Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Madeira Lovers Crazy; Rueda Fans Not So Much

Last month, I went to a couple wine tastings, one for Rueda whites, one for Madeiras. The two events couldn't have been more different. The tasting for the Spanish wines was in a large hall in Chelsea and was sparsely populated. You could have swung a cat and not hit anyone. The Madeira event was held in a small Park Avenue restaurant and was mobbed. All sorts of thirsty journos were kept waiting in a narrow hallway for as long as a half hour while the Madeira presenters tried to set up, working with what little space they had. Once the hoard was unleashed, there was no getting at any of the good stuff. These were serious Madeira junkies. They were rabid.

I preferred the Rueda tasting, to say the least. Don't get me wrong. I love Madeira, but I hate fighting for it, or anything for that matter. I sampled some of the older ones on offer (1901, etc., plus some bottles made entirely from the rare Madeira varietal Terrantez), and found time and room to try some of the very nice wines of Bartholomew Broadbent (son of famed Christies wine director John Michael Broadbent, and looks just like his father). But I got out soon after I noticed liquor store owner Lenell Smothers at my elbow, pretty in pink. "You a Madeira fan?" I asked. "Honey, I'm a fan of everything," she said.

I could enjoy the Rueda line-up at leisure. I understand why it was underpopulated. Many wine writers and buyers don't give much time to white wine, let alone Spanish white wine. Rueda's hardly sexy. It's still got to work out a reputation for itself. But these whites from central Spain, made mainly from the Verdejo grape, can be enjoyable brisk and food-friendly. I've drunk them often with simple Spanish of Mexican food.

I began drinking. The wines were light and grassy, with citrus notes. Some were too tart and metallic. There started to be a sameness to everything. I kept waiting for a great Rueda to knock me out of the doldrums. Things looked up with an Azumbred 2007 Verdejo. It had more fruit and tropical notes with a metallic base, and a long finish. I was told the wine was from vines 60 years or older.

Protos was coming out with only its second vintage. There was a ton of citrus. The wine took its acidity to the edge without plummeting over into unpleasantness. It was mouth watering. Even more singular was an El Bufon 2007 Verdejo: strong, full, with gobs of grapefruit and lemon, it was unlike anything else in the room. I suspected wood, but the pourer said there was none involved in the aging. She also said everyone thought there was. A couple other interesting points: the vintner is a woman (couldn't get the name) and the grapes are picked at night.

But my favorite was the Ermita Veracruz 2007 Verdejo. There was a cute painting of a bird on the label. Animal labels are usually a bad sign, wine-wise—but the juice was fantastic. Made from a single vineyard with vines no younger than 25 years old, it was bright, with high acidity, and tingly citrus. Very good. A long finish. It sang. The winemakers knew they had something special. They poured with pride.

There were also a fair share of Sauvignon Blancs at the event, but for the most part they were undistinguished, and many tasted exactly like the Verdejos.

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