Tonight's wine tasting was a Madeira wine tasting. Madeira's come in a variety of styles but the most famous (I think) and best are very raisiny fortified wines. They range in sweetness but the sweetest "Malmsey" style is the nicest, in my book.
We had some interesting wines (Madeira table wine = bad!), including a 40 year old Verdelho from Blandy's. This was pretty nice, I must admit, and at £133 a pop, this was not a wine I was likely to drink any other time (or again, for that matter).
The standout wine of the night for me, however, was a delicious 1994 Cossant Gordon Malmsey [Colhieta], paired with a delicious madeira cake - not the English sponge cake but, rather, the traditional honey cake. (Recipe here, where I also half-inched the picture, below.)
Madeira wine has a pretty interesting history. I'm certainly not going to repeat all of it here (that's what Wikipedia is for) but I like the fact that Madeira, like so many great discoveries, was an accidnet. The Madeirans were shipping their wine aborad for sale to far-flung destinations, such as India, but they failed to sell it all - if it's like the Rose table wine we had tonight, I'm not surprised. The unsold wine was shipped back to Madeira on the same ships but, by the time it got home, it had changed. For the better. Gone was the pale, bland (I wonder if this was the origin of "Blandy's") wine and in its place was something dark and raisiny and delicious. For a while, they deliberatley shipped it long distances to make the transformation before finally realising that it was the heat of passing through the tropics that was responsible for the transformation. Now, they just stick the barrels up near the winery roof for a while, where it can get the required heat without the cost.
A favoured wine of Napoleon and Churchill, among others, it's an interesting wine with an interesting history and well worth a glass or two - especially if you have some tasty Madeira honey cake to go with it!