Learn About Madeira Wine
Madeira is a volcanic island that is really only known for the fortified wine that carries its name. In broad terms, this starts off like Port with the fermentation being stopped by the addition of grape spirit before the natural sugar is fermented out, resulting in a sweet fortified product. View our range.
A short history of Madeira wines
Centuries ago, casks of Madeira were often used as ballast for sailing ships bound for India. The intense heat experienced during the voyage seemed to have improved the wine rather than the other way round and this became a regular practice. Nowadays this process is replicated by using the ‘estufa’ system of running hot water pipes through the vat, which heats the wine imparting the desired, distinctive, flavour.
Different styles of Madeira
The islands traditional grapes, which give their names to the wines they produce, are Sercial, the driest, Verdelho, medium dry, Bual, richer and darker, and then Malvasia (Malmsey) the sweetest and most luscious. All have a biting acidity which stops them from being cloying. Sadly, these fine varieties have been in decline for many years and they are now expensive, so most modern, commercial, Madeira is made from Tinta Negro Mole, with their different styles being expressed simply as dry, medium dry, sweet and so on. The rarest Madeira of all is vintage, a wine of a single year that must have spent at least twenty years in the cask, but has often been laid down for far longer. Due to the unique terroir and to the relatively high levels of acidity achieved, Madeira is probably the longest lived wine anywhere in the world. 100 year old, and older, vintages are by no means unknown.
Madeira’s grape varieties
Malmsey: the anglicized name for the Malvasia grape when grown in Madeira, and used to make the fortified wine of that name. When grown on the volcanic slopes of the island it gains good sugar levels producing the richest, most luxuriously sweet Madeira of all.
Sercial: the Portuguese white grape used in Madeira to make the dry style of fortified wine that carries its name. Sadly, it is now in decline and true ‘Sercial’ is becoming rare and expensive.
Verdelho: one of the big four grapes used in Madeira. Wines made from Verdelho, which are sweeter than Sercial but drier than Bual, have a velvety texture and a spicy acidity. Also grown in Australia’s Hunter Valley, Western Australia and South Australia, Verdelho turns out full, well rounded wines with a strong varietal flavour.
Bual (Boal): one of Madeira’s noble grapes producing sweet wines, the best and most planted being Bual Cachudo. It is usually grown on the south island’s lower slopes.
Negra Mole: as the traditional varieties used to make Madeira (Sercial, Bual and Malvasia) declined and so became more expensive, Negra Mole (better known as Tinta Negra Mole) has largely replaced the them and this is now the most widely grown variety on the Island. It is used now to make almost all commercial Madeira.