Please don’t tell me you’re detoxing for January. The word means as close to nothing as a word can mean. When it’s attached to a foodstuff – “the miracle detox powers of goji berries” – it makes me grit my teeth in anger.
But if you tell me you’re abstaining from or cutting back on strong drink for the month, I’m with you. And if reduction is your chosen strategy, let your thoughts turn to madeira.
It’s a wine that has a wonderfully colourful history which I won’t even pretend to explain. Any wine reference book will fill in the general picture and Alex Liddell’s Madeira (1998) is a fine work, though out of print.
For educated drinking purposes, the basic thing to know about madeira is that it is deliberately subjected to high heat and given prolonged exposure to air. “Cooked” flavours and oxidation (sometimes called madeirisation) are supposed to be bad for wine, but they are the very essence of madeira.
Because the wine is already oxidised, you don’t have to worry about keeping an open bottle for long periods. A refrigerated bottle will stay fresh for seven months — I know this from experience. You can wet your whistle with a thimbleful every few days, and on day 30 (or even 300), it will be just as good as it was on day one.
Top-flight madeira is not easy to find; nor is it cheap. Berry Bros & Rudd has a good selection, and Fareham Wine Cellar sells some of the really old bottles which are madeira’s great treasures. When buying, remember grape varieties and styles. In ascending order of sweetness: sercial, verdelho, boal, malvasia (malmsey as was). Remember also the commonly used tinta negro mole variety, yielding less distinctive but often very good wines.
And so, entry-level madeira: Blandy’s Duke of Clarence Rich Madeira (around £12-13), recommended here before for its good price and soothing raisin-richness. Madeira for dessert: Henriques & Henriques 10 Year Old Malmsey (£16.99/50cl, Majestic Wine), ultimate sweet luxury.
And madeira in a different league: Barbeito Old Reserve Sercial 10 Year Old (Berry Bros & Rudd, £29.95), correctly dry, complex dried-fruit flavours, the most bracing aperitif you could imagine.
Detox? Maybe not. Wonderful? Definitely.