Mannie Berk looks and sounds more professorial than merchant yet is the owner of The Rare Wine Company. The man (might be a saint, not sure yet) has been on a mission to save the soul and the reputation of Madeira, the fortified wine made on the island belonging to Portugal but closer to Africa. Last year, lucky and persistent Mr. Berk scored a number of trophies when the last remaining Leacock sold off the family jewels (methinks, heresy. But what could be done? The chap didn't fancy the wine.) Because Jupiter must have been influencing life for me back in the fall, Berk invited me to experience several of his purchases, along with Rare Wine Company customers, at the Morgan Library in October. Before this moment I had had the odd bottle of Madeira and didn't know my Malmsey from my Boal from my Sercial. While sipped in amounts that were too moderate, the moments were enough that put Port in its place. (Port, by the way, while charming, I never found compelling. But here, this Morgan Moment was cataclysmic.) The shipping method of Madeira was an essential part of its terroir. As the spirited wines were sent around the world on a boat for delivery, they developed a heat- meets -oxidation effect. Today's Madiera's are heated to mimic the flavors and aromas. When these last old bottles are gone, that's it. Done. Do we really see any company sending out the wines on a boat to heat up? Maybe for some publicity stunt, but it would seem a tad forced, don't you think? Yet, still how to create a Madeira that would age like these long, long lived wines? Back to basics. Let's get to the important bits. Sercial. This was my discovery. I might be crazy for this grape, usually the base for the driest and most acidic of Madeiras, what race-car like hijinks! So while I can't afford these old ones, I can on occassion afford the Rare Wine Company's own,Historic Series Madeira Charleston Sercial NV Sercial, which runs under $60. Leacock "A" This was an undated madiera. Extremely pale in color, like a diluted caramel or candy corn with some spice from ak left over and long lingering coffee toffee. 1825 Leacock Seco I'm still in shock that I had a wine from 1825, 60 years before my grandfather was born. The nose on this was like a whole box of kosher salt in my mouth, it had a split palate, almost delicate and then like a sledge hammer? 1890 Sercial Yike! Lots and lots of stink and reduction and yes, burnt match. But wait, sun dried tomato and savory crumbled sage and a chunk of rancio but it has almost a negative sweetness, something that I never came across. Get that? Negative sweetness. What a concept. This was totally compelling. A little scary, but I couldn't stop coming back to it. 1928 Verdelho Also very salty and somehow more 'modern.' Well, it was flapper -age, after all. Except the skirts are not raised, it was a little flat and a little bit like sour milk. 1934 Leacock 'SJ" At first sip, nope, and fifth, one of my favorites. Cedar and a little too salty or one note, but there was a bitterness that I loved even though it was a little over the hill, strange for its age. Maybe it felt the war coming on. Leackock Malvasia, VMA undated Welcoe to modern times, it had acidity, sweetness all in balance with waxy nose. Actually furnityre polish, Murphy's Soap. Wow. Murphy's mixed with coffee grounds and a tangy acid finish. 1896 HFS "E" Wild and wooly. Buttered popcorn, malo-nose. Make that salted buttered popcorn. Rancio was out of control. I actually couldn't tolerate this one. 1895 HFS "JPW" Grapey, apple cider ferment, like a natural wine. Lots of fruit left. With spice and nutmeg finish and a friendly rusticity. A.G. Pacheco Pretty interesting. Like the inverse of the 1890 Leacock. It burns! Very out of balance. 1868 EBH Very Old Boal Who said I don't have heroes. Genuflection! Love the bitterness, perfectly balanced out with candied pecan. A little bit like an old drawer just opened after years of hiding. Love the tannin and the lemon-lime pickle finish. 1845 Lomelino "Quinto da Pz" Seems pretty complete, balance, aid, sald, medium sweet but I think I was so wowed by the Boal, I was distracted. 1836 Lomelino Bastardo Another shocking heart throb. Caramel, dresses so fine, a man in a tuxedo with rugged good looks, and sneaks out for a cigarette. Intense. A little blocky but all is forgiven. He can be taught. 1808 Leacock Solera (malmsy) Caramel, chestnut honey, almost like a tawny and spice cake.