Friday, June 22, 2012

Madeira and Puerh - Fraternal Twins

Dear readers, I have sent a strongly worded letter to Jim of puerhshop and am giving him time to respond. I have decided to take a brief break from my investigative efforts to delve into something more pleasurable.

I have a confession to make. In my real closet underneath my numerous trench coats and hats, you will not find a box of pu-erh but rather a homely collection of Madeira.  You will see that our favorite tea has many many similarities with this fortified wine from a Portuguese island.  I have been meaning to tie these two brethren together for years I apologise for the lack of a side by side photo shoot and you are left with a finch nest next to a tuo.

The beverage of choice for pirates and American founding fathers alike, Madeira is a wine pu-erh lovers can appreciate either in spirit or in the flesh.  Unlike other wines which spoiled with exposure to heat and air,  Madeira benefited from a long hot humid trans-Atlantic crossing making it the beverage of choice for pirates and American founding fathers alike.   The intense heat and tumbling in the seas transformed young Madeira into something mellow and delicious.  No one need gasp "Tea Horse Road".  You can imagine if we had to trot our pu-erh around in addition to the heat for serious aging! 

Producers now simulate this long ocean voyage through the tropics with a process called "estufagem" which applies some form of heating to age the wine and sometimes simulated motion.  Top-end Madeira is heated only by the sun and can take a decade to even a century to age.  I have only had the pleasure to try fifteen year olds.  Mass producers use heat coils to crank out Madeira in 90 days, but even a low-end Madeira produced in this artificial way could be quite pleasing and tasty. 

Like many of his fellow colonists, Thomas Jefferson initially loved Madeira though later in life he disavowed Madeira in favor of French wines after touring the wine growing regions of France.  Although Jefferson is considered America's first wine conossieur, he may also a been the first great wine bore as pointed out deliciously in this New Yorker article.

“There was, as usual, a dissertation upon wines,” John Quincy Adams noted in his diary after dining with Jefferson in 1807. “Not very edifying.”

By 1815, Jefferson complained to his wine merchant, "Besides the exorbitance of price to which Madeira is got, it is a wine which I do not drink, being entirely too powerful." Cranky words coming from a man who ordered 4400 bottles of Madeira during his presidential term.  He is stil my FFF - favorite founding father.  (This is an aside, but I grew up in Virginia where the founding fathers are legend. When I moved to California, the natives thought it strange I would even ask them about their FFF. It is one of those questions which can reveal something unexpected about someone's character and bring American history lovers out of the closet. Unfortunately it appears  any questions about our colonial past does not to work too well outside of the Eastern seaboard.  Most Californians lamentably think Benji Franklin is the only interesting FF worth considering, but his woeful neglect and treatment of his wife puts him firmly out of my FFF list.)

Madeiras are said to exhibit surprising vitality and freshness even after a century.  I hope to gain a first hand opinion  by my sixtieth birthday.  Since Madeira is not bothered by oxidation,  you can enjoy an open bottle for years. In my pantry next to my honey jars sit my open bottles of Madeira.  The bottles look kind of all same and the risk is that one's husband can easily and wrongly use a cherished bottle for cooking pot roast. Repeatedly.

Just like a bit of shu, you  have to air out Madeira for a day before you drink it.  And since I don't remember I want it until the afternoon, I end up sipping a lot of Madeira for breakfast.  And like a good shu,  Madeira makes pork taste even more delicious if that's even possible.  There is a pleasure in enjoying things which have gained nuance through aging.  Lucky for me and you the world holds a treasure trove of such lovely aged edibles and imbibables.  

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