The Game Changer

Ricardo Freitas & Madeira’s Revival

December 1, 2010

In America, 2010 will be remembered as a year of political upheaval. But the winds of change also blew through wine. Asia replaced the United States as the engine driving the top end of the world market, while a long-forgotten wine made an improbable comeback.

This was the year when, after decades of decline and neglect, Madeira finally dusted itself off, recapturing some of the lofty prestige it enjoyed two centuries ago. As 2010 nears its end, Madeira is indeed on a roll, gratifying those of us who have long believed in its greatness.

An Awakening in the Press

Madeira's resurgence in 2010 can be measured in a lot of ways, but one choice would be to look at the sudden outpouring of words written about a long-ignored wine. A parade of major publications and websites has praised Madeira's grace with food, its complexity and ageworthiness, and its place in history. And much of it's been written by influential journalists and criticssomething rarely seen a few years ago.

Madeira's year is ending with a flourish, with Mike Steinberger's piece in Slate in October and an article due out this month in Ed Behr's influential Art of Eating.

Meanwhile, November saw Neal Martin weighing in with a lengthy article on his own Wine Journal and on eRobertParker.com. The article was built on several days of tasting and interviews in Madeira, where he was joined by Jancis Robinson, whose own recap appeared on www.jancisrobinson.com in May.

Barbeito's Emergence

It would be an understatement to say that both writers were impressed with what they tasted at Barbeito. Inspired by their visit, Jancis now suggests that Barbeito could be regarded as the Lafite of Madeira, while Neal calls it Madeira's Game Changer, noting that Madeira is entering a new golden age, spearheaded by Barbeito. In other words, Madeira's youngest company (founded 1946) not only may be making its most individual wines, it is showing the way to the future.

Responsible for Barbeito's flowering is of course Ricardo Freitas, who, in the early '90s, took over his family's financially troubled winery. Neal tells how Ricardo made the courageous and farsighted decisions to pay his growers a premium for the best fruit and discontinue the bulk shipments that had been keeping his and other wineries afloat.

He also describes Ricardo's artful use of the expensive canteiro method for slow, natural aging, as well as his unprecedented use of smal lots to maximize expression. Ricardo's commitment to quality was unique-not only yielding a stunning array of wines, but altering Madeira's trajectory. He was, in short, The Game Changer.

For 17 years, I've been privileged to be Ricardo's partner in rebuilding Madeira's fortunes and am excited about the recognition he is receiving on both sides of the Atlantic. In next week's Rare Wine Co. newsletter, we will be featuring some of the Madeiras that enchanted Neal Martin and Jancis Robinson. The issue is posted on our website.

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