Tasting a 1971 Blandy's Vintage Bual Madeira

I purchased this Madeira, a sweet dessert wine, a few years ago with the intention of drinking it during 2001. As with the wine, both my wife and I are of the year 1971, and today on my wife's 30th birthday we opened this vintage Madeira. The last time this wine was breathing was when it was bottled in the early mid-nineties after having spent 25 years on cask. It was very eager to get a gasp of fresh air, needless to say.

Occasionally, on particularly superb year of grapes, the wine will be selected to become a vintage Madeira, and of the Bual - one of four different sorts of Madeira - there were 7 vintage years during the 20th century. A few more vintage years may be added, when the wines from the eighties and nineties have been thoroughly evaluated. One of these vintage Madeiras, the 1971 Bual, am I the lucky owner of.

Blandy's Madeira Wine company was founded in 1811, but the oldest wines from Blandy's are older than that, since they bought grapes and wines from independent farmers and manufacturers. The Madeira wine has an extraordinary longevity and 150 years is nothing for a Madeira wine. It is still possible to purchase a 200 years old Madeira, and a 1842 Bual Madeira could be yours if you have some £200 to spend. The wine will stay excellent and enjoyable for over a year after it's been opened.

There is a story about how Winston Churchill in the 1950s served dinner guests a 1792 Napoleon Madeira with the words "Do you realize that when this wine was vintaged Marie Antoinette was still alive?" It's a fantastic thought.

Our anticipation was high, and when I opened the bottle, it was as if the wine sighed, taking in a first mouth of air in a long time. The smell was fantastic. Bual Madeira wine of this quality should be enjoyed at room temperature, so I simply poured it in ordinary wine tasting glasses. Bual is a bit dry - it's the next driest of the four varieties - but as the years pass, it gains in sweetness.

The color is dark orange, almost brown. Much like tea, really. The smell is sweet and full, with just a tiny, tiny bitterness to it. Taking a sip and letting it roll on the tongue before swallowing it, the most amazing tastes evolves in the mouth; slightly sweet, not at all dry like a three or five year old Bual. Tangy and complex; the acidity in a perfect balance with the sweetness. I was quite overwhelming drinking this Madeira which like myself has been around for 30 years.

It has aged well, no doubt about it, but I feel that this wine also have many good years in front of itself. I immediately realize that I know must buy several more bottles of this vintage Madeira wine to drink in 10, 20 and 30 years. The one bottle we opened will be enjoyed for the year to come, but I'm fairly sure that it will become better yet.

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