Sousa.
But this is not the principal reason. With his brother Anibal, Luís Pereira d’Oliveira represents the fifth generation of his family to run the business which was founded in 1850 by João Pereira d’Oliveira. Responsible for sales, he tells me a story which has a distinct ring of familiarity (I’m thinking about Caves São João’s million bottle cellar in Bairrada). He reveals that the company only started to export 30 years ago because the third and fourth generation – his father, uncle and grandfather – simply had no interest in exporting. All three preferred exclusively to sell their wines on Madeira and the Portuguese mainland, which explains why Pereira d’Oliveira has some 1,600,000 litres of madeira which is more than 20-30 years old. Wow!
Although these days the company exports madeira to 16 countries, it would seem that old habits die hard. When I ask Pereira d’Oliveira (Luís) about the acquisition of Barros e Sousa, he tells me it was for one reason only – to extend their 600 square metre cellar door/lodge (already one of three Pereira d’Oliveira lodges in Funchal). With 1030 square metres, Barros e Sousa’s neighbouring lodge will help ease the pressure on space and maintain Pereira d’Oliveira’s long-held tradition of bottling wines on demand (there are no plans to set aside new wines to perpetuate the Barros e Sousa brand).
This practice (bottling on demand) accounts for the elixir-like concentration and intensity for which the company’s madeira is renowned. Take the 1927 Bastardo, first bottled from cask in 2007, 60 years after the 20 year minimum which is required of top Frasqueira (vintage) madeira!
With its pacy lick of “vinagrinho,” the über-complex house style is also informed by another long-held tradition. Pereira d’Oliveira madeira is cask-aged in very old wood (mostly over 60 years old, some over a century old) and on ullage (i.e. with no topping up to refresh wines). A process which, when skilfully done over many years, allows the subtle interaction of wine, wood, heat and oxygen slowly to tease out myriad layers.
The modern world worships speed, but there’s no place for it here. Or as Pereira d’Oliveira puts it, “we don’t like to go fast because then something can happen which is not interesting.” Though the context of his remark is about staying a small, independent family business, it resonates profoundly with the winemaking philosophy here. A philosophy which has remained firmly intact since sixth generation winemaker Filipe joined his father, Anibal.
The “steady as she goes” approach is a blessing for tourists too, especially those who are regularly decanted from the many cruise ships which visit the island and have no car at their disposal. Pereira d’Oliveira is adamant about staying in the heart of Funchal and, located at number 107 Rua dos Ferreiros, the atmospheric 17th century cellar (originally a school) is just a stone’s throw from the port, to the north of the city’s cathedral.
While the selection of madeira on tasting impresses, it pales into insignificance compared with what you can buy over the counter. With 56 single vintage (Colheita and Frasqueria) madeiras on sale, you can celebrate just about any anniversary you care to mention. However, take note, you should contact The Guinness Book of Records if your birth year coincides with the eight oldest wines, which span 1850 to 1895!
Here are tasting notes on my top seven from number 107 (prices are cellar door)
Pereira d’Oliveira Sercial 1971 (Madeira)
Mahogany with red glints. Terrific varietal character with its drive of grapefruity acidity, a sweet hint of tangerine and guava too. Very smoky, long and fine. Concentration with line and length. €94/bottle
Pereira d’Oliveira Terrantez 1971 (Madeira)
Deep amber with a complex nose and palate. Richer than the Sercial with rounder, riper, orangey acidity (not grapefruit). Yet drier, more savoury, with a lovely fine backbone of tobacco, cedar and dried spice. Very persistent with a mineral/iodine undertow to its long finish. €110/bottle
Pereira d’Oliveira Bastardo 1927 (Madeira)
This particular bottle was taken from cask in 2014; the 1927 is Pereira d’Oliveira’s only Bastardo, so it’s extremely rare . The deep hue reminds you that Bastardo is a red, not white grape. Sure enough, it has more body, fruit and sweetness to its mid-palate of tangy sweet and sour medjool date fruit. Juicy acidity is nicely integrated, mingling and extending the fruit through a long, dark spicy finish with black cardamom seed and milder, smoother café crème cigar lift. The finish is a mite dusty, but the fruit is generous enough to keep any wood astringency firmly at bay. €300/bottle
Pereira d’Oliveira Verdelho 1912 (Madeira)
The house is renowned for Verdelho. Filipe Pereira d’Oliveira tells me he is a fan of its medium dry style (and so, like me, a firm fan of Terrantez too). This has an exceptionally lively palate for a 102 year old. Do not be fooled by its mature mahogany hue – appearances can be deceptive. It reveals friskily fresh guava and tangy, fleshy date chutney with sour tamarind spice and grapefruit peel bite. Fabulous length and precision. A marvel. Hope to be this sprightly if I get to 102!! With the Terrantez 1880, my wine of the tasting. €330/bottle
Pereira d’Oliveira Moscatel 1875 (Madeira)
I’ve had the good fortune to taste very aged, fine rare Moscatel before – 1928 Morris Muscat from Rutherglen and José Maria Fonseca Apoteca Moscatel de Setubal 1902. Both were viscously intense. I’d not encountered Moscatel in Madeira before but the island’s hallmark acidity really distinguishes and transports this Moscatel – I’d say it’s the best of these very aged examples I’ve tasted. So although it’s a very dark mahogany colour with a correspondingly super-intense concentration of Demerara sugar, dark, slightly bitter, dusty spices (black cardamom, tamarind), Camp Coffee and molasses, its very even, well integrated acidity lends a certain precision, not to mention impressive length. No viscosity here, which gives this wine great energy and glow. €760/bottle
Pereira d’Oliveira Terrantez 1880 (Madeira)
Relatively pale, as seems to be a Terrantez trait. But ever so interesting but, above all, it has incredible elegance, length and integration for its age. A fine spine of delicate spices and sweet tobacco brings lift and line. Beautiful balance and composure. With the Verdelho 1912, my wine of the tasting. €780/bottle
Pereira d’Oliveira Sercial 1875 (Madeira)
It’s hard to believe that this Sercial is nearly 100 years older than the first of my magnificent seven wines, also a Sercial! The family resemblance in terms of variety and house style is very marked. Guava, grapefruit peel, even fresh cut apple notes sing beneath its veil of smoke and minerals. Its distinctly volcanic whiff, iodine and kelp serve as a palpable reminder of the island’s very peculiar terroir of mountains, ocean and volcano. Incredible length, persistence and finesse. I think this just might be another joint favourite….€760/bottle
Rua Ferreiros 107
( Sé )
Tel: (+351) 291 220 784
Fax: (+351) 291 229 081