Madeira wine

Madeira wines mould their character by ripening under the influence of warmth and oxygen. The simplest Madeira’s arrive at the market after three years, the most beautiful Madeira’s after 10 years or even later. The main feature of Madeira is the balance of crisp acid and soft sweetness together with complex flavors caused by aging. There are different styles, depending on the grape variety, aging process  and the producer.

Production figures

The production of Madeira wine is on average 3.3 million liters per year. This provides approximately € 17 million turnover per year. In total 8,000 families are living directly or indirectly from Madeira wine.
2,000 grape growers are licensed to cultivate wine grapes, currently there are about 1,050 active grape growers. 61% of Madeira is of the simplest quality: 3 years old.

Origin and Protected Area label

96% of Madeira wine is covered by the DO Madeira. These are fortified wines.
4% of the Madeira wines is covered by the DO or Madeirense IG Terrace Madeirenses. Those unfortified wines.

Export Figures

80% of Madeira wine is exported. From this, 81 % is sold in Europe, in order of importance to France, Portugal, England, Germany and other countries. Outside Europe, Japan and America are the largest consumers.
In the Netherlands, the import figures vary from 60,000 to 100,000 liters per year.

The price of Madeira wines

Madeira is relatively cheap considering the high costs of production :

  • Very small-scale cultivation, many winegrowers per producer
  • Hard labour on the land: steep slopes and virtually no mechanization
  • The warmth and high moisture content of Madeira requires permanent control of fungal diseases
  • Small-scale production of wine
  • It’s getting harder every year to find young workers willing to do the heavy labour on the land
  • Long maturation time: storage and loss of 3 % per year by evaporation
  • Non existing of cardboard- glass or cork industry. These products must be imported.

The “noble grapes”

Some 20 varieties of grapes can be used for making Madeira, 6 of them have been proven to deliver the best qualities. The four most known noble white grape varieties are: Sercial , Verdelho , Bual / Boal and Malvasia Candida, known as Malmsey. Other precious but rare grape varieties are Terrantez ( white) and Bastardo (blue).

Sercial

In Portugal this grape is called Esgana Cão or “dogstrengler” because it is known for its aggressive acids.
Or, as said in Madeira: ‘It bites back”
This grape variety is also been used in the white wines of the Portugese Dão region.
Aromas of citrus peel, almonds and spices. The lightest colored Madeira.
Although it bears clearly noticeable sweet this wine is know as  “secco” which means dry.

Verdelho

This grape variety is known at the Portugese mainland as Goveiro.
Crisp fresh acidity. A bit sweeter than Sercial, and slightly smoky.

Meio secco / half dry.
This variety is widely used for Madeira still wines (unfortified).

Boal / Bual

This grape variety is known at the Portugese mainland as Cached, in Madeira it is also known as “Malvaisa fina”.
Ripe and full with aromas of raisins.
Meio doce / semi-sweet.

Malvasia / Malmsy

Originally, the Malvasia Candida from Crete was used.
Now a days there is almost only Malvasia St. Georges, a clone of higher quality.
Ripe, full bodied, sweet wine with an intense character.
A young Malvasia has in the nose grass and is slightly smoked.
During the ripening process tertiary aromas appear, such as nuts, caramel, and coffee.
Due to the high natural sugar this grape accounts for the darkest color after aging.
Doce / sweet.

Terrantez

A grape from the Douro regio, where it is called folgasão.
It contains high acidity and lots of natural sugar, it is slightly bitter.
A grape that makes spicy wines.
Types of wines made from terrrantez: medium dry and medium sweet.

Terrantez is becoming very rare, only 2.5 hectares are left on the island.
The skin of this grape is thin and very sensitive to mold. In addition, the productivity is low.
Despite the higher price there is not enough profit for the growers.
In 2014 500 kg was produced, which accounts for only 200 bottles!
Madeira wine lovers really love the style or Terrantez.
Rubin Vierra, head of the IVBAM tasting panel, describes terrantez as follows:
“If it were a man, it would be a gentleman”

Bastardo

Blue grape. In use for Port wines. Known in the French Jura as Trousseau.
High acidity and lots of natural sugar, somewhat bitterness.
Dark, rich and very fruity.
Each type of wine: from dry to sweet.
There are only two vineyards with Bastardo left on Madeira.

