Madeira Fortified Wine

From an Island!

Madeira is an island southwest of Portugal, off the city of Casablanca. Back in the 1500s, to allow their wines to last the long ocean journeys, the natives would add brandy to it. This would make the wine more resistant to temperature changes. This made madeira a "fortified wines".

Madeira was first shipped to Europe in 1515, to the court of King Francis I of France. Shippers found that the mere act of shipping the wine through the equator helped its aging process. So they filled pipes with the wine and purposefully used it as ballast on ships, to let it age! Because of this, madeira became known as vinho da roda, or "wine of the round voyage."

Madeira was highly in demand in young America, being enjoyed by Benjamin Franklin and by many Colonial Americans. Even now is quite popular, and often is a key ingredient in delicious recipes.

Madeira is made with four varieties of grapes, and a bottle of madeira should be labelled according to which were used in it. These are:
  • sercial, a very dry taste, light color
  • verdelho, medium dry, golden color
  • bual, medium sweet, velvety, dark gold to brown
  • malmsey, the original grape, sweet, chestnut-brown

Madeira is often made in the "refreshed" manner - a batch is made, and the following year the new wine is added in with the old wine. This allows the flavour to remain consistant.

The grades of Madeira are:
  • Reserve: 5 years or older
  • Special Reserve: 10 years or older
  • Extra Reserve: 15 years or older.

One style of Madeira is known as "rainwater" - this is made from the verdelho grape. The name is said to come from the days when barrels left outside for shipment aborbed rain through the wood and became slightly diluted.

Port Glass Madeira goes wonderfully with cheese, and works great as a pre-dinner sipper. The heavier madeiras also work well as a post-dinner dessert drink, for sipping by the fire. It should be served relatively cool, around 55-60F, like a port. It can be served in a port-style glass, small and thin.

Madeira is normally a drink-now wine - it doesn't need aging. But since it is fortified, it can also last a long time after opening. That is, if you can keep yourself from enjoying it after dinner each evening! It also does wonderfully in cooking - it's a key flavor component in many dishes.

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All content on the WineIntro website is personally written by author and wine enthusiast Lisa Shea. WineIntro explores the delicious variety and beautiful history which makes up our world of wine! Lisa loves supporting local wineries and encouraging people to drink whatever they like. We all have different taste buds, and that makes our world wonderful. Always drink responsibly.