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Around 1.4 million tourists visit the Madeira archipelago south of Portugal every year, but far more visit these islands in spirit with a glass of Madeira wine. Chris Blandy is part of the seventh generation of his family to run their eponymous Madeira company, which was founded in 1811 and has been shipping its wines worldwide pretty much since then. “The message has always been to leave our company in a better position for the next generation coming through,” he says.
Blandy works with around 350 growers across the island to source the six varieties of grapes used in their fortified wines. “Madeira is most well-known for its unrivaled complexity,” Blandy says. “The older it gets, the more layered, intense and complex it becomes. They become wines of reflection.”
Blandy reflects with great affection on the island his family has called home since arriving there centuries ago, in 1808. “We’re so lucky to be on Madeira,” he says. “It has everything I like. I love the sea; I love going up in the mountains for hiking and trail running. It has a lovely Atlantic climate. You’re close enough to Europe and mainland Portugal—only an hour-and-a-half flight away—to enjoy everything that Europe has.”
What trends are you seeing with Madeira? There is definite premiumization going on; people are appreciating the rareness of older Madeiras now. There’s also a big push toward mixology, which is demystifying what fortified wines are all about for younger consumers.
What are your favorite food pairings with Madeira? Going in order from dryness to richness, I like our chilled sercial with an aged hard cheese like Comté. I love roast chicken with a chilled verdelho. The bual pairs well with paté, terrines, foie gras, or slow-roasted pork or lamb. For the malmsey, pecan pie or apple crumble works extremely well.
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Chris Blandy’s Best of Madeira
Avista (Funchal): It’s the full package. The view is phenomenal, the quality of food second to none, there is great service, a great wine list, and they’re really into their cocktails as well.
Barreirinha Bar Café (Funchal): It’s right on the sea. They host fantastic concerts, festivals and sunset cocktail sessions. It’s very cool to visit.
Fanal: It’s up in the mountains and where you find the Laurisilva forest, home to the most beautiful specimens of these ancient indigenous trees.