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Madeira, At Last

Wine Access | 21-10-2010 | General, Regions
Landing on the island of Madeira was a little like being an eight-year-old flying to Disneyland ? I was hopping around most of the flight and on the descent, had a big, goofy grin from ear to ear. I had wanted to visit the island since the mid-90s, when I first caught the Madeira wine bug.
I first fell in love with Madeira at a comprehensive technical tasting of around 15 wines. I hated the first glass, the second, third, but I really started to enjoy the wine around the eighth glass. Madeira wines can be (let’s face it, it probably are) an acquired taste and aren’t for everyone. But since that fateful evening, I’ve been one of the few and proud devotees of this noble wine.

The first thing I should point out is that the island is stunning, simply beautiful. Located around the same latitude as Casablanca, this sub-tropical island is a province of Portugal and a popular tourist destination. I’ve done quite a bit of travelling around the world, but the cab ride from the airport to the hotel in Funchal was an exercise in rubbernecking. On one side, you have the mountains of this volcanic island shrouded in clouds and on the other, the Atlantic Ocean.

Something to know about Madeira if you are travelling on foot: everything is uphill. Both ways. Uphill. Prepare to sweat. The island can get quite humid and getting around by car isn’t that easy in the old town. It might be by scooter, but I didn’t find out. Map in hand, I headed off downhill towards the water. Reaching one of the thoroughfares, I saw the “Old Blandy Wine Lodge” and thought, “this is the spot for me.”

The Old Blandy Wine Lodge is a combination of wine shop, tasting bar, winery tour, museum and offices, all rolled into one. It doesn’t really do any of them well, but it puts on a good show. I had missed the last tour of the day, but was able to get a glass of vintage Madeira from their wine bar.

So my first activity on the island, aside from walking uphill, was a glass of nice, old wine – the 1976 Cossart Gordon Verdelho, for which I paid about $15. Where else in the world can you get a glass of 34-year old-wine that is still good for less than $20? I did fight the impulse to just taste the oldest wine they had on hand, but I have some standards for drinking alone on a Friday night. Next time, I might not have those standards.

Funchal is a very interesting city, formerly a glitzy locale for movie stars and the ultra wealthy, it retains some of its charm, while still chasing the elusive tourist markets. A port for cruise ships and a destination for Europeans looking for good deals and nice weather, I felt it had a nice balance of touristy kitsch and authentic Portuguese experience.

Tourists to the island can eat well, visit a few wineries or vineyards, museums, churches, toboggan rides (not the same type of toboggan as the average Canadian expects) and the cable car.


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