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Madeira Wine

Updated on March 30, 2014

What is Madeira Wine

Madeira Wine is a Portuguese fortified white wine, available in several dry or sweet varieties, that is produced on the island of Madeira. During the fermentation process, Madeira is fortified with neutral grape spirits. The earlier in the fermentation that they are added the sweeter the wine will be. The wine making process of Madeira is especially unique as it involves oxidizing and heating the wine to temperatures as high as 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which would be tantamount to disaster when producing other types of wine. The process was discovered quite by accident. During the early days of Madeira production the wine would endure long sea voyages to the East Indies or the New World and would be exposed to excessive heat and movement. After one such voyage an unsold shipment returned to the island and the wine producers noticed the beautiful unique flavor and a new style of wine making was born.

Styles of Madeira Wine

There are four noble grape varieties that are used to make the best varieties of Madeira Wine. They all have their own distinct flavor and create wines ranging from dry to sweet.

  • Sercial - Dry. Best served as an aperitif with salty dishes and broth based soups.
  • Verdelho - Semi-Dry. Best served with more savory appetizers.
  • Bual - Semi-Sweet. A great dessert wine served with fruits.
  • Malmsey - Sweet. The most full-bodied of the Madeira Wines it is a fabulous dessert wine to serve with succulent, rich desserts.

There are also "generic" Madeira Wines usually made from Tinta Negra Mole grapes. They will have a label denoting them as seco (dry), meio seco (medium dry), meio doce (medium sweet) and doce (sweet).

Age Classification of Madeira Wine

  • Finest - Aged only three years this variety is usually reserved for cooking.
  • Reserve - Aged five years. A wine labeled as being made with one of the noble grape varieties must be aged to at least Reserve quality.
  • Special Reserve - Aged 10 years.
  • Extra Reserve - Aged 15 years or more.
  • Colheita - Comes from a single vintage but aged for a shorter time that a Vintage.
  • Vintage or Frasquiera - Aged a minimum of 20 years.

Once Madeira wines have hit the point of being aged at least 10 years, they are usually aged naturally without an additional artificial heat source.

Storing And Serving Madeira Wine

Being a fortified wine, Madeira Wine is incredibly stable and once opened can last for up to a year in your cupboard. Properly sealed in bottles, it is not uncommon to see Madeiras that are 70-100 years old in specialty wine shops. When storing your unopened wine it should be upright in a cool dark place. If you plan on keeping your wine for an extended period of time, it should be re-corked every 40 years or so. This can be done at home with a corking device, or you can take the bottles to a reputable wine shop and have it done. If the level of wine has dropped considerably, you will need to raise the level either by topping them off with another bottle of the same wine, or by placing small glass balls into the bottle until the wine is at an acceptable level. You may cover the new cork with wax or cellophane to keep it from drying out although this is not strictly necessary.

Madeira Wines of a lower quality are often used in cooking. Madeira Sauce (or sauce madère) is a classic sauce made by adding the wine to a demi-glace and serving over chicken, beef, veal, or pork.

If you are serving a vintage Madeira it should be opened at least 24 hours before serving and in some cases 48 hours is preferable. Madeira can contract "bottle sickness" which is a foul odor emanating from the bottle and takes time to dissipate. If your bottle is quite old the cork may be dry and brittle so use care when removing it with a cork screw. If the cork does break the wine should be poured through a clean coffee filter immediately as the broken cork can affect the flavor of the wine. Straining through a filter can also be useful in removing sediment that can be possible in some wines. Removing the sediment not only will improve the taste but also the appearance of the wine.

Finally your Madeira should be served at room temperature to fully enjoy the taste and the aroma of this full delicious wine.


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    • emilylist profile image

      emilylist 4 years ago from Florida

      This article was interesting and helpful. I work in the wine industry, and many people aren't even aware of Madeira wines, which is a real shame.