There is no other fortified wine in the world that compares to Madeira, both in style and ageability. Located in the Pacific Ocean off the northwest coast of Africa, this tiny Portuguese island has a huge amount to offer. Vines are grown on the incredibly steep-sided island slopes, grapes are precariously handpicked and meticulously sorted, winemaking is precise to achieve the different styles, and the wines are aged using a unique and traditional heating process, either by estufagem or canteiro. The latter produces the highest-quality Madeiras which benefit from the wine being left in lofts warmed only by the heat of the sun. For vintage Madeira, this heating process can last an incredible 100 years.
There are five main styles of Madeira that are aptly named after the single variety used. Generally, from driest to sweetest, they are Sercial, Verdelho, Boal and Malmsey – plus the rare and expressive style made from Terrantez that sadly, due to its finicky nature and difficulties in the vineyards, is almost extinct (although certain producers such as Blandy’s are slowly bringing it back). The most widely planted variety by far is Tinta Negra; the only red grape on the island. Used for standard blends, producers were never allowed to state the grape on the label until recently.
With plenty of examples from top Madeira producers for you to try, the freshness, depth of flavour, complexity and never-ending finish of these wines will leave you wondering why you haven’t been drinking Madeira religiously. Once tasted, you cannot fail to be humbled by these legendary wines.