Drinking and Pairing Madeira with FoodMadeira is a fortified and intentionally oxidized tawny-colored wine from the Portuguese island of Madeira some 530 miles southwest of Lisbon, Portugal. It is remarkably the longest-lived of any wine due to its unique method of production. The wines are fortified and heated, a process which was accidentally discovered when the wines were originally stored in the ballasts of ships crossing the equator. As the wines incurred gradual heat in the ballasts, they actually improved in quality. Today, this process is replicated by heating the wine in estufas (tanks) for at least 90 days, or by keeping the wine in wooden casks above the winery where the sun heats the better-quality wines for at least 18 months. The red Tinta Negra Mole grape accounts for 90% of plantings on the island, but it is the white Sercial, Verdelho, Boal, and Malmsey grapes that are used for the best wines. Sercial is the lightest and driest, with the wines becoming increasingly sweeter up through Malmsey, which is sweet and luscious. A common basic style of Madeira is called Rainwater, made in the medium sweet "Verdelho" style. If the names of the above-mentioned grapes are not on the bottle, then it is probably made from the lesser Tinta Negra Mole. All Madeira should be tangy with a burnt caramel aroma and flavor and slightly bitter finish.
Lighter styles are generally used as apéritifs, while the sweeter styles pair well with desserts containing nuts or dried fruits, as well as coffee- and caramel-flavored desserts.
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