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Madeira Produces One of the World’s Great Fortified Wines

As some of you might be aware, Madeira is an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, which is Portuguese-owned.

This island, which was discovered in the year 1419, has a long winemaking history.

Today, this island is giving its name to one of the world’s great fortified wines.

As a wine researcher, I would say both the Madeira wines, as well as the island is holding distinctive spots in the history of wine.

Wine grape varieties

We could say that Madeira is among the very few wines that have not changed since it gained a reputation over two centuries ago.

Now, let’s see in detail about the Madeira and its wines here…


Remember to read the Wine Tasting guide…

The Rise of Wines in Madeira

The history of winemaking in Madeira Islands can be dated back to the Age of Exploration. During those times, this was a regular port of call for the ships that were traveling to the East Indies.

By the sixteenth century, this region was able to raise a well-established wine industry supplying the ships with wine.

Eventually, the Dutch East India Company became a regular customer of these wines.

Gradually, the popularity of these wines extended to other parts of the world.

We could say that the Madeira had an important role to play in the wine history of the USA.

However, the industry saw a fall during the nineteenth century and by the end of this century, most of the vineyards of Madeira were uprooted.

The region was able to return back to normal only by the end of the twentieth century.

This was possible only with the efforts taken by the producers who started a renewed focus on quality.

Climate and Geography in Madeira

Obviously, the island is experiencing oceanic climates with some tropical influences. As such, the terrain of Madeira is found to be a mountainous volcanic island and hence, it is almost impossible to cultivate.

Therefore, the vineyards are often planted on man-made terraces, which are called as poios.

Today, there are around 14,000 different vineyard plots in Madeira covering a total vineyard area of 500 hectares.

As humidity and warmer temperatures are the ideal conditions for fungal invasion, the winemakers are planting a lot of disease-resistant, non-Vitis vinifera grape varieties on the island.

Alcohol and Distilleries

Winemaking in Madeira

Initially, the winemaking steps of Madeira would start just like the other wines. The usual harvesting, crushing, pressing, and then fermenting will be carried out.

In this, the grapes that are destined for sweet wines will be fermented on the skins, while those destined for dry wines will be separated from the skins before fermentation.

Also, depending on the desired levels of sweetness, the fermentation will be halted at various points by adding neutral grape spirits.

The Madeira wines are unique by the process of aging. These wines will undergo an aging process called estufagem.

This process would impart a distinctive flavour to these wines. Furthermore, these wines will be exposed to air for oxidization.

The wines that are got from these processes would have a colour similar to your tawny port wines.

It’s to be noted that all the fortified wines from Madeira are being produced under the designation of Madeira DOC, while the table wines are sold under the VR title Terras Madeirenses.

Wine Grapes in Madeira

Today, almost 85% of the Madeira wines are produced from the grape variety, Tinta Negra Mole. Also, there are four major styles of Madeira ranging from the driest to the sweetest style.

They are:

These are also the names of the grape varieties that are used in the production of Madeira wines and are the originally preferred varieties.

Occasionally, we can also see the following grape varieties in the Madeira wines:

  • Terrantez
  • Bastardo
  • Moscatel

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Tharani Rajamanickam

Tharani Rajamanickam


I am Tharani, I have Bachelors degree in Biotechnology. I am passionate about the wine industry and continue to explore, learn and share and I bring in a wealth of knowledge and expertise to help you keep updated with best wines in the world. Stay tuned..

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