Madeira fortified wine is one of the most famous wines in the world. It has centuries of history that shaped its taste and the way it is produced today. Madeira has several nicknames, some say it’s a beautiful garden others call it the Atlantic pearl. I would agree with both since this island offers a spectacular natural beauty that can also be compared to a precious pearl.
Don’t get fooled by its size, because Madeira will certainly deliver on quality and taste. The region has only 450 hectares of vine plantations. The best wines come from areas with lower altitudes. The region is not sub-divided, so there is only one Denomination of Origin stamp here. It has a Mediterranean climate with mild temperatures all year round and low thermal amplitude, although humidity is quite high. The soil is volcanic with low fertility, the landscape is also quite irregular which is the reason why the vines are planted in the volcanic hills.
The island produces white and red varieties, however, the most predominant variety is the red Tinta Negra, known in the region as Tinta Mole. The white varieties are Cercial, Malvasia Fina, Terrantez and Verdelho.
Most of the wine produced on the island is the famous Fortified Madeira wine. Produced mainly with Malvasia Fina, it is then mixed with Sercial, Boal or Verdelho that will give it its level of sweetness. According to that level, wines will be classified as sweet, half-sweet, dry and half-dry.
Madeira wine has a long history of exportation. It started being exported in the 18th Century. Back then, the wine barrels would be transported in boats. If they were not sold they would be sent back to Madeira. That would mean long trips where the wine would experience huge differences in temperature throughout these long trips. They found that the wine that would be sent back to Madeira was way more aromatic and presented a different taste. They were very pleased with that and from 1730 the barrels were sent in very long trips to improve and mature the wine.
In the 19th Century, producers started studying ways to recreate that temperature fluctuation. They came up with two systems. “Estufagem” where the wine is warmed up in containers for about 3 months. It is a quite quick and cheap process used in less complex and lower quality wines. The other process is “canteiro”, where the wines are put in barrels and stored next to the ceiling, so they receive the heat from the sun. This is a more consistent and refined process.
The ageing period sets the quality of the wine. It can be aged 5, 10 or 15 years. The wines produced with only one grape variety and aged for 20 years are called Frasquiera or Vintage. In recent years a new category emerged, Colheita. These are also produced with a single grape variety, but they are much younger than Frasqueira. The younger wines are sold with no age classification.
So, come and experiment this amazing wine.