Fortified Wine - Madeira

Fortified Wine - Madeira

Madeira is a small, mountainous island in the Atlantic Ocean. Lying 350 miles from the coast of Morocco, the island is warm and temperate the whole year round, and has fertile, volcanic soil.

Due to its location, Madeira was once a port of call for sailing ships bound for the Americas. Even today, North America is still an important market. The Madeira vines cling to steep, terraced vineyards in coastal settings at high altitude. Since 1993, it has been compulsory for the best Madeiras, labelled Sercial, Verdelho, Bual or Malmsey, to be made from a minimum of 85 per cent of the named variety. Those called seco (dry), meio seco (medium dry), meio doce (medium rich) or doce (rich/sweet), are made from the chameleon Tinta Negra Mole grape, which has the knack of imitating the four 'classic' varieties.


Madeira can be made in the same method as port (by stopping fermentation) or, to produce the sweeter wines, by blending in the same manner applied to sherry. The young wine is then put through a process unique to Madeira, called 'Estufagem'. In the days of sailing ships, casks of Madeira were shipped as ballast. During the slow voyage to the Indies and back, the wine was gradually warmed up and then cooled down. The character of the wine would change, developing a softness and toffee-like texture.

A heated-tank ('estufas') system recreates those conditions, by slowing heating and cooling the wines in a hot store. After Estufagem, the wines mature, before being blended, sometimes in a solera system. Portugal's Madeira is a hidden gem of a wine, capable of ageing fantastically. Even when opened, the sweet styles will not really change, allowing the consumer to enjoy the drink over a period of time, if the bottle lasts that long!

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