From the exposed Atlantic isles of Madeira and Porto Santo, this type of wine was discovered by chance thanks to unsold stocks of wine. Boats returning to Madeira from long sea voyages with unsold wine discovered that the ageing effect that the warmth below deck gave the wines an amazing and unique complexity. Today, Madeira is fortified with grape brandy from Portugal and then heated to around 120ºf for six months. The wine is then heated and cooled for six months at a time while it ages in large oak barrels. These barrels are large and old so they allow a slow and partial oxidation and don’t add any oak flavour or tannin to the wine – something that marks Madeira as unique when compared to its Port and Sherry cousins.

Madeira wine is aged today with the Estufagem method of heating the wines as they age. This can be achieved in a number of ways – Canteiro where the wines are exposed to natural heat in the winery, Armazém de Calor where the ageing room becomes a steam rich sauna style area or Cuba de Calor where the wine is artificially heated by heating coils or warm water pipes. The Canteiro method is the most authentic and arguably results in the finest bottles of Madeira.

Madeira is made from the grape varieties Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and Malmsey with Sercial being the driest and Malmsey the sweetest. The variety Tinta Negre is a workhorse variety that became popular following the 19th century’s Phylloxera epidemic. Madeira still represents outstanding value for money and thanks to the Estufagem ageing method and oxidative nature of the wine it lasts almost indefinitely once opened. While old vintage bottles may seem expensive, they represent outstanding value for money as you can dip into the same bottle from year to year without it spoiling. Famous names include: Henriques & Henriques, Blandy, Barbeito, Cossart & Gordon and Pereira d’Oliveira.

Below you can view our hand-picked selection of Madeira wines available to buy in store or online at Hennings Wine Merchants.

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