A Dazzling Duo

If you’ve had the good fortune to meet Barbeito’s Ricardo Freitas at a U.S. dinner, or on a visit to the island, you know of his deep love of Madeira and his family. And when he decides to honor one of them with a wine, he's apt to create something magical. 
 
Between 2013 and 2017, Ricardo produced three such hommagesMãe Manuela, dedicated to his mother; Vó Vera, honoring his grandmother; and the epic Avô Mario, a tribute to his grandfather who founded Vinhos Barbeito. 
 
For his next masterpieces, he switched gears, choosing to honor two Madeirans not related to Ricardo but deeply admired by this brilliant winemaker.  Their resumés could not be more different: one was a noted diplomat and the other a schoolmaster. But both touched not only Ricardo, but his beloved island, deeply. 
 
And to honor them, he has created two exquisite Madeiras, both with the profound taste of age: Vinho do Embaixador (Wine of the Ambassador) and Vinho do Reitor (Wine of the Rector). Though they are officially classified as 40-year-old Madeiras, each contains wines that are far older. And with fewer than 65 cases of each wine made, these are important additions to Ricardo's winemaking legacy. 
 
Building Blocks
To craft these wines, Ricardo used carefully selected barrels, all long-aged by the traditional canteiro method, so that the casks are subjected only to natural changes in temperature and humidity throughout the year.
 
To provide the foundation for Vinho do Embaixador—dedicated to Ambassador Fernão Favila Vieira—Ricardo chose two 25-year-old Buals from Barbeito’s library. Appropriately, he supplemented them with an 80-year-old Bual that belonged to the ambassador’s family, who are major grape growers on the island.  
 
But the final touch, and a brilliant example of Ricardo’s artistry, was the addition in the last stage of blending of 1891 Sercial from another family. This inspired choice, which greatly enhanced the wine’s explosively dry, saline finish, speaks volumes about Ricardo’s knowledge of the character of his stocks and, of course, his great creativity.
 
Meanwhile, Vinho do Reitor, dedicated to Angelo Augusto da Silva, is built on a series of progressively older Malvasias, from the 2000s, 1990s, 1950s and 1940s. But there’s no question that the most influential component in the blend was a few now-precious gallons of the famous 1954 Malvasia from his grandfather’s collection. 
 
By marrying wines that range from extremely concentrated to delicate and ethereal, he has created a fantastically elegant rendering of Malvasia, beautifully balanced between its complex richness, bracing acidity and silky texture.  
 
“The Game Changer”
Over the past twenty years, Ricardo Freitas has rewritten the rule book for how Madeira is made. By daring to challenge island orthodoxy, he has helped spark the island’s current revival with his unique approach to winemaking.
 
He may be best known in the United States for The Rare Wine Co.’s Historic Series wines named for American seaports. But in Portugal (where the Historic Series is unavailable), he has become a superstar for the limited-production Barbeito Madeiras that use priceless older wines as components. 
 
These wines have made him the most noted fortified winemaker of his generation in Portugal, a nearly unimaginable accomplishment for a winemaker from Madeira, given how dominant Port had been prior to Ricardo’s ascendance. 
 
In 2012, after visiting the island for a major tasting, two prominent British critics came to very similar conclusions about Ricardo’s accomplishments. Jancis Robinson wrote that Barbeito had become “the Lafite of Madeira,” noting the elegance of the wines Ricardo was making. And Neal Martin, writing for the Wine Advocate, called Ricardo the island’s “game changer,” because of the way he was raising the bar for all producers.
 
Two Iconic Madeirans
Given Ricardo’s former vocation as a history teacher, it comes as no surprise that one of the historical figures he has chosen to honor was a giant of education on the island, Angelo Augusto da Silva, to whom the Vinho do Reitor is dedicated.
 
Born in São Vicente on Madeira’s northern coast in 1896, da Silva was not only the long-serving dean of Funchal’s Licea Jaime Moniz, but also a leader in campaigning to improve the island’s educational system through teacher training programs, rebuilding of schools and providing learning opportunities for the island's poor.
 
Vinho do Embaixador pays tribute to Ambassador Fernão Favila Vieira, born in 1930 in Funchal. Favila Vieira enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a top diplomat for the Portugese Foreign Office, serving in Rio de Janeiro, Durban, Madagascar, Vienna, Geneva, Havana and Prague, earning the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit in 1989 for his work.
 
The Madeiras that Ricardo has created to honor these two notable Madeirans—like those he dedicated to his mother, grandmother and grandfather—tell a story, not only of an island, but of a great winemaker and those who inspired him. 
 
And each is as important a wine as Madeira has produced in the past 75 years.
 
Reviews of the individual wines are from two of Portugal's leading wine journals, Revista de Vinhos and Grandes Escolhas:

Vinho do Embaixador 40-year-old Bual
Grandes Escolhas: “19/20 rating. Amber color. Aromatically intense and with time even more awake in the glass. Orange and citrus in abundance, date fruits, apricot and prunes. Sandalwood and an intense spice (nutmeg, clove and a bit spicy). Dry and salty palate with an enormous concentration. It is a bold and firm wine, full of character and with a radical profile. It is a wine made with precision, not a raw wine. A wine of an author.”

Revista de Vinhos: “18.5/20 rating. Dark Amber. It is a very serious wine with evolution, notes of dried fruits, walnuts and some bakery. Harmonious and seductive aromas … very elegant. In the mouth there is an almost violent and unexpected dryness finale. It is very different, full of character. It is aromatic, long, persistent, vibrant acidity and is storyteller. At the dryness end a saline explosion is added. It’s almost impossible to resist it!”

Vinho do Reitor 40-year-old Malvasia
Grandes Escolhas: “18.5 rating. Amber color. Shows a good evolution in the deep aroma with figs and prunes, raisins, date fruit, box of cigars and cinnamon. One expects to be sweeter in the mouth but it surprises with the freshness assured by the acidity. Slightly spicy mouthfeel and the flavor lingers in the mouth for such a long time. A classic profile with an explosive personality.”

Revista de Vinhos: “18.5/20 rating. Dark color, with greenish highlights …  sweet aromas, burnt sugar, orange zest. It is very fragrant and elegant. In the mouth, it is complex and distinct. Intense, with a striking acidity, balanced sweetness, silky texture. It's a brilliant wine. A masterpiece.”

Wines available from this offer:

Description Notes Avail/
Limit
Price
NV Barbeito Malvasia 40-year-old Vinho do Reitor Madeira NJ97
NM93
6 $275.00 add
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