Sercial (Esgana Cão = Dog Strangler) is another all-time favourite of mine. (There is a good reason why it is called like that.) It is a Portuguese white grape variety, once quite commonly planted in Madeira mostly on the cooler north side at an altitude and some on the south side at a much higher altitude. The grape is pretty difficult to grow, and the production is relatively small. It is very late ripening type; in fact, the almost un-edible grape variety is the last to be picked. Its must is dry, pale in colour, light in body, extremely fresh, in other words high in acidity. I passionately believe that it is a great wonder of the world that you can make one of loveliest, lightly perfumed Madeira out of a rather unappetizing grape.
Sercial identifies the lightest, most acidic, latest maturing, driest style of Madeira as well, that made of 100% Sercial grape. Most of the production is made by the canteiro process, where the heat of the sun causes maderization in the warehouse. When it is ready it has smooth, complex flavours of nuts (hazelnuts and almonds) and a touch of bright citrus. It makes an excellent aperitif, preferably slightly chilled.
My Sercial, that I had just finished, was Henriques & Henriques 15 years old Madeira. The wine is dry, maybe slightly off dry with racy acidity and aromas of walnuts, hazelnuts. Some fruity apple and orange peel make it a well-rounded, composed classic. Please do go for the older ones. It takes time to mellow the beast.
Photographs by The Tannin Addict.