Wine pros | Some great new ideas for pairing madeira

Wine pros

Some great new ideas for pairing madeira

Lucy Bridgers discovers some stunning matches with madeira and gets some inspiration for Christmas entertaining.

With the popularity of tapas and Spanish cuisine generally, the idea of sherry with food has a growing appeal. This is not the case with another classic fortified wine, Madeira. However, unlike sherry, Madeira wines have a distinctive streak of acidity running through them that makes them unexpectedly appetizing and helps balance the warmth of the alcohol and, in many cases, the sweetness.

This was demonstrated quite dramatically at a recent lunch hosted by Humberto Jardim of Henriques and Henriques at the offices of their importer Mentzendorff in London. The wines served revealed the range of styles produced on the island, dry to sweet, finishing with a rare vintage wine. The menu was put together by fortified wine consultant, Joanna Delaforce, with dishes presented in pairs so we could compare the combinations and decide which we preferred.

We started with Sercial 10 year old madeira served with tian of crab with guacamole and celeriac remoulade, and tataki of tuna with soy, shallot and ginger dressing. The Sercial tasted quite honeyed when it was first in the mouth, but got increasingly fresh and citrussy as it passed across the palate, finishing off-dry with a gently nutty complexity, the driest of the wines.

The clean, fresh flavours of the crab tian had a softening effect on the wine that, in turn, brought out the sweetness of the seafood. The wine tasted more caramelised with the crab. You wouldn’t expect this combination to work, but it did. However, the tuna was a more obvious choice, the Sercial’s acidity cutting through the fatty fish and harmonising beautifully with the ginger and umami-rich soy – a delicious combination.

The second wine was Medium Rich Single Harvest Madeira 1998 served with two contrasting dishes: firstly wild mushroom, spinach and truffle oil tartlet topped with Yorkshire Blue rarebit with mixed leaf salad and, secondly, Parma ham, fresh fig and dolcelatte salad with wild rocket and balsamic dressing (below). The wine was rich, warming and complex with festive notes of caramel, dates and walnuts, yet finely balanced with the acidity balancing the sweetness.

It was excellent with the tartlet – a luxurious combination and something you could imagine on a Christmas menu as a starter or savoury course. The wine also worked unexpectedly well with the salad and it was interesting tasting it with the individual ingredients. The gently salty and sweet Parma ham was a great match and the fig and balsamic dressing also worked very well. As a whole, this salad had a freshening effect on the wine, bringing it to life.

Next up was Verdelho 20 year old madeira with another couple of composed salads: salt beef with green beans, quails egg, radish and Lincolnshire Poacher in a sherry vinegar and mustard dressing. The other was smoked duck, buffalo mozzarella, orange and lambs lettuce salad. This wine had a tangy off-dry style, complex dried fruit and nut aromas, tinged with vanilla and caramel. It had an energetic streak of acidity running right through it. The combination that really jumped out here was the smoked duck and orange with the Verdelho – a great synergy.

We also tried the more softly fruity Verdelho 15 year old madeira that had a more caressing effect than the assertive 20 year old. Again, versatile with the food.

Malvasia 10 year old madeira was served with the desserts (above) – sticky toffee pudding with warm toffee sauce and vanilla ice cream, and chocolate and cinnamon torte with orange blossom mascarpone cream. The Malvasia was quite toffee-like, yet balanced with tangy acidity. It had a refreshing, uplifting effect on both desserts, particularly the sticky toffee pudding with its rich sweetness.

Finally we were served Boal 1957 Rare Vintage Madeira with a cheeseboard. This amber nectar, mellow, finely balanced with complex aromas of walnuts, dried fruits, butterscotch was a rich and satisfying partner for the cheese. It was delicious with my Gruyère Vieux and Cashel Blue, but really sang with some tangy, cleansing Kirkham’s Lancashire. A memorable end to the meal.

Lucy Bridgers attended the lunch as a guest of Henriques and Henriques


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