Portugal | Madeira
The Atlantic Island of Madeira is situated 400 miles off the coast of North Africa and was discovered by the Portuguese navigator João Gonçalves Zarco in 1419. The first grape vines were brought to Madeira soon after. The region of Madeira includes the islands of Madeira and Porto Santo both with different characteristics; the former forested and temperate, the latter is hot, dry and bare. The soil is by nature, volcanic, and the vineyards are in terraced steps named poios which extend down to the sea's edge.
Madeira is fortified with Portugese grape brandy to 20% alcohol, usually leaving some residual sugar in the wine. Shortly after fermentation is complete the wine is heated to approximately 115 degrees and held for six months. It is then alternately heated and cooled for six-month intervals while slowly maturing in oak barrels. Barrels are generally large and old so as to not impart any oak flavour or tannin and to promote gradual oxidation.
A small clutch of historic Madeira grapes are known as the ‘noble’ varieties: Sercial, Verdelho, Boal, Malvasia (sometimes called Malmsey) and the rarer Terrantez. All are white, and the first four are traditionally vinified to give different degrees of sweetness in the finished wine: respectively dry, medium-dry, medium sweet and sweet. The wines are light to dark brown in colour due to cask oxidation.
Madeira is a versatile dessert wine due to its natural high acidity which enables it to stand up to all desserts without being overwhelmed. It is ideal for occasional consumption because it is fully oxidized during winemaking and will not deteriorate after opening.