Maderia has always been a cool subject to educate people about. Here's the scoop: Madeira is an Portuguese island off the coast of Africa and produces fortified wine that can be stylistically reminiscent of Ports. Typically enjoyed as an aperitif or a digestif and not to be confused with an inexpensive "cooking" version which is made for cooking not consumption on its own. These wines were made by accident back in the 15th century where they were fortified with a brandy to allow the wine to make the long sea voyage. During the journey the wine was exposed to high temperatures during the day and cold temperatures at night. The result was a very beautiful style that has a maderized characteristic (oxidized) and was due to been recreated by heating these wines in rooms known as estufas. Now, the process has been replicated in order to make these wines by a process called Estufagem aging process. There are three ways in which the process is recreated for the barrels wine being affected by warm temperatures: There are a few vocabulary words I want to touch on with respect to the process by which the wine is made and the styles of Madeira from dry to sweet.
Here are the three processes by which to recreate the heating:
~Cuba de Calor: The most common, and inexpensive process to make Madeira, is bulk aging in
low stainless steel or concrete tanks surrounded by heated coils that allow hot water to circulate around the container. The wine is heated to temperatures as high as 130 °F for a minimum of 90 days as regulated by the Madeira Wine Institute.
~Armazém de Calor: Only used by the Madeira Wine Company, this method involves storing the juice in larger wooden casks in a specially designed room outfitted with steam-producing tanks or pipes that heat the room, a sauna, pretty much. This process more gently exposes the wine to heat, and can last from six months to over a year.
~Canteiro: Used for the highest quality Madeiras, these wines are aged without the use of any artificial heat, being stored by the winery in warm rooms left to age by the heat of the sun. In cases such as vintage Madeira, this heating process can last from 20 years to 100 years.
*Fun Fact: Colheita means Harvest and Colheita's must be age in cask for a minimum 5 years.
There are also a four major styles of Madeira:
● Sercial is nearly fermented completely dry, with very little residual sugar. This style of wine is characterised with high-toned colours, almond flavours, and high acidity.
● Verdelho has its fermentation halted a little earlier than Sercial. This style of wine is characterized by smokey notes and high acidity.
● Bual (also called Boal) has its fermentation halted when its sugars are between 2.5 and 3.5° Baumé (45-63 g/l). This style of wine is characterized by its dark colour, medium-rich texture, and raisin flavours.
● Malvasia (also known as Malvazia or Malmsey) This style of wine is characterised by its dark colour, rich texture, and coffee-caramel flavours. Like other Madeiras made from the noble grape varieties, the Malvasia grape used in Malmsey production has naturally high levels of acidity in the wine, which balances with the high sugar levels so the wines do not taste sweet.
Here are some of my favorites:
~Blandy's Colheita Sercial 1998: I recommend this as an aperitif. It's dry, nutty, with a brininess coupled with aromatic orange blossoms.
~Justino's 1997 Madeira Malvasia Colheita: aromas of hazelnut, brown sugar, coffee, chocolate, prune, date, raisin, with surprisingly high acid which makes this terrific with food.
~Rare Wine Company Malmsey New York Madeira: flavors of spices and fruitcake, coffee, toffee, truffle notes.
~D'Oliveira Colheita Terrantez Madeira 1988: citrus, prunes, dried fig, orange marmalade,
bright acidity, and caramel.
~Barbeito Malvasia 40 year old: fig jam, tobacco, smoke, raisin, and sugar.
Stock your bar with different styles of Madeira and connect with family and friends over this delicious sipping fortified wine. Cheers!