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Moscatel de Setubal 2004 Jose Maria da FonsecaJokes in Canada
Someone once told me that receiving ice wine is a joke in Canada. Doesn’t seem like much of a punch line but in that quaintly Canadian way, even being the butt of a joke has an uplifting quality. Apparently though, ice wine is the most re-gifted present that exists in the frozen north. People just don’t open these rare treasures known as dessert wines.

Awkward Morning on Wednesday
I get it though – it’s high alcohol, they spoil easily and they’re really expensive. Even half a bottle of these dessert wines run pretty consistently in the $40-50 range. A nice present to be sure, although probably not what you’re opening on your own on a Tuesday with pizza, especially since finishing a bottle on your own could be pretty terrible for Wednesday morning.

Affordable Liquid Dessert
Being a great fantasizer about dessert wines of all kinds though, I am happy to identify that there are at least a couple of affordable, small bottles available. Moscatel de Setubal certainly qualifies – the bottle that I bought was $12 I believe. The empty bottle you see above is one that my brother and I polished off on our front porch in Chicago on a sunny day, the occasion for which I have long since forgotten.

Memories… of Men and Moscatel
This weekend reminded me of that time though as that brother, along with all of my siblings, parents and significant others, came to visit. And yes, we had lots of beer, treats and wines. Moscatel de Setubal of another bottle was drunk and we left the bottle similarly empty at the end of the weekend. Apparently, Canadians don’t invite their relatives over very often… or (more likely) their relatives refuse to visit because it’s Canada. Just kidding – we all love Tim Horton’s.

Taste
Apricot, candied, rich, long finish. Some bosch pear and wildflower honey. The other one we tried this weekend (not this brand identified) also had a cool tea finish to it.

Detail Up!
2004 Moscatel de Setubal DOC, a fortified dessert Wine by Jose Maria da Fonseca in Setubal, Portugal

Random Googles:
* There are 9 types of Moscatel currently recognized by Wikipedia: Moscato Bianco, Moscato Rosa, this Moscatel de Setubal, Muscat of Alexandria, Muscat Ottonel, Black Muscat, Orange Muscat, Muscat Crocant and Moravian Muscat. Four down, five to go.
* Setubal is only 30 minutes outside of Lisbon – about the same as going to Sintra, the famous tourist destination thanks to Lord Byron’s poetry, just in the opposite direction
* Juan Maria da Fonseca also makes a really good dry red, Periquita. 🙂 for those who learned the word through slang in Brazil.

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Snobby Veneer
Knowing lots about wine and grapes can certainly have its downsides. Snobbery and know-it-all-ism might just be the force of the wine world and, despite all the efforts of next wave wine nerds to disperse that perception, that perception lingers and wine remains in the realm of the experts. Fortunately, as an amateur, I’m not often troubled by that particular deficiency of knowing too much. And in the case of this wine it’s a really good thing.

Baga Who?, Baga What?
Had I known more about Baga, I would have thought that the wine was going to be extremely high in tannins, making it extra puckery and causing the tongue to become glued to the top of the mouth. In my mind, that’s the kind of wine that only becomes drinkable after a dozen years of shelving and in my household, where wines rarely make it a year, it just means the wine tastes “ick.” Fortunately, I knew nothing about Baga and jumped right into the bottle.

Taste of Ignorance
Like a truthful Pinocchio, the wine has almost no nose. Plenty of taste though, with blackberry and black cherries leading the charge and oak backing up the blackberry cavalry like a stout, noticeable infantry. Color is way darker than it tastes, which says a lot with the black fruits on the tongue. Medium to light body with a long smooth landing reminiscent of clear skies at JFK – drink now through Thursday.

Image h/t: http://www.luaazul.com

Detail Up!
Quinta do Encontro 2009 of Bairrada DOC from Beiras, Portugal

Random Googles:
* Bairrada isn´t the only famous DOC wine region in Beiras. Dão, maker of some of Portugal´s finest rustic reds, also hails from Beiras.
* Winemakers usually blend their Baga (presumably, because it’s so highly tannic) with mellower grapes like Merlot or Touriga Nacional.
* Baga became famed as the “Fake Port” before the British got pissed and demanded the pulling up of all the vines. Only in 1979 did Bairrada become part of the system of the DOC, making the wine Bigger and Baga.

