Hawk wrote:Can't say as I've ever tried it but now I'm curious.
Classically, madeiras are ranged according to degree of sweetness - from the "off dry" Sercial to the somewhat sweeter Verdelho to the definitely sweet Bual (or Boal, as some have it) up to the sweetest, Malmsey. Another variation is "Rainwater" - so named by a clever shipper whose barrels allowed some rain water to leak in during the trip from Madeira (talk about making lemonade when life hands you lemons). In fact, the "rainwater" style became extremely popular during the colonial period. Generally the South preferred the somewhat drier (Sercial, Verdelho) styles whereas Northern tastes ran toward the sweeter (Bual, Malmsey) bottlings. All styles, whether sweeter or drier, will exhibit some degree of the caramelly, nutty, citrusy, fruitcakey flavor profile to a greater or lesser extent - as (with port or sherry) each house has its own style.
The labels most available in the U.S. are Blandy's and Broadbent - with (IMO) Broadbent having a definite "fineness" edge over Blandy's bottlings - though Blandy's is by no means inferior. Both houses offer a full range of classic styles. You may also run across offerings from The Rare Wine Co. (of California) who works hand-in-hand with Vinhos Barbeito (one of the historic Madeira houses) to recreate historically accurate styles (Boston Bual, Charleston Sercial, etc.) as well as the "Historic Series" that I mentioned above commemorating various historical individuals or institutions. These are generally very limited bottlings (typically 500 bottles) and are usually priced around (a very reasonable) $70 - $80 btl. Most houses offer half bottles as well - ideal for giving Madeira a try-out. Personally, I lean toward the Bual style, but also enjoy a quality Malmsey or Verdelho. There is also (surprisingly) a substantial amount of vintage madeira out there - such as those tasted at the dinner I mentioned - available for mere hundreds of dollars per bottle - as opposed to a cru classe'
Bordeaux of the same vintage (say 1870, for instance) priced in the tens of thousands per bottle. This again is due to the extraordinary ability of madeira to age without deteriorating.
Mssrs. Loaf and Hawk - to your very good health, sirs!