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MADEIRA – the wine that should never have been

Madeira is magical wine. It is quite literally created by doing all the things that any self-respecting wine makers tries to avoid, yet results in one of the most indestructible, and utterly delicious creations in the known world.


What is it? Madeira comes from the Portuguese Island off the coast of North Africa of the same name, and refers to the fortified wines that come from there. They range from dry to sweet styles and there are different age categorisations for each style.

How is it made? The wine is fortified when the sugar levels in the wine reach the desired amount, to stop the fermentation and leave it either sweet, dry or somewhere in between. It is then subjected to a series of ordeals which are fairly unique to Madeira, including repeatedly heating and cooling the wine, and exposing it to oxygen in part-filled barrels. What this does to the wine is change the flavour, giving it a caramelised, dried citrus peel and nutty characteristic. It also makes it virtually indestructible. This process is done to replicate days when the barrels were transported by ship and exposed to the elements in similar ways. These days it is often done in heated tanks, or in hot attics of wineries.

Buying guide: Madeira can range from dry to sweet. Sercial is usually the driest style, and has a crisp, lemony minerality. It still has a slight sweetness, but this is offset by the acidity. Serve chilled as an aperitif. Verdelho is slight more concentrated and richer, with a smoky characteristic that makes it great for pairing with something like a seafood bisque. Boal or Bual is sweeter still, with fantastic complexity and aromas of nuts, stewed fig, roasted coffee and caramel. Great with rich cheeses. Malmsey is the richest and sweetest, with those lovely dried fruit and nut characteristics, it is perfect for desserts or just enjoying by the fireside. There is also Rainwater which is a lighter, fresher style inspired by a rather romantic tale of barrels being left on the sand ready for shipping and absorbing some of the rainwater that fell on them.

Once you’ve picked a style, there are then a range of age classifications. Reserve is usually aged for between 5-10 years. Special Reserve is aged for between 10-15 years, and 20 year olds are a blend of different aged Madeiras (rather like Port) which give a style of a wine that has been aged for 20 years. High quality madeiras will be made using the Canteiro method, (as opposed to Estufa), where they are left to oxidise naturally in hot rooftop rooms, or out in the sun.

Why should I buy Madeira? Firstly, it is massively underrated. It is a truly delicious wine of varying styles that can be enjoyed on its own or matched with pretty much every stage of your meal. It’s also an absolute steal, giving you wine that will last for 100 years in your cellar, and pretty indefinitely in the fridge once opened as well. Its pre-bottling hazing means that a bit more oxygen and exposure to extremes of temperature is highly unlikely to do it any harm.

Join us on the 2nd of December for Madeira Day, where we’ll have some Boal Reserve and 10YO Sercial open, with some delicious Molasses Cake to enjoy.