The unique wines of Madeira

Madeira is a beautiful archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean made up of four islands. It is an autonomous region of Portugal, and is most famous for the stunning fortified wines that are made there. Wine from the region has been enduringly popular for over two hundred years and has changed very little in that time. It is sold all over the world and is widely used for cooking and in cocktails, as well as being consumed on its own.
The thing that sets this type of wine apart from all others is the ageing process that is used. Most wines are kept cool during fermentation to preserve the acidity. They are also sealed to avoid oxidisation. Madeira wine, on the other hand, is heated and cooled repeatedly whilst also being exposed to oxygen. Evaporation is allowed to take place without topping up barrels so the flavours can deepen. The end result is flavoursome, fortified wines. The grapes used to make the wine are picked earlier in the season so they have higher acidity, meaning this kind of ageing process can be used.
Blended and single varietal Madeira wines are both available. The first of these are typically inexpensive. Single varietal are finer and made from one of four grape varieties: Sercial, Verdelho, Bual or Malmsey. These grapes range from the driest to sweetest so you can expect the best sweet types to be made entirely of Malmsey.
Madeira wine comes in a range of styles including both dry and sweet varieties. There are several different flavour profiles to enjoy thanks to the warm-oxidisation process used to age the wine. Flavours such as roasted nuts, caramel and stewed fruit are present in all of the wines, and there are many other delicious notes present too.
The wine from Madeira can be enjoyed at several different points throughout the course of a meal. Dry styles are typically served with opening courses. Sweeter ones are best enjoyed as after dinner drinks, much like a fine Cognac. They also make a great accompaniment for cakes and desserts. Both dry and sweet wines are best when chilled because they really allow the flavours to stand out and gain full body.
Many of the finest single varietal wines from the region are made using a technique called the Canteiro method. The process involves leaving barrels out in the sun or in heated rooms to age over time. Some of the best examples can be left for decades or even a full century. The time allows the grapes to oxidise and caramelise, producing incredible flavours. If you’re looking for a fantastic wine to serve at dinner, whether for the early courses or afterwards, your guests will truly love Madeira.