Discover the Grapes of Madeira Wine


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September 22, 2022, New York, NY: Madeira, the fortified wine produced in the Portuguese Madeira Islands (Madeira and Porto Santo) is a wine that delights the palate. Ranging from dry to sweet, Madeira can be enjoyed on its own, paired with a meal, or mixed into a cocktail.

Over the next month Madeira wine lovers will have the opportunity to taste and learn about Madeira wines paired with appetizers and attend Madeira wine presentations hosted by sommelier and Portuguese wine expert Bruno Almeida on Monday 3rd October 2022 at City Winery, New York. Tickets can be purchased here:

Madeira Wine Experience New York, City Winery, October 3, 2022. 25 11th ave at 15th Street, Pier 57 in Hudson River Park, New York NY 10011

For those unable to attend the Madeira Wine Experience New York, here is a brief introduction to the varietals that make Madeira wine so unique.

Madeira wine is predominantly made from five major grape varieties that must be grown on the island. It is typically a single varietal wine, with each white varietal representing one of Madeira’s four types: dry, semi-sweet, semi-sweet and sweet. According to EU regulations, Madeira wine is labeled according to the grape, which makes up 85% of the wine.

The five main white grape varieties used for the production of Madeira are:

Sercial – Sercial is prized for its high acidity and is also found in mainland Portugal. It grows at high altitudes in the north of Madeira Island and in Camara de Lobos in the south. The wine is pale in color and matures into a wonderfully smooth but dry wine with subtle aromas of hazelnuts and almonds with a delicate hint of crisp apples. This delicate fresh wine is an excellent aperitif. Sercial is an example of a Seco style dry Madeira wine.

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Verdelho – Verdelho likely hails from mainland Portugal, the Azores, or Italy. This variety is characterized by small and medium-sized clusters. It produces slightly more full-bodied and less acidic wines than Sercial. There are notes of caramel, caramelized orange, crème brûlée and dried fruits and figs, as well as a long finish. Verdelho is an example of a semi-sweet (Meio Seco) Madeira wine.

Boal – Originally from mainland Portugal, this variety produces large bunches with a resilient skin. It is grown at elevations of 350 to 650 feet and produces mid-sweet, medium-bodied wines. Boal is known for its balance of acidity and sweetness, along with the beautiful nose acquired during the cask aging process. Round and rich, with a pronounced spicy note, Boal is an excellent choice for a dessert wine. In addition, it ages very well and the higher the age, the more integrated and interesting the wine becomes. Boal is an example of a semi-sweet (Meio Doce) Madeira wine.

Malvasia Cândida – The Malvasia-Cândida variety was the first to be planted on the island of Madeira and is originally from Crete. Characterized by large and conical clusters, it is usually found from sea level to an elevation of 650 feet, mostly on the south coast. Always treated with great care and attention, Malvasia-Cândida produces highly sought-after wines, with the most valuable of these wines fetching astronomical prices at auction. First produced by Jesuit priests in the 18th century, Malvasia Cândida is considered the king of wines of all Madeira wine production. The grape variety produces sweet wines and is among the richest and smoothest Madeira wines. With a musky, fragrant nose, this wine lingers on the palate with notes of vanilla, molasses, walnuts and caramel. Malvasia Candida is an example of a sweet (Doce) Madeira wine.

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Terrantez – It is usually found on the south coast of the island, mainly in Calheta, Câmara de Lobos and Santa Cruz, at elevations from sea level up to 650 feet. This early-ripening grape variety is characterized by small, cylindrical-conical, compact clusters. The berries are round, small and yellow-green with a thin skin. Terrantez produces semi-sweet and semi-sweet Madeira wines. Because it is considered a rare grape variety that produces very special wines, people trace it back to a popular saying: “Do not eat or give grapes of the Terrantez variety, for God has made them into wine!”

The main red grape variety used for the production of Madeira is:

Tinta Negra – The most commonly grown grape in Madeira and one of the few red varieties grown, accounts for 80-85% of all Madeira production. This red grape variety, extremely productive and versatile, has adapted well to the island’s sometimes adverse conditions. It produces every type of Madeira wine, from the driest to the sweetest, depending on when the fermentation process ends. It produces wines with a characteristic bouquet that intensifies with aging. On the palate it is well balanced, persistent and with a pleasant aftertaste. A few high quality Tinta Negra bottlings are produced and the strain is recognized for its quality and depth of flavor.

Other less common red Madeira grapes are Bastardo and Complexa.

Madeira is a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product, meaning no other wine can use its official name, and while similar to other fortified wines, Madeira really does stand on its own. While winemakers in other parts of the world do everything they can to avoid exposing the wine to heat and oxygen (the two biggest culprits that cause wine to spoil), Madeira’s wine producers consciously count on these factors, that is, when You a bottle of Madeira it can last months or years.

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About Madeira Wine

Madeira wine is a fortified wine that comes in a range of dry to sweet styles and originates from the island of Madeira in Portugal. The tiny vineyard (about five hundred hectares) with the Protected Designation of Origin “Madeira” (DOP Madeira) is a unique landscape characterized by very steep slopes and predominantly basaltic soils of volcanic origin. The proximity to the sea and the climate with hot and humid summers and mild winters give the wines unique characteristics and a unique winemaking and aging process.

Dry types of Madeira are served chilled and sweeter types are often served as after-dinner sippers. These wines are made as both non-vintage cuvées and single vintage wines that can be aged for centuries.

Of all the authorized and recommended varieties, the Sercial, Verdelho, Boal, Malvasia, Terrantez and Tinta Negra varieties are the most used and have the longest tradition in Madeira winemaking.

Madeira wine has a number of denominations that allow its different varieties to be identified. Age indication: 5 years old – reserve (or old); 10 years – Old Reserve (or Special Reserve or Very Old) 15 years – Extra Reserve; 20, 30, 40, 50 and over 50 years old. Frasqueira or Garrafeira – with indication of the vintage and a minimum aging of 20 years in wood. Colheita or Harvest with indication of the vintage and a minimum aging of 5 years.

Madeira wines are also denoted according to their level of sweetness as follows: dry, semi-sweet, semi-sweet and sweet.

For more information, see:

Vinho Madeira wine

Wines from Portugal


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