In the 18th and 19th centuries, Madeira was the United States’ most prestigious wine, shipped to connoisseurs in major seaports from New Orleans to Boston.

Prominent families purchased vintage Madeira in cask or demijohn, and built sizeable collections for long-term aging. In the late-1800s, successive plagues of Oïdium and Phylloxera devastated Madeira production, and the tradition of Madeira drifted into obscurity.

As America’s leading merchant of rare, old Madeiras, The Rare Wine Co. has been a major force behind Madeira’s recent revival in the marketplace—introducing a new generation of wine lovers to the wonders of vintage Madeira. But it has long been our dream to introduce Madeira’s glory to a broader market—teaching Americans about both Madeira’s magical quality and our two centuries of shared history.

Origins of a New Idea

It is our belief that the usual introductions to Madeira—five- and ten-year blends—often fail to offer the extra magic and distinction that marks the great vintage wines. With this in mind, we teamed with Vinhos Barbeito’s owner, Ricardo Diogo Vasconcelos Freitas, to create the Historic Series—affordable Madeiras that reflect the style and complexity of the great vintage wines.

As the holder of one of the great libraries of 18th and 19th century Madeiras, Ricardo had a unique understanding of the qualities we sought. Our goals seemed simple, but it took over two years of trials to reach our aims. We wanted wines that would express true varietal character and display the traits of vintage Madeira. While no “Vintage Character” designation exists for Madeira as it does for Port, we felt that such a creation could contribute to Madeira’s ongoing resurgence.

Affordable Madeiras are typically blended for uniformity but, with this project, we seek to create highly individual wines—wines that display uniquely the combinations of acidity, concentration, aromatics, and richness that mark the finest Madeira. By working with small lots, we are able to include parcels of old wine (many exceeding 30 years old) which give the wines the character of Vintage Madeira. The source and age of these parcels may vary from lot to lot, but they will always help to achieve a more expressive result.

To emphasize America’s deep historical connection to Madeira, each wine in the series is named for a U.S. city where Madeira was popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. Thus, the series offers Boston Bual Special Reserve, New York Malmsey Special Reserve, and Charleston Sercial Special Reserve. Each bottle bears an early engraving from that city, along with a back label describing the wine and America’s special link to Madeira’s illustrious history.

Affordable Madeiras are typically blended for uniformity but, with this project, we seek to create highly individual wines — wines that display uniquely the combinations of acidity, concentration, aromatics, and richness that mark the finest Madeira. By working with small lots, we are able to include parcels of old wine (many exceeding thirty years old) which give the wines the character of Vintage Madeira. The source and age of these parcels may vary from lot to lot, but they will always help to achieve a more expressive result.

The Wines

 

Charleston Sercial Special Reserve
The driest wine in the series and a wine that has been served throughout meals in America for nearly 300 years. Chef Mario Batali won over 1000+ guests at the 2009 New York Wine Experience by boldly pairing Charleston Sercial with a wild boar dish of Wolfgang Puck’s creation. Just two weeks later, in the Wall Street Journal, Alice Feiring picked the same Madeira as a wine of choice for chestnut soup, noting that it “is like a salted caramel without its sugar.” But Mario and Alice were not the first to discover Charleston Sercial’s charms. In 2005, Grant Achatz, whom many believe is America's most inventive chef, attracted national press for his cutting-edge pairings of Charleston Sercial with dishes at Alinea in Chicago.

Josh Raynolds, International Wine Cellar  92 rating

Savannah Verdelho Special Reserve
Released in April 2010, Savannah Verdelho is simply incredible, its bouquet exuding orange zest and buttery shortbread with hints of ginger, milk chocolate, and almonds. Lightly sweet with zesty acidity to keep it fresh, the palate reveals notes of candied citrus, ginger, and spicy honey. The finish sharpens all of the above into a refreshing and palate cleansing blend of spiciness and citrus sweetness.

Josh Raynolds, International Wine Cellar  93 rating

Boston Bual Special Reserve
Noticeably sweeter than Charleston Sercial and Savannah Verdelho, Boston Bual still boasts remarkable balance and refreshing acidity. The hallmark of this wine is its otherworldly complexity, featuring cinnamon-clove spiciness with overtones of citrus peal and woodsmoke. There is just enough sweetness to excel as an after-dinner wine, but its long, dry finish also makes it work beautifully with food.

Port and Madeira expert Roy Hersh has written that Boston Bual “emulates some of the finest qualities of vintage Madeira, exhibiting a light amber-tawny color and a nose of dried figs, walnuts, maple syrup, mahogany and a sense of bouillon cube; the mélange of fragrances is complex and compelling. Medium in weight initially, it develops greater heft after a few days open, with a rich and sumptuous mouthfeel.”

Josh Raynolds, International Wine Cellar  92 rating

New York Malmsey Special Reserve
This, the sweetest wine of the Series, finished in the ‘Top 100 wines of 2006’ in The Wine Enthusiast’s end-of-year wrote that it “unfolds slowly in the glass, gradually revealing layers of depth and flavor. Coffee, toffee and date notes emerge, followed by earthy, almost truffley flavors. Powerful and assertive on the long finish.”

New York Malmsey demonstrates why Madeira can be one of the planet's greatest dessert wines. It marries with an astonishing number of desserts, its kaleidoscopic flavors bonding with chocolate, nuts, citrus and dark fruits. But it can also be served during the meal, with foie gras, sweetbreads and almost any dish that has a rich, sweet sauce.

Josh Raynolds, International Wine Cellar  92 rating

New Orleans Special Reserve
This is only the second release of this cuvée and, like the first, it is extremely  limited. The first was produced in 2007, with the profits from that release benefiting renewal efforts in post-Katrina New Orleans. Like the 2007 blend, the 2010 is a mindblowing Madeira, reminding us of the great and rare Terrantezes of the 18th and 19th centuries. However, this second release could be even more interesting than the first, as it includes a small amount of incredibly rare Malvasia from Faja dos Padres, Madeira's most historically important vineyard. This adds a fudgy, spice cake complexity to the burnt orange and grilled nut character that pervades the wine. Like Savannah, it is lightly sweet, with all the flavors focused by powerfully tangy, juicy acidity.

Josh Raynolds, International Wine Cellar  94 rating

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