Madeira is an island situated southwest of Portugal, off the city of Casablanca. Back in the early 1500s, to allow their wines to last on the long ocean journeys to the East Indies, they would add brandy to it. Making it more resistant to temperature changes. This made madeira a “fortified wine”.
Madeira is made with four varieties of grape, Sercial( dry taste, light color), Verdelho (medium dry, golden color), Malmsey ( the original grape, chestnut brown, sweet), Bual (medium sweet, dark gold to brown, velvety) and should be labelled according to which were used to produce it.
The island of Madeira was discovered in 1419. The island was soon settled and became an important port of call for ships travelling to the New world and West Indies. These early settlers bought, and planted, grape vines on the island. By the 16th century wine was being produced and exported on ships to the West Indies. These early Madeira wines often spoiled on the long sea journey. Locals soon discovered that “fortifying” these wines by adding distilled alcohol produced from sugar cane (by the 18th century they were using Brandy), the wines didn't spoil on the sea journey. As these wines were transported the intense heating and cooling, and constant movement of the ships changed the taste of the wine. This “new” wine became hugely popular.
Because of the cost of long sea voyages to age these wines, local winemakers began developing methods to produce the same ageing effect on the wines. They began storing the wines on trestles at the winery and in rooms known as estufas, where the heat of the island sun helped the wines to develop.
Madeira was hugely popular in the 18th century, being exported to the American colonies, Brazil, Russia, Great Britain and Northern Africa.
The arrival of powdery mildew and the phylloxera epidemic in the mid, to late, 19th century nearly destroyed the Madeira wine industry. Many vineyards closed and planted sugar cane. Those that choose to grow more grapes had to uproot their vines and re-plant using American vine varieties. The wine industry on the island slowly recovered, and its future once again looked bright until the Russian Revolution, and Prohibition in the United states once again dealt a major blow to the Madeira wine industry.
All the disasters that the Madeira wine industry suffered saw not only a downturn in sales, but also a drop in quality, and through most of the 20th century the wine gained a reputation more as a cooking wine, than a quality drinking wine. Toward the end of the 20th century there was a shift by some growers towards production of quality Madeira. They up-rooted the American vines and planted the noble grape varieties of Verdelho, Bual, Sercial and Malvasia. Through these practices Madeira wines are slowly recovering their reputation as unique, quality wines.
Madeira is a mountainous volcanic island, situated South West of Portugal. The vineyards on the island are often planted on man made terraces of red and basaltic bedrock. The climate is oceanic, with high rainfall and an average mean temperature of 66°F (19 °C).
There are four varieties of Madeira produced: Boal – this is a half-sweet wine, rich, soft and with a dark golden colour. It is a nice wine to drink between a roast meal and dessert or accompanied by cheese.
Malvasia – this is a sweet, rich, bodied and very perfumed wine with a reddish-brown colour. It is usually drank with dessert or between meals.
Sercial – it is a dry, light, perfumed wine with a clear colour. It should be drink as an aperitif.
Verdelho – it is a half-dry, delicate, with a golden colour and very intense scent wine. It is a good wine to accompany meals.