Does Tinta Negra get unfairly treated?
Monday 19 October
Fortified wine Madeira is generally categorised by its four noble grape varieties Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and Malvasia. However, 85% of all plantings on the island of Madeira are Tinta Negra Mole. The variety is usually seen as inferior and makes wines that are not destined for the fine wine shelves.
At the annual Madeira tasting, I spoke to Danny Cameron of specialist importer Raymond Reynolds and there seems to be an argument that Tinta Negra has not been allowed to show its potential.
Cameron said, “Tinta Negra is automatically seen as inferior so it’s damned before it’s started - overheated and caramelized. A lot are rubbish but some aren’t.”
Of course, he has a vested interest in Tinta Negra as he imports Barbeito’s Single Harvest 1997, which is made from…Tinta Negra. Unlike others who treat the variety as a second-class citizen from the outset, 50% is green harvested in an attempt to ripen and concentrate the remaining bunches.
After fortification all Madeira is subject to one of two processes, which heats the wine and make it virtually indestructible. Most use the estufagem for their Tinta Negra – the wine is placed in stainless steel vats and heated by a hot coil to 45-50 degrees C for a period of at least three months.
Barbeito don’t use this for their Tinta Negra. They use the traditional and more expensive method - the Canteiro. Wines aged in Canteiro are put in casks, usually in the top floors of wine cellars where the temperature is higher, for two years. It is oxidatively aged in cask, making the wine develop a distinctive nutty rancio character. Over time the wines are moved to lower levels in the cellar where the temperature is lower until it is ready to be bottled.
The Tinta Negra was pretty good although I feel it lacked a bit of intensity compared to Barbeito’s other wines (which were all really elegant and refined – definitely the most consistently good producer on the island, in my opinion).