The Wine of Christmas Past

🇵🇹 Fortnum & Mason, Christmas Pudding 2006
8/10 – Nothing Wrong with That

I am not a big fan of Madeira but when I saw this bottle in the Fortnum & Mason January sale last week, I realised I am a big fan of a bargain. With 30% off I picked up a bottle along with a pot of their Welsh Rarebit and felt rather pleased with myself.

The Fortnum & Mason store on Piccadilly had been wonderfully decorated as an advent calendar when I past it on Christmas Eve. But venturing inside then would have been akin to shopping at Shinjuku station during rush hour, so I had gleefully passed by the boisterous crowds on route to Covent Garden and a quiet glass of wine.

Fortnum & Mason store on Christmas Eve 2019, 181 Picadilly, London

As suggested by the label, this Madeira has a Christmas pudding nose: if your shortsighted grandmother had reached for the Sherry rather than the Brandy, that is. Still, there is enough raisin in the air to convince you that the wine might go well with the festive dessert. But it doesn’t. Nor did I find it a very good pudding replacement service on its own. It was better, indeed delicious, I thought with hard cheese like a mature cheddar or a comté. It may even have paired well with the discounted Rarebit, though I enjoyed a French Chardonnay with that.

Christmas Eve 2019, Covent Garden, London

A fortified wine similar to Port, Madeira is typically made from Bual and Malvasia or Sercial, Verdelho, and Negra Mole grapes fortified with spirits. The wine is then heated to simulate a long, hot sea voyage. That rather counterintuitive process came about when the producers discovered that their customers preferred their drink well travelled.

The wine has a lovely amber, almost fossil like, sheen in the glass. It would certainly have looked the part on the table on Christmas Day. It was smooth on the tongue with enough spice and bite in the finish to remind you that it is 19% alcohol, so you would have been wise to have let Rudolf have the keys for the ride home.

Once popular in the Americas and even imported into Boston by a certain Mr John Hancock no less, Madeira is very much a part of 18th century history, a bit like Fortnum & Mason themselves. And at this time of year, when we watch remakes of the Charles Dickens classic, it does feel rather appropriate to be drinking a wine of so many Christmases past.

Fortnum & Mason £16.50 (US$21.50)

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