Madeira

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The fortified wine “Madeira” is produced in the island popularly known as “Atlantic pearl”. It is a wine of great longevity, complex aromas and distinctive flavour that has made it world famous.

The island of Madeira has a typically Mediterranean climate: mild temperatures throughout the year and low temperature range, though there’s always high atmospheric moisture. The soils have a volcanic origin and are not very fertile. As the island’s relief is very irregular, the vines are planted on the volcanic slopes.  

The Denomination of Origin of Madeira is made up of 450 hectares of vine, in which red and white grape varieties are planted. Although Tinta Mole is the most planted grape variety in the region, there are also some rare grape varieties, such as Sercial, Boal, Malvasia and Verdelho.

The best Madeira wines are those that come from vines planted in low altitude areas.  The Malvasia grape is the most famous one for the production of Madeira’s fortified wine. Other grape varieties used include: Sercial, Boal and Verdelho, conferring four levels of sweetness to the wine (sweet, half sweet, half dry and dry).

From the 18th Century onwards, Madeira wine started being exported worldwide. The wine barrels were transported in boats and subject to numerous temperature changes throughout the journey. When the wine wasn’t sold at the destination it would return to Madeira. Once returned, one would notice that the wine was now much more aromatic and had a new flavour.  This way, from 1730 onwards, Madeira’s barrels started being sent on long journeys with the purpose of perfecting the wine’s qualities.

At the beginning of the 19th Century, producers started trying to find ways of reproducing the heating and cooling stages the wines were subject to off-shore.

One of the processes consists of heating the wine in containers for three months. It is a relatively cheap and quick process, used in wines with less complexity and quality.

 

The wine’s ageing period determines its quality. Madeira wines can be classified according to their ageing years: five, ten and fifteen. Madeira wines aged for twenty years and made up of one single grape variety are called Frasqueira or Vintage. Recently, a new type of Madeira has emerged – Colheita. Though produced from one single grape variety, these wines are younger than Frasqueiras. Lower quality wines are commercialised without age designation.

Besides its extraordinary qualities regarding aromas and flavour, Madeira´s fortified wine has also a unique longevity. Madeira is almost eternal, since its qualities remain unaltered for many years after bottling.

  • IVBAM, I.P. - Instituto do Vinho, do Bordado e do Artesanato da Madeira, I.P.
    Rua Visconde Anadia, nº44
    9050-020 Funchal - Madeira
    Tel.: 291 211 600
    Fax: 291 22 47 91
    www.vinhomadeira.pt/

Sub-regions

Madeira sub-regions
  • Madeira is a single wine region.

Curiosities

  • Shakespeare

    In Shakespeare's play “Henry IV” there are references to Madeira wine. The character named Falstaff sells his soul to the devil “for a cup of Madeira and a cold capon's leg”.
  • An elegant wine

    Madeira was considered a very elegant wine. Court ladies would even use it as a perfume on their handkerchiefs. In England, Madeira and Port would compete for the first place in the court's preference.
  • Duke of Clarence

    The Duke of Clarence was a noble Englishman who, after being sentenced to death for attempting to murder his brother, Edward IV, chose to die by drowning in a Madeira Malvasia cask.
  • Delicious Madeira

    Madeira wine was widely exported to England, France, Flanders and the United States. Francisco I (1708/1765) used to say that Madeira was the richest and most delicious wine in Europe. Important families from Boston, Charleston, New York and Philadelphia would compete among themselves to get the best Madeira wines.