Matriarch of Madeira

A Dinner of Never-Before-Seen Treasures from Her Collection

Tuesday, October 10th, 2013 at Bar Boulud, New York, New York

By the time Barbeito founder Mario Barbeito passed away in 1985, his daughter Manuela had not only taken over his business responsibilities, she had also become the firm’s winemaker—something that, to this today, is still nearly unheard for a woman in Madeira.

In fact, looking back over the past 200 years, only Eugenia Bianchi Henriques had so commanding a female presence on the Madeira wine scene, and her legacy still lives on with the great 19th century “EBH” Madeiras. There can be little question that Manuela Barbeito was the Madeira wine trade’s most important woman of the 20th century.

On October 10th, her son Ricardo Freitas joined us for a special dinner at Bar Boulud in New York. The dinner commemorated his release of an 40-year-old Malvasia Madeira in her honor.

On this special evening, he and I paid tribute to Manuela Barbeito as master blender, wine sleuth and doyenne of the Madeira wine trade—and for inspiring Ricardo to become the winemaker whom Neal Martin has called  “Madeira’s Game Changer” (Neal Martin) and to make Barbeito, in the words of Jancis Robinson, "the Lafite of Madeira.”

We explored a wide range of rare Madeiras that are associated with Manuela Barbeito. Included was the first Madeira Ricardo ever made (in 1992), learning at his mother’s knee. And we also tasted his stunning 40-year-old Malvasia, an homage to his mother.

The Evening’s Main Event

But the crown jewels of the evening was a series of never-before-seen, nearly extinct Madeiras that only survive in her collection. Several will had been decanted from demijohn just for this dinner.

Included were such rarities as an 1887 Malvasia, an 1892 Bual, a pair of turn-of-the-century Sercials (from 1902 and 1904), and three ancient blends Manuela Barbeito made for her own pleasure in 1989, ranging in age from 50 to 90 years old (at the time of blending). It is highly unlikely that we will ever have the opportunity to taste any of these wines again.

And as a very special treat, we got to taste Barbeito’s legendary 1863 Bual and 1834 Malvasia, bottled for this dinner directly from demijohns that remained in Senhora Barbeito’s cellar.

All the wines were paired with a menu prepared for us by Bar Boulud Executive Chef Olivier Quignon.

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