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Sercial grapes

by | Nov 11, 2016

Sercial is a grape variety which is cultivated in Portugal, particularly on the Madeira Island.


It has provided name to the driest among the 4 standard varieties of the fortified wine of Madeira.

The late ripening of the grape allows it to preserve its characteristic acidity. Sercial is the most crisp and brightest style of Madeira.

Wine grape varieties

Sercial grapes are elliptical in shape, exhibiting greenish-yellow color and almost tart. The ripening is late, which results in the production of a tasteless yet fragrant fruit.

Origin and History

The popularity of Madeira held firmly until 1851, when the catastrophe hit the wine industry of the island. In 1851, Powdery Mildew attacked the island and almost the entire vines of the island were destroyed in 3 years.

Powdery mildew increases in the dense vineyards in humid, hot weather. Many parts of the land were replanted, but phylloxera struck in the 1870s and eradicated the vineyards again.

The solution was found out to simply grow hybrid vines and stop the traditional grapes.

Regions Where It Is Grown

The grape is cultivated in less quantity at the southern part of the island. After the devastation of the vineyards of Madeira by phylloxera, the grape became more widespread on the mainland.

Here it is called Esgana Cao or Esgana. Generally Sercial is grown in the cooler vineyards of the island; at a height of 3250 ft. typically, it is the last grape to mature in Madeira.

Sercial being an anglicized name came to be related with the Madeira style because of the most acidic, delicate expression and lightest nature of Madeira that requires the longest duration to mature.

For ambiguous reasons, when Ondenc (a Gascony grape) was cultivated in Australia, it was named as Sercial.


Sercial is known under the following synonyms Esgana Cao, Cerceal, Verdelho Branco and Uva Cao.


Sercial is among the last of the white wine grapes to mature in Madeira, generally as late as October.

At least 20 years ageing is required in the cask for the vintage Sercial wines, to assure that its sharp acidity has decreased.

The long process of aging helps in softening and toning down of the vintage wine’s acidity.  After getting matured, it is served as a perfect aperitif but it can be taken without food also.

This is a vine variety which is really difficult to cultivate, and is produced in comparatively small quantity. The leaves of the Sercial vine are hairy, medium-sized, containing 3 distal lobes.

The Sercial vine makes moderate or small bunches, usually not more than 20 cm and are mostly slightly compressed and dense. The grapes are productive and make wines with bitterness and oxidation tendency.

Sercial contains about 1.5% residual sugar due to which it is believed to be the driest of all the Madeira wines. Sercial wines are becoming popular day by day due to its perfumed flavors.

Characteristics of Wine

With time, good quality grapes develop a very dry finish and almond-like nutty aromas. The acidic characteristic is retained with old age and will keep on improving in the bottle for more than half a century.

The wine is tawny brown colored when poured out in a glass. The aroma was very nutty and moderately intense, like freshly roasted pecans or walnuts. Sercial exhibits spicy, herbaceous lemony notes and generally shows a stony minerality on the palate.

The wine is medium-bodied on the palate with immensely high acidity. There are essence of roasted almonds, burnt sugar, caramel and tangy green apples. It is definitely sweet, but actually tasted dry because of the immense acidity.

The wine has really electrifying and bright acidity which carries the total character of the wine effortlessly. With age, the wine shows similarity to the aromatic profile of old Rieslings.

After fortification and aging, Sercial exhibits notes of citrus, spice and almonds. Sercial wines have very low alcohol content nearing up to 10%. This shows that it can be a sparkling wine.

Food Pairings with Grape

Sercial wine can be taken with some great food items like Sesame-seared tofu, cheese, olives, toasted almond flakes and Chinese food.

Generally it is taken at the start of the meal as an aperitif or alongside vegetable dishes.


Michael Bredahl

Michael Bredahl

Wine Writer

Michael is an online enthusiast, with a lot of knowledge about online marketing. Traveling around the world to hunt for the perfect wine. Latest on Sicily, where Etna has a huge impact on the taste, which is strong with a bitter aftertaste for the youngest wines, but older wines are fantastic. Drinking wine, and writing about them, are one the passions. Remember to drink responsibly 🙂

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