Dear Wine Ladies,
Our grandmother often enjoys a glass of sherry or port after dinner. Her 75th birthday is coming up and we’d like to surprise her with something a little different. Someone suggested we buy her a bottle of Madeira, which we have done but really know nothing about. Could you give us an idea of what Madeira is so we can sound a little more informed when she opens her gift? Thanks and much appreciated.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Thanks for your question and Happy Birthday to your grandmother from The Wine Ladies.
Madeira is a fortified wine, much like sherry or port. It comes from the island of Madeira located in the Atlantic approximately 1,000 kilometres off the Portuguese mainland. This island, which belongs to Portugal, has been making Madeira since the end of the 15th century.
Madeira has enjoyed a great shift in acceptance, even excitement, over the last few years, from being a wine that was primarily known for its use in sauces or as a cooking wine to one that can accompany a meal of haute cuisine. We can recall attending a Madeira tasting hosted at Jacobs & Co. Steakhouse last June in Toronto. The line-up of wines we enjoyed was not only delicious but also paired beautifully with the amazing courses. One pairing not to be forgotten was a selection of dry-aged beef; three in all, partnered with the Madeira Henriques & Henriques 15 year Verdelho. Absolutely sumptuous! The Madeira wines of today are richly complex, full flavoured and with good acidity that makes them extremely versatile and food friendly.
One of the interesting and unique characteristics of Madeira is how the wine is aged using a system called “estufagem” or “canteiro”, two different heating processes.
The less expensive estufagem method is used for higher volume production, which involves stainless steel coils circulating hot water within the tank holding the wine. This is typically done for a minimum of 3 months, following a rest period of ninety days, then on to bottling. The Canteiro method is lengthier, whereby the wine is aged in casks, usually in the top floors of the wine cellars, where the temperature is higher, for two years. This allows for a type of oxidative aging in the barrels that gives the Madeira its unique intense and complex aromas. Madeira wines can range in sweetness from extra dry, wine made from the sercial vine variety to a medium rich, which is made with the Terrantez variety.
There has never been a better time to explore and enjoy Madeira.