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Shakespearean Mischief
Puck was always my favorite character in Shakespeare. Something about his making mischief in a good-hearted way (usually) made him stand out from all the serious characters enmeshed in global intrigue, family vengeance and overly-dramatic love sequences. Puck has none of that – he wants to create mischief and maybe mess with the protagonists a bit.

Iberian Puck
Now if Puck were drinking wine, it’s pretty clear to me that he’d be drinking Iberian wine. One specific grape from the Iberian peninsula, to be precise. This is the grape that seems to go by every name on the planet and manages to blend in with its surroundings impressively. Spain, Portugal, California – this grape of mystery is the spy that infiltrated them all, always under an assumed name.

Bottom’s Up
Aragones is the name on the bottle of this blend (with Trincadeira and Castelao – two Portuguese grapes that were once thought to be the same). But wikipedia lists out dozens of synonyms so expect to be tricked many times. I sure have. And I’m pleased to be tricked, time and again, just so long as Nick Bottom isn’t my eventual life-partner.

Puckish Wine FTW
So, for the second time, this grape has tricked me. Well played, Puck/ Aragones/ Cencibel/ Tempranillo. Your name will not be forgotten (but we probably won’t learn all the synonyms either).

Taste:
Opinion divided at this wino’s household. Nobody loved it exactly and nobody hated it, but 3/7 of the home disliked it and found it too dry. A slight majority liked it for its black fruit and thought it better with food than on its own. It’s on the lighter side with spice of the Midwestern variety (i.e. black pepper), not the Thai/Indian/Mexican inferno that also goes by “spice.” Smooth and holds together really well without a super long finish. At $9, we’re talking a pretty great value for everyday wine. But try it first – you might be part of that 3/7th.

Detail Up!
Herdade do EsporĂŁo Portugal Red 2009 “Monte Velho Red” from Alentejo (halfway down from Lisbon), Portugal

Random Googles:
* CastelĂŁo, one of the two new grapes, has a pretty amazing synonym – Periquita. It means “parakeet” in Portuguese and nobody’s exactly sure why.
* CastelĂŁo and Trincadeira (aka Tinta Amarela), today’s new grapes, are both from Portugal, in areas south of Lisbon. Like many grapes in Portugal, they’re permitted in Port wine. Don’t try and name all 82 port wine grapes – you’ll fail and someone else will have finished the bottle.
* Trincadeira took home an award in the value wine arena. Surprisingly, the bottle was from Australia.

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Bual v. Boal – Nobody Cares
Bual or Boal, there doesn’t seem to be a wrong answer. Brits call it Bual, the Portuguese call it Boal, but since the Brits have been intimately involved with Madeira since about the time of the previous Elizabeth, people don’t seem to care much. Both names are used to identify the second-sweetest grape grown on the island of Madeira (#1 sweetest grape is here), which is off the coast of Morocco but is very much Portuguese.

Madeira off Morocco
Why is Madeira a part of Portugal? Partially due to Portugal’s glory days back in the 16th century when its caravels (thank Sid Meier’s Civilization for that term) roamed the world, dropping in on Goa, Angola, Mozambique, Rio and Malacca. Partially due to the same reason that England controls the Falkland Islands just off the tip of Antarctica – they’re willing to fight anybody (especially Argentina’s 1982 junta) to remain in control of those islands.

Confession Time
But back to Bual – it’s not exactly my favorite. There – it’s confessed. Despite making Madeira, which is categorically awesome and having loads of fans in the tiny world of Madeira lovers, Bual always seems to be too over-the-top to me. He’s the guy who responds to the email list after the conversation’s over with that one extra reply. Too much buddy – should’ve left it as it was.

My sister can corroborate this fact too, possibly because she’s the only other person who says “Too much buddy,” and also because she tried two of the Madeira grapes with me. Both the Boston Bual down below and the non-noble Tinta Negra. We both preferred the ignoble grape to the noble Bual, which I like to think suggests our American distaste for aristocracy.

