Malmsey. The word is as rich on the tongue as the fortified dessert wine it names, a little of which goes a long way. Malmsey is a Madeira, a sweet wine made on the subtropical Portuguese island of Madeira. It is unusual in the wine world in that it is aged in cask not in cool cellars but in hot lofts, by a now traditional method called cantiero, which signifies natural heating. The original heat-aged Madeiras were an accident occasioned by long 17th-century voyages through the tropics on the way to distant markets.
The Malmsey I am sipping was aged 10 years in oak in lofts in Funchal, the capital of Madeira, by the Blandy family, which this year celebrates its 200th anniversary as a producer of Madeiras. On the nose it offers refined caramel and smoke with nutty highlights. On the tongue its flavors are luscious and full-blown: burnt caramel, chocolate, honey and tree nuts with just a hint of mellow leather. Despite its fortification with grape brandy, the finish is long and velvety smooth.
Drink it alone as a digestif after dinner or with sweets, fresh fruit or soft cheeses. It’s perfect with my recent discovery at Whole Foods downtown, Ines Rosales Sweet Olive Oil Tortas, heavenly little sugary discs imported from Seville.