Not too many people know how fascinating the Madeira wine is. For example, not many know that Madeira wine was served when the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776 and also during the inauguration of George Washington.

At one point, Madeira wine was given to overworked and sick people. At that time, the Madeira wine was nicknamed “the milk of the old.” Unfortunately, most people don’t know much about this incredible wine.

In this article, we will talk about Madeira wine, starting from how it was invented, throughout history, and till the present day. Here is our attempt to bring some justice to Madiera wine and introduce you to some of its main features.

What is Madeira Wine?

Madeira is a type of fortified wine that comes from five distinct varieties. As the name suggests, the Madeira wine is native to the Madeira region in Portugal.

Madeira Wine
Madeira wine is a type of fortified wine which is famous for coming from it’s namesake, the Madeira region in Portugal

The typical Madeira wine features high levels of acidity and is sold as dry, medium-dry, medium-sweet, or sweet. While Madeira closely resembles a tawny port or even a brandy in terms of flavor, the sweetness can have notes reminiscent of muscat wine also.

Much of its high acidity comes from the volcanic soil where it grows. There are over 500 hectares of vineyards spread on two islands – Porto Sando and Madeira.

In terms of varieties, Tinta Negra Mole is the main protagonist, whereas the side roles are reserved for Malvasia, Boal, Verdelho, and Sercial. From time to time, some winemakers like to add some Bastardo and Terrantez.

But the real treat is if you can come across super-rare varieties such as Carão de Moça, Listrão, Caracol, Verdelho Tinto, Malvasia Babosa, and few others that belong to a really small club.

However, one should know that during the production of Madeira wine, much of the varietal characteristics are lost in the process. So, please don’t get too hung up on the varieties as they are not that influential. Instead, it is good to know which varieties are used for the making of different styles.

How is it made?

Maderia is amazing on so many levels. The fact that you can leave it open for as long as you like and it won’t go bad is quite amazing. However, it doesn’t last too long when left open.

To explain this phenomenon, we need to take a step back and explain how Madeira wine is made.

To make Madeira wine, the grape juice is subjected to speedy fermentation and soon after fortified with alcohol. Typically, Madeira wine is fortified with alcohol made from the same variety.

Much depends on when the wine is fortified, that is to say, the timing. For example, Verdelho and Boal are fortified on the fourth day. Malvasia is fortified before the fermentation of the wine, whereas Sercial a month after the beginning of the fermentation.

The timing determines whether the wine will be dry or sweet. However, it doesn’t affect the alcohol level. In that regard, all wines are rich in alcohol.

For the next stage, the wine is heated via one of two methods: canteiro or esutagem. Both are complex processes that take time and the attention of knowledgeable winemakers. The result is common- a delightful wine.

Sweetness Levels

Madeira wines have four levels of sweetness that are typically marked on their wine labels:

  • Sercial ≤ 59.3 gr/L (dry)
  • Verdelho 54.2-78.1 gr/L (medium dry)
  • Boal – 78.1-100.04 gr/L (medium sweet )
  • Malvasia ≤ 100,04 gr/L (sweet)

Tinta Negra Mole wines are made at every possible level of sweetness.

Madeira Wine Glass
Madeira Wine Glasses vary from the traditional wine glasses, since Madeira is a fortified wine. As such, the glasses more closely resemble a brandy glass.
Your Personal Cheat Sheet
  • Reserve – The wine has been aged for five years.
  • Special Reserve – Aged for ten years without an additional heat source
  • Extra Reserve – Aged for more than fifteen years.
  • Harvest or Colheita – Aged at least for two decades.
  • Finest – Aged for more than 30 years. Typically, this style is meant only for cooking.
  • Rainwater – Made with Tinta Negra Mole that feels mild.
Where to Find Madeira Wine?

Around 80% of all Maderia wine produced on the islands is exported. More than two-thirds of that is sold in Europe, whereas the rest is spread across the world with America and Japan as the next two biggest importers.

Fascinatingly, but there is more Madeira wine across the world than where it’s made. So, when you find one for sale, don’t hesitate too much and buy it before anyone else snaps it.