Portugal

The Legend of Madeira Wine: Origin, Vine, Production

Die Legende des Madeira Weins: Ursprung, Rebe, Herstellung | Maître Philippe & Filles

Mild climate, Madeira embroidery and Madeira wine - these are the three superstars of the small Portuguese island that are so popular with holidaymakers. Madeira wine is a protected designation of the noble drop that comes from the grape that is grown in Madeira. As with port wine, parmesan or champagne, this official designation serves to prevent counterfeiting.


As with port wine, the fermentation of Madeira is stopped prematurely by adding alcohol. Originally, sugar cane liquor was the method of choice, but nowadays producers often use brandy.


Madeira is a fortified wine with an alcohol content of 17-22%, made entirely from white grapes. This Portuguese temptation hides a beautiful story: from discovery to the manufacturing process.

How is Madeira made?

Making Madeira Wine - Maitre Philippe & Filles

The addition of cane liquor has its origins in a desire to protect the wine. Since Madeira was particularly popular with the English, the wine had to be shipped from Portugal to England and then on to America and other parts of Britain.


To stabilize the drink, seafarers added alcohol. Since the wine on the ship was not protected from the sun, it heated up and turned golden-brown. And to their amazement, upon arrival, they found that the wine tasted even better than before after the long journey.


The spice is in the heat

So the procedure became established and the wine was purposely sent around the world by ship to give it its wonderful taste. At some point, however, it was recognized that the key to success was not shipping, but storage and heating.


So people started to store Madeira wine in barrels in the attics of wineries in order to expose them to the necessary heating by the sun.


This technique is called the Canteiro method . Today it is only used for the finest Madeira wines. The others are content with the essentially economical method, the so-called Estufagem , in which he made Madeira in oven rooms in which the heat of 40 to 75 °C is artificially generated.


What exactly happens with this method? By adding the schnapps, the sugar contained in the wine does not turn into alcohol, but settles out. How sweet a Madeira tastes is determined by the point at which the alcohol stops fermentation. If a lot of sugar has already been fermented, the wine will be less sweet than those with shorter fermentation times.


When heated, the sugar is additionally caramelized, which gives the Madeira its unique color and also provides the typical taste. In addition, the wine should mature faster. It is stored in barrels at temperatures of 40 to 75 °C for a period of three to five months.


This procedure ensures that the Madeira remains durable for a very long time. An opened bottle can be left for a long time without going bad. So it can happen that the Madeira, which was opened during the lifetime of many a grandparent, is still quite enjoyable today!

That certain barrel note

The certain cask note of Madeira wine - Maitre Philippe & Filles


Barrel storage has the greatest effect on the incomparable taste of Madeira wine. A Madeira must always be stored in the barrel. The following applies: the longer the wine stays in the barrel, the better the taste. The barrels are very different and range from brick concrete vats to glass balloons to wooden barrels and steel tanks.


Due to the very long barrel storage, the wine oxidizes through contact with oxygen, which means that the volume of the wine is reduced. This reduction makes the Madeira complex and very intense in taste.


Madeira wine is high in tannin but also high in acidity. The volatile acidity is noticeable in the nose, in the mouth the notes range from sweet chocolate to tart dryness.

What is the difference between Madeira wine and port wine?

Both the Port and the Madeira were introduced to the world by English traders. To get through the long and cold winters on the island, the authorities liked to drink the wines with bite to warm themselves.


Both wines belong to the fortified wines - the identification for the addition of alcohol in the fermentation process. However, port wine is made from red grapes and is usually fortified by adding brandy.


In contrast to Madeira wine, the port is not warmed up, but stored in a cool place.

The main grape varieties of Madeira wine

The main grape varieties of Madeira Wine - Maitre Philippe & Filles


The Madeira wines are stored for at least three years, the high-quality ones have to withstand five years of storage and the exclusive ones start at 10 years and can even celebrate their 40th anniversary at some point.


There are basically four different types of Madeira wine:

  • dry
  • semi-dry / medium-dry
  • semi-sweet / medium sweet / medium rich
  • sweet / sweet / rich

The permitted grape varieties from which Madeira wine is made are exclusively white and limited to: Sercial, Verdelho, Boal, Malvasia and Tinta Negra Mole.


Sercial – The dry one

This grape produces dry and acidic wines. The Sercial is grown in the higher altitudes of the island of Madeira and develops very fine almond aromas.


When young, the wine has such a high acidity that it is not drinkable and rather needs a long aging period of 20 years to develop its taste. Sercial wines are among the highest quality Madeira wines and are usually served slightly chilled as an aperitif.


Verdelho – The semi-dry

The Verdelho is a capricious grape as it is very difficult to cultivate. But the wines that come from it have structure and a beautiful golden color.

This vine is the main variety of the popular Rainwater Madeira . According to legend, the typical taste of the wine was created when a load of barrels was soaked on the beach and thus diluted.


The Verdelhos are semi-dry and a light treat for the palate. Its aromas are reminiscent of dried fruit and honey, but also have notes of chocolate and coffee. Ideal with olives and roasted almonds.


Boal - The semi-cute

This semi-sweet grape is very aromatic and balanced. The Boals are fruity and full-bodied - a sweet and sour variant of Madeira with aromas of lime, apricot, orange peel, caramel, dried fruit and coffee.


The young boals are wonderful companions for soft cheeses, while the older ones are wonderful with hard cheeses. Cigar lovers also claim this Madeira wine for themselves.


Malvasia - The sweet one

This very sweet and rich wine is the most famous Madeira wine. The Malvasia vines (also known as Malmsey) are grown in the low regions of Madeira and produce a dark colored dessert wine.


The aromas are varied and full-bodied and are reminiscent of jam, vanilla and caramel candy. The Malvasia goes wonderfully with tropical fruit, but also with dried fruits such as walnuts and hazelnuts.


Madeira wine is also a harmonious companion for sweets. This can be drunk with desserts such as fruit tarts and cakes, but also with butter biscuits, chocolate and petit fours.


Cheese lovers don't miss out either, because Malvasia combines perfectly with the Portuguese cheeses Serra and Serpa. And the intense blue cheeses like Roquefort, Stilton, Gorgonzola and Danish Blue can also keep up with him.

Tinta Negra Mole - The all-rounder

The Tinta Negra Mole is an interesting grape variety that can serve all tastes, although it is not a noble grape. Whether dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet or sweet - it can do everything. Therefore, more than half of all Madeira wines are made from it.


Why? The grape is grown at different altitudes and therefore contains sometimes more, sometimes less sugar.

Thirsty for more knowledge about Portuguese wines? Then take a look at our article about the different wine categories from Portugal . With this information you will impress every connoisseur.



about the author

Inara Muradowa, SEO Expert, Corporate Blogger, Shopify Partner - inara writes

Inara Muradowa is an SEO expert and corporate blogger. In addition to technical search engine optimization and SEO consulting, she actively supports companies with the conception and writing of professional blog posts.

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