An interesting note, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, in addition to several U.S. presidents such as George Washington, were connoisseurs of Madeira wine. In fact, Madeira wine was served to celebrate the Declaration of Independence, 1776!
Madeira wine producers in the mid 18th century were motivated by the positive effects made by the Round Trip Wine and invested in a technique called “estufagem” that produced the same effect by using direct heat, circulation of hot air or water steam that circulates in copper inside the wine. The Estufagem method is used today along with the Canteiro process that is used for the more expensive wines made from the noble grapes as well as the Terrantez grapes.
With the Canteiro process, wines are aged in ancient barrels on top floors of warehouses where they rest on wooden support beams. The slow warming of the wine and influence of the wood give the wine its unique character and flavor. These wines can age for more than 100 years and still maintain their uniqueness. In fact, once a bottle of Madeira is opened, it will keep for years to come without losing flavor. Most wines will oxidize once opened, but Madeira wine endures and will still taste fresh for a very long time! I’ve heard stories of Madeira wine that were recently opened and some date back to the 1700s. The wines were quite vibrant!
Here is a run down of the grape varieties on the island. The first four varieties listed are the noble grapes.
Sercial grapes produce a dry, crisp wine.
Verdelho is another white variety that produces medium dry wines that tend to be tropical.
Boal is medium sweet, more complex and quite aromatic.
Malvasia (Malmsey) produces sweet, full-bodied wines with honey and spice and is the richest and sweetest style of Madeira.
Tinta Negra is used in more entry-level wines but is quite versatile in producing dry to sweet wines and produces stronger tannins.
Every bottle of Madeira wine is marked with a “sweetness” level on the wine label ranging from Dry, Medium Dry, And Medium Sweet to Sweet.
Alcohol content ranges between 17% and 22%
Madeira wines, depending on the sweetness, complement a wide variety of food from cheese and fruit to desserts.
There are truly no words to describe the aromatic bouquet and intoxicating mouthfeel that Madeira delivers. Madeira wine needs to be experienced. Go forth and find!