The island of Madeira is an archipelago made up of two inhabited islands, Madeira and Porto Santo, and two other uninhabited islands, the Desertas and the Selvagens. The archipelago is located 1100km off the coast of mainland Portugal, the total area of the island is 732 km2 and has 500 hectares of vineyards.
Unlike most Portuguese wine regions, Madeira has no sub-regions.
This region is well known worldwide thanks to its most characteristic wine: Madeira wine. It began to be exported around the world from the 18th century onwards. The wine barrels were transported in boats, so they were subject to numerous variations in temperature until reaching their destination. Once at the destination, the unsold wine returned to the point of origin. When the barrels were opened, once again on the island of Madeira, it was found that the wine was much more aromatic and with a new flavor. Thus, from 1730 onwards, Madeira barrels began to be sent on long journeys with the aim of improving the quality of the wine.
Types of Wine and Varieties of the Madeira Wine Region
Madeira is known for its famous fortified wines, DOC Madeira. Nowadays, it already has a second DOC along with the island of Porto Santo, called DOC Madeirense. In addition to these two, unfortified wines are also produced under the classification of Regional Wine Terras Madeirenses.
The Madeira fortified wine can be distinguished into four types:
- Dry: light in color, full-bodied and fragrant;
- Medium Dry: structured, golden in color;
- Medium Sweet: full bodied and fruity;
- Sweet: dark in color, full-bodied and aromatic.
The Malvasia variety was the one that, since secular times, stood out in the production of fortified wine from Madeira. In addition to the Malvasia variety, the Sercial, Boal and Verdelho varieties are also used in the production of Madeira.
Regarding the varieties, the most planted white ones are: Verdelho, Malvasia Fina, Sercial, Malvasia and Folgasão. And the reds: Tinta Negra, Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional.
In recent years, fresh unfortified wines from European varieties have been produced in a modern winery financed by the regional government.
Terroir of the Madeira Wine Region
On the island of Madeira the soils are of volcanic origin and not very fertile. The relief of the island is very irregular, so the vines are planted on the slopes of volcanic origin, adapting to the steep slopes and deep valleys.
The island has a typically Mediterranean climate: mild temperatures throughout the year and low temperature ranges, although atmospheric humidity is always high.
Pairing Madeira wine with food
Fortified Madeira wine is very versatile when accompanying any dish, this due to its four types of sweetness (dry, medium dry, medium sweet or sweet).
Dry Madeira wine goes well with roasted olives and almonds. It is equally good with smoked fish such as salmon, tuna, seafood, sushi, or with fresh goat or sheep cheese.
Madeira Medium Dry wine is excellent as an aperitif, it goes very well with nuts, consommé and onion soup au gratin. It is also a good option with serrano ham, hunting bowls and curd cheese.
The sweeter Madeira wines can be enjoyed with dried fruit and even dried fruit cakes. It's also great with cheeses, especially blue ones like roquefort or gorgonzola.