Barbeito has been marking the Madeira wines with creativity and irreverence since 1946!
I keep saying wine tourism makes us ‘see’ wine under a different light. It makes us understand everything that goes inside the bottle you crack open at home and realise that it is not just a beverage but the product of long labour by a committed team, a family, a community… That inside each bottle lays a story of dedication.
If I digress it’s because of my trip to Vinhos Barbeito, on the beautiful island of Madeira.
Barbeito sits at the top of Câmara dos Lobos, a few minutes from Funchal. Though founded only in 1946, the passion for wine has been a family trait for much earlier.
I was welcomed by Leandro, who showed me the cellar, built in 2008, and not missing any of the technology required to the making of great quality Madeira wine. The variety Tinta Negra – once unloved in the island – is the apple of Barbeito’s eye and the prevailing one in the wines from the producer. You will also find however Malvasia, Verdelho, Sercial, Boal… that is the classics in this fortified wine.
As I strolled in the cellar (rather windy, better take a jacket), I was lucky to witness the preparation of the new Malvasia 1957 and Verdelho 1981 bottles. Following a very precise craft, the bottles are first painted with a stencil, with letter cut outs shaping the white ink. After drying in the sun, imperfections are polished, letter by letter, using a sharp knife. You can feel the fondness and care that go into each Barbeito bottle!
We moved on to the shop and tasting room. There was no way I could ever get my hands on all of them if you consider all the wines I was given! About 20 different bottles. The tasting took place on the terrace, overlooking the sea and Funchal.
Because they are less sweet than what I was expecting from Madeira wines, for their salty but pleasant tone, and for the unexpected fresh and acidic end note, here are my favourite:
Boal 1995 Frasqueira
30 anos Malvasia
20 anos Tinta Negra Ribeiro Real
Tinta Negra 1950
In the meantime Leandro invited me to take a sneak peek at the lab, where I was introduced to winemakers Ricardo Diogo Freitas and Nuno Duarte, bustling around glasses and measuring tubes – each with their own variety, grapevine, slot, harvest year, etc – and quite literally getting their noses in everything, focusing on the smells, without blinking.
I stood there watching them for a moment. It looks easy, the art of finding the perfect match for a remarkable wine. But it is not: very few get the balance right, the quality right, but above all, few achieve the boldness and creativity that define the wines coming from this family over the past three generations.
What a wonderful afternoon… The privilege of witnessing the backstage of winemaking in Madeira. It is as winemaker Ricardo says: Madeira wine should hold no secrets!