Too Young?
Could be it’s a problem of young Buals (Madeira Maven thought the same till he tried really old ones), but of the couple of Buals that have reached my throat, they’re too much to handle on their own. They need the promise of dessert to calm them down and make them behave (think: children). Maybe it is a matter of youth after all.

Taste
Two different tastes of the grape and two pretty different yet somehow related impressions of too much acidity/structure. First up, the preferred of the two – Boston Bual Special Reserve. Carmel nose, apple taste, slightly sharp finish with lots of pear.

Then, the Cossart Gordon 5 year Bual. Smells like oranges and a little like pepper spice. Tastes very acidic with another shipment of oranges to the tongue.

Detail Up!
Boston Bual Special Reserve – one of the creative RWC Historic Series Madeira. Well worth checking out as the gateway to Madeira-dom (h/t for image).

Cossart Gordon 5 year Bual – oldest of the (small number of) Madeira houses and part of the same family that turns out Blandy’s and Leacock

Google Randoms:
* Malmsey > Bual > Verdelho > Sercial, the sweetness order of Madeira (“My Bottle Vesuviates Sweetness” is the mnemonic device).
* Bual is a white grape that turns out the darkest shade of all the Madeira wines. Strange to be sure.
* Bottle of 1834 Bual can be yours today if you have an extra $980 sitting around your den. To put it in perspective, Abraham Lincoln turned 25 that year.

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Mocked Madeira
Madeira is a little known grape that still finds ways to be snotty and dislike even lesser known grapes. Tinta Negra Mole gets the designation of belittled wine reviled by little known wine. See, it’s a grape grown on Madeira, gets called Madeira in any wine shop, but somehow the Madeira wine lovers (all 3 of them) scoff at Tinta Negra Mole. It’s a shame too since there’s some incredible value to be found in Tinta Negra Mole – say the words out loud: “Tinta. Negra. Mole.” It sounds like a Mexican dessert from Oaxaca.

Rodney Dangerfield in Madeira
Tinta Negra Mole (mmmm… dessert) is a grape with little respect and (whoo hoo!) great value. They grow it on Madeira (the island), nominally in Portugal but really kinda like the Atlantic Madagascar, but don’t respect it on Madeira. Or anywhere. It’s the pariah grape of the Madeira grapes. Perhaps rightfully so since it will never soar to age for decades like many of the other “noble” grapes. Still, Tinta Negra Mole is now a “noble” grape and with that comes maidens, crowns and a modicum of respect.

Red Discrimination
Tinta Negra Mole is Madeira’s most planted grape and is treated like the Mission grape in California (dismissed) or the Airen grape in Spain (forgotten). Really though, it’s because Tinta Negra Mole isn’t at home on Madeira. It’s a red grape on a white island, and Madeira discriminates against red grapes. White grapes are part of the “system,” the Malmsey, Bual, Verdelho, Sercial system. Red grapes just don’t have a place.

Not a Marie Antoinette
Tinta Negra Mole though, can produce fine wines, perhaps not of the Marie Antoinette variety but certainly of the “WOW – what IS this variety???” So don’t tell people, it’s best they don’t know. 5 years of aging, some red blood tucked in with the white of the island grapes, and WOW – you have yourself a value wine that is basically indestructible. It is a Madeira after all, and if there’s a better wine, a more indestructible wine invented on earth, you haven’t brought it to my dining table.

Taste
Sweet nose, coffee taste, alcoholic finish with slight raisin. For $20, buy it at this place, the place that provided the photo above. It’s all Tinta Negra Mole.

Detail Up!
Broadbent Madeira, 5 year reserve – Tinta Negra Mole

Random Googles
* Tinta Negra Mole is a cross between a Grenache and a Pinot Noir – do people really dislike that?
* This Swedish guy runs a blog devoted to Madeira (mad respect!) and seems to think Tinta Negra Mole gets tossed to the chickens. Oh, to be those chickens.
* 15% is as close to labeled Madeira as Tinta Negra Mole gets. Labels: sometimes worth it, sometimes just Ralph Lauren.

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