Phylloxera’s destruction of Madeira’s Terrantez vineyards is one of wine history’s most heartbreaking losses. Difficult to grow, it was passed over during the replanting of the island in favor of easier to cultivate varieties, making Terrantez of any age scarce today.
Yet, another famous Madeira grape has proven even more elusive: Bastardo. Many long-time Madeira drinkers have never seen—much less drunk—a bottle, and its history is shrouded in mystery. Owing to its miniscule yields and vulnerability to insects and oidium, little was ever planted, and even less was ever bottled on its own.
In fact, so rare has it been, and for so long, that there have been only three great Bastardos released since the beginning of the twentieth century: 1927 Leacock, 1927 D’Oliveira from Adegas do Torreão and 1954 Blandy’s. Until now.
Barbeito's dynamic winemaker, Ricardo Freitas, has recently unearthed a very old Bastardo that he has made the core of an exciting bottling of this rare variety. Ricardo has named the wine Avô Mário (“Grandfather Mário”) in tribute to his grandfather Mário Barbeito. And it is one of the most important new Madeira releases of our time.
Just 550 individually numbered bottles were made. We are honored to be able to offer a few bottles of this heroic wine for just $575 per 750ml bottle.
For decades, Ricardo has searched through island cellars in his quest for great, and sometimes forgotten, old wines. One of his latest conquests has been a few demijohns of rare Bastardo made by the Favilla Vieira family in the 1930s or 1940s. (Its exact age is unknown.)
But rather than bottling this ancient treasure on its own, he used it as the basis of an even greater wine. This was of course a daring choice, but not one that's unprecedented on the island. It's exactly how the great 19th century soleras were born. But, to our knowledge, only once before has someone done this with Bastardo: in 1844, when Cossart Gordon chose to use that year’s epic Bastardo from Câmara do Lobos to seed its mythic 1844 Solera.
Ricardo has been called “the established star of this atmospheric island” by Jancis Robinson and “the game changer” by Neal Martin. Ricardo's revolutionary single-cask Madeiras and pioneering of vintage-dated Tinta Negra are just two examples of his vision and artistry.
And over the past decade, he’s been on a mission to return Bastardo to its rightful place as one of the island’s greatest wines. In 2004, with no remaining Bastardo vines on the island, Ricardo convinced a grower in the São Jorge area on Madeira’s north coast to plant it again, having first made certain that it was the same strain that was grown in the past.
The first harvest came in 2007, but Ricardo was unable to find anyone on the island with experience or knowledge in making it. Instinctively, he began working with this Bastardo fruit and, over the course of several vintages realized that early harvesting, foot treading of the grapes in lagar and maceration with the skins were the best methods, producing Bastardo of bright, intensely aromatic character.
Ricardo chose two of his young Bastardo vintages—2007 and 2009—to complement the concentrated power and richness of the old Favilla wine. And he further bolstered its depth by adding 60-year-old Tinta Negra, also from Favilla Vieira.
Through Ricardo’s vaunted blending skill the result is an extraordinary Bastardo, its richness of fruit and texture perfectly balanced by bracing acidity, with a depth of character and nuance recalling nothing less than a century-old Madeira. Yet, Ricardo modestly labeled it “over 50 years old.”
This was evident to the fifty judges from 13 countries who voted Avô Mário the Best Fortified Wine in Portugal’s most prestigious wine event this year. The competition included not only all Madeira producers, but also all Port houses. This marks the second year in a row that Barbeito has won, the first time any producer has achieved this in back-to-back years.
Given Ricardo's many fans—as well as the sensory, intellectual and historical glory this wine represents—these won't last.
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