Borges Terrantez 1846

old bottle with old label: Terrantez Borges, Madeira Vintage 1846, bottled in 1900

A glass of this wonderful Borges Terrantez 1846 was served at the very end of a fine Boxing Day dinner. It followed a stellar array of Champagnes, Burgundies and Port, each amazing in its own right. 

Unfortunately, my attention span wasn’t anywhere near what it should have been to give this the long, contemplative due it deserved. 

FORTUNATELY, I had tasted the same wine previously in 2018 when I did have my full wits about me so I have an earlier impression to supplement this less than ideal recent experience.

Terrantez always makes me a little sad. Once considered Madeira’s greatest grapes it is nearly extinct there now. The 1852 Odium epidemic wiped out Terrantez because its thin skin was particularly susceptible to fungal rot. That, and low, erratic yields discouraged it from being replanted post-Phylloxera later in the century. Consequently, Terrantez was victimized, like many of history’s greatest grapes, as much by these diseases as the human choice not to replant afterward because it was too much work for too little return. 

So where every wine is a performance in its own right, every glass of very old Terrantez becomes a final, unrecordable swan song. 

In this particular wine’s case, it offered a glimpse back to what Madeira was like before the double plagues of Odium and Phylloxera radically changed the history of all wine.

Borges Terrantez 1846 (bottled in 1900 from demijohn, see below) First tasted in December 2018 this particular Madeira has been previously recorded as one of the greatest of all Madeiras. I found it a broadly floral, highly complex old Madeira with great depth, density, concentration and pitch-perfect balance. Ultra fine, Armagnac-like spirits cajole aromas and flavors along with ever changing treacle, rancio, orange marmalade (think Frank Cooper’s Original Oxford) and preserved apricot characters. A condensed texture is underpinned with a fine streak of acidity and an uplifting touch of volatility. The essence of traditional Old World elegance and perfection. 100/100 

I retasted the same wine near the end of 2020 following half a dozen other amazing wines. Considering it had been opened for 2 years, to be honest, neither of us were in optimal condition. 

In late 2020 the 1846 was primarily special for the spicy and floral nature of its aromas. Unexpectedly, I found it spicier after 2 years of airing. It had an element of cooked cloves that got poked into oranges marinating Christmas ham when I was a kid. Flavours, fading now, still ranged within the dried to preserved. stone-fruit spectrum, mostly of apricots in various unfresh guises, shaded with caramelized, rancio tones. The body seemed less full and less concentrated, dominated now by acidity, especially volatile acidity adding a much more pronounced edginess.  Although still complex and interesting, in different ways, the wine wasn’t as harmonious as before. Bearing in mind this wine had been opened for 2 years, it still had intriguing things to say! 

There’s a little story about this wine that needs explaining. Although it was made in 1846, contrarily, it wasn’t bottled until 1910. Even more contrarily, Borges, wasn’t formally established as a company until1877.  

So here’s the explanation. Delayed bottling isn’t unusual for Madeira, nor Sherry or Port for that matter. Madeiras are made oxidatively, purposefully exposed to air from early life to gain complexity, in turn this makes them essentially bullet proof from spoilage. With no risk of further decline from exposure to air Madeira has never needed to be rushed into bottle. 

In the olden days wines started off in huge barrels marked with a vintage date and were bottled when needed, with remainder drained off into smaller and smaller barrels and from there into large glass, demijohn bottles before bottling eventually. So 1846 bottled in 1910 is all good and normal. Indeed, my colleague Stephen Brooks, researching Borges 1862, noted a similar practice: ‘Borges 1877 Terrantez was still in demijohns in 2014, but the 1862 was moved to demijohns in 1905, bottled in 1936.’  Indeed, in my two trips to Madeira I observed several 19th Century Madeiras continuing to mature in barrel and demijohns.

Borges, although only formally established in 1877, bought up old stocks of unbottled wine kept around the island by other families that made them for family use or to be sold to shippers/merchants. Borges also bought from producers that had gone out of business or had unsold stuff they needed to sell. So Borges bottling and flogging wine they didn’t make would have been a normal practice in Madeira. Indeed, whereas there have been different bottlings of Borges Terrantez 1846, this 1900 bottling is renowned as the finest of them all. 

I consider myself a lucky man to have tasted this great wine twice in one lifetime.