Posted by: Author | January 9, 2013

Madeira’s Types of Wine

Madeira and the Wines
Madeira wine originates from the island of Madeira, located in the Atlantic Ocean near Portugal. Madeira wine was created in the 15th century by sailors. In order for the wine to last on their long journeys, they fortified it with brandy, which gave Madeira its famed longevity. Madeira wine is labeled in four major types, based on the grape used: Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, and Malmsey.

Madeira also has four grades, based on the age of the wine: reserve, which is aged for at least five years; special reserve, aged for at least 10 years, and extra reserve, aged for 15 years or longer. Frasqueira is also a grade sometimes used to label vintage Madeira, aged at least 20 years.

Madeira vines are generally grown on steep terraces all over the island. The different varieties are grown in different heights above sea level. Boal and Malvasia, for example, are best grown in lower altitudes, whereas Verdelho and Sercial like the higher altitudes. At the north coast and in the Camara do Lobos area there are some larger vineyards, but usually they are very small and sometimes quite difficult to get to. There are exceptions. At Camara do Lobos, Henriques & Henriques have built a relatively large vineyard, (ten hectares), accessible by modern machinery. It is one of only two such areas at present, but the Madeira Wine Company is also planning large plantings.
About 4500 growers cultivate grapes on the island, most of them in the Camara de Lobos area. Altogether some 2000 hectares are suitable for wine-growing, but only 600 are planted with vines, since the cultivation of bananas is much more rewarding. Most wine growers also grow vegetables for themselves or for the local market between the vines. This is said to slow the development of the grapes which consequently become more aromatic and more concentrated. The grapes are mostly grown pergola-style, low in height and covered with a roof of their own leaves. This protects the grapes from the strong winds and the sometimes dramatic changes in temperature. The distance between the vines is two to three yards. The plants are usually irrigated with water from the levadas.

Madeira Map - Types of Madeira Wines

Click on picture to enlarge.

Bual, sometimes known as Boal, ranges in color from brown to gold. It is medium sweet, fragrant, and fruity and has a velvety texture. Bual is served as a dessert wine, often as an alternative to port.
Malmsey is the original grape used in making Madeira, and some bottles date back over 200 years. The dark nut-brown colored wine is the sweetest type of Madeira. Like Bual, Malmsey works as an after-dinner digestif.
Sercial has a pale, light color. The driest type of Madeira, it is usually aged for at least eight years, and as it ages it becomes mellower and darker. Sercial works well as an aperitif. This type of Madeira is often paired with fish, and like most Madeiras, it pairs well with cheese, dried fruits, and nuts. Sercial is best served slightly chilled.
Verdelho is a golden, medium-bodied light wine with a dry finish. Traditionally, Verdelho was served with fruity cake. A style of wine made from Verdelho is a less potent wine called “rainwater” Madeira. The name derives from Madeira wine barrels that were left outside on the ships. When it rained, the water seeped in and slightly diluted the taste.
Other Types: Less common types of Madeira include Bastardo, Muscatel, and Terrantez, which are increasingly rare, and are now known more as styles of Madeira instead of official types. Tinta Negra Mole, also called Tinta de Madiera and Negre Mole, is a grape used in all madeira wine blends. However, Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, and Malmsey Madeira must contain less than 15 percent Tinta Negra Mole. If more than 15 percent of this grape is used, it is sold instead as Tinta Negra Mole Madeira.
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