Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Operations Tour and Tasting at Barbeito Winery, Island of Madeira, Portugal
Barbeito produces around 170,000 liters of wine per year (around 19,000 cases), including a variety of third-party labels such as the famous Historic Series. Ricardo said they purchase all of their grapes from local farmers with an ideal brix of 17 (quite low!), but needed to achieve the fresh acidity for which Madeira is known.
Fermenting Madeira Grapes and Achieving Sugar Levels
* Extra dry (< 49 grams per liter of sugar) * Dry (49 – 65 g/l) – usually Sercial * Medium-Dry (65 – 80 g/l) – usually Verdelho * Medium-Sweet/Rich (80 – 96 g/l) – usually Boal * Sweet/Rich (> 96 g/l) – usually Malvasia between 100 -120
For the Tinta Negra Mole (making up 85% of the island’s production), Ricardo destems and crushes lightly, and then will often ferment in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks outfitted with robotic lagares – one of his innovations. Interestingly the ancient method of making Madeira was to trod by food (lagares) in the same method that port is made.
If needed for coloring or palate feel, carmel may be added after fermentation when the wine is fortified. However, it should be noted that the carmel is not for flavor, but more to achieve a desired color which consumers prefer.
Estufa and Canteiro Aging Methods
By law, generic Madeira (made with Tinta Negra Mole) must be aged a minimum of 3 years. For this less expensive type of wine, the estufa method is generally employed. Here the fermented wine is fortified with alcohol to 17.5 – 22%, and then placed in large stainless steel tanks with hot water circulating around the wine to heat it to 47 – 52 degrees Celsius for a minimum of 3 months. It is then aged in either tank or large wooden neutral barrels for an additional 2 years before it is blending and bottled for sale.
Ricardo pointed out the unique zinc-covered cement ceilings in his canterio aging room, as well as the large windows that he opens at night to cool the room. He explained this helps to slow down the sugar and allow the acidity to balance the wine. His viewpoint is that a room that is always hot is not as good for the wine, and that natural cooling at night is more similar to the ancient sea voyages that helped to create the original Madeira’s. Overall, he reported that his average evaporation rate is 3 to 8%, depending in which of his 5 aging facilities the wine is stored.
Blending and Fining
Ricardo and his staff taste through the wines in order to determine which ones will be labeled generic, 5, 10, or 15 years. For Colheito and Vintage wines, there are only declared in very good years. After the wine has aged according to the desired number of years for the label, it is blended. By law up to 15% of another grape varietal can be blended, so many of the wines labeled as noble grapes, e.g. Sercial, often have some Tinta Negra Mole added. This is because Tinta Negra is much easier to grow and provides good flavors. Ricardo said he currently has around 33 different blends.
Small Sercial & Verdelho Vineyard
Tasting of 15 Wines
We then tasted through a variety of vintage wines ranging from 1988, 1992, 1996, 1997, and 2001. My favorites of the tasting were the Barbeito 1992 Sercial, 2001 Malvasia, and a Barbeito 20-year-old Malvasia.