Tourist and resident information on Portugal, Madeira and The Azores

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Madeira Wines - Vinho da Madeira

Madeira wines.
Madeira Wines

Madeira is a fortified wine from the Portuguese island of Madeira. The sweet version the English used to call "malmsey". There are two other versions: the semi-sweet "verdelho" and the dry "sercial".

Madeira dry wines are usually drunk as an apéritif whereas the sweeter wines go well with a dessert.

Madeira Wine.
Madeira Wine Barrels

History

Madeira was a port of call during the Portuguese Age of Discovery. Wine, as well as water and other supplies, were taken on board here prior to the long voyages to Brazil or the Far East.

To preserve the wine from spoiling during a long time at sea, neutral grape spirits were added. The heat and movement of these arduous sea journeys to Portugal's overseas territories changed the flavor of the wine.

This was recognized when a shipment of wine was returned unopened to Madeira and was found to have improved in taste after its long journey twice over the Tropics. Wine merchants in Funchal began to market vinho da roda, that is wine that had made the retuen journey to the Far East.

Vinho da roda was an expensive way of ageing and improving the wine so thereafter distilled alcohol made from cane sugar grown on the island was routinely added to Madeira's wines before it was exported.

Madeira wine became extremely popular in the USA in the 18th century. It was drunk to toast the Declaration of Independence no less.

John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington were all huge fans of the drink.

Production Methods

To reproduce the effects of the sea voyage and its attendant movement and heating two modern productions are used. These are the Canteiro and the Estufagem methods.

Canteiro

Seasoned American oak casks containing the wine are aged in the warm attics of wine producers on the island such as Blandy's. This ageing process requires a minimum period of four years and produces the highest quality Madeiras.

Estufagem

In the estufagem process, the heating temperature is controlled by the winemaker. The process is shorter at just two years after which the wines are transferred to Brazilian satinwood vats.

High value Madeira wines are often cased in wicker casks.

Madeira Wine Museums.
Wine in Madeira

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