I was recently at John Dickinson’s 60th birthday celebration in Maxwell’s Café and Delicatessen, and having a great time. The dinner was accompanied by 17 wines, most of which were generously provided by our host. Let me try to put the quality of the wines into some sort of perspective. We kicked off with Krug Grand Cuvée, and then the wines got better. They included Palmer 1996, Talbot 1985 and Quinta do Noval 1966.
But for me they were all eclipsed by the final bottle: Blandy’s Bual 1954. I say “for me” because only 3 of the 15 or so present voted for it as wine-of-the-night, and most people sitting by me were rather underwhelmed. Indeed, I had to be quick to intercept a glass on its way to the spittoon.
I can understand how it divided opinion. It was searingly acidic. And despite Bual usually being one of the sweetest styles of Madeira it came over as off- or medium-dry, as by the standards of most sweet wines it had little by way of balancing sugar. The flavours were hugely intense, and everyone within ear shot of me seemed to agree about their profile – varnish, French polish, eucalyptus, camphor. In other words, it was weirdly volatile. The only point of disagreement was how desirable the flavours were.
Albeit to a lesser extent, I have experienced that sort of volatility occasionally in other old Madeiras, and I regard it as a positive thing. It is also present in some Colheita Ports, and I sense it is often referred to as complexity. But in most styles of wine, of course those flavours would of course be totally unacceptable. Faulty or not, I enjoyed this wine tremendously. It would be sad if we all liked the same thing.
Blandy’s Bual 1954 gets ******. Cheers, John, and here’s to the next ten!
(And thanks to John for providing the photos, as well as the wine itself.)