OTHER GRAPES

Tinta Negra Mole

This grape variety comes from the Portuguese mainland. It is a crossing of grapes involving Pinot noir and Grenache. After the catastrophic destruction of the vines by phylloxera in 1875, most vineyards were replanted with the Tinta Negra. This blue grape variety now accounts for 85 % of production of Madeira. It is an easy growing variety. Tinta negra is the basis for the low priced wines, but increasingly good quality is made from it.
Tinta negra has a thin skin en little color.
Each flavor type can be made from it, from dry to sweet.

Moscatel, Listrão and others

Today, a whole lot of native grapes are permitted, but almost non-existent anymore on Madeira.
For those who love the indept-infromation, these are the grapes:
Carão de Moça, Caracol, Complexa, Deliciosa, Folha Seco, Listrão, Malvasia Babosa, Malvasia Fina, Malvasia Roxa (black grape), Moscatel de Málaga, Rio Grande, Triunfo, Valveirinha, Verdelho tinto (black grape)

American grapes

American grapes from the Vitis Labrusca family have wonderful names like Jacquez, Isabella, Herbemont, Otelho, Noah. Here and there in Madeira these grapes can be found and wine is still made of it​, but it may not be sold outside the island. These grapes give wines with a strange, overly perfumed aroma.
From 1980 on sales of wine made from American grapes is prohibited, it may only be used for home consumption.

A new grape variety

Justino’s has developed a new grape variety, the arnsburger, a crossing of several clones of Riesling. It is still in an experimental stage, but it is expected that fine wine will come out of it.

PALETTE OF MADEIRA WINES

Acidity

All Madeira contain high acidity. There are several reasons for that. The volcanic soil provides high acidity in the wine, due to the high content of sulfur, iron, and aluminum, in combination with the lack of lime. This soil blocks absorption of nutrients, in particularly phosphorus and potassium. Madeira has little difference between day and night and between summer and winter. Moreover, summer in Madeira is far less hot than in almost all other wine regions. Fully ripening of the grapes is therefore a hard task, which results is in haigh acidity levels. In the north and high in the mountains where it is colder, the grapes ripen even slower and the acidity is therefore even higher.

Acidity by grape variety

From nature, each grape variety has its own acidity level. From high to medium this counts for Sercial, Verdelho, Boal and Malvasia. The style of the grape is further emphasized by the winemaker. Sercial is preferably planted in cool places, and the fermentation is stopped later, leaving much acid, while less residual sugar remains. Malvasia is true for the reversed: most planting is at the warmest places and the fermentation is stopped earlier, leaving less acidity and more residual sugar.

Sweet

All Madeira’s contain sweetness in varying degrees, but never thick or sticky. The sweetness in the wine is caused by the residual sugar after fermentation. Madeira can also be sweetened after the fortification with alcohol.. The high acidity provides the right balance. This sweet / acidity balance makes Madeira very accessible: easy to drink and much suitable in wine-food pairing.

Maderisation

The effect of heating is called maderisation. For other wines, this term counts for a negative meaning: it is a form of decay, the wine was stored in a too warm place. But Madeira is just improving from this treatment!

Complexity : tertiary aromas

The aromas of a quality Madeira are formed by maturation. Tertiar aromas arise, the so-called bouquet.
On the Tasting Method-page you will find an aromawheel and a tasting form, especially made for Madeira wine.

Controlled quality

All Madeira’s are tested by a panel of IVBAM on taste and chemical composition.

Cooking Wine

The 3 years old simple Madeira’s are almost all used for cooking. To avoid paying excise duty on these wines the winemaker adds salt and pepper to it. This way it’s not a wine anymore, but a sauce.
It is is sold in small bottles .

LABELING TERMS

sweet content

The official sugar content of the grape varieties in wine corresponds to the wine styles.
This content is expressed in grams of sugar per liter, or in Beaumé.

< 0,5     Beaume                         sercial                         extra dy
< 1,5     Beaumé    < 25 gram     sercial                        secco / dry
1,0 -2,5 Beaumé  17-40 gram     verdelho                     meio secco / medium dry
2,5-3,5  Beaumé  40-60 gram     boal/bual                    meio doce / medium sweet
> 3,5     Baumé      > 60 gram     malmsey/malvasia     doce / sweet, rich

Note: all styles of wine, from dry to rich, can be made using the tinta negra.

Quality control

All the wines undergo a lab test, to see if the wine meets up to the following standards:

  • alcohol content
  • sugar level (Beaumé)
  • acidity
  • volatile acidity
  • Ph
  • dry extract

After that the wines are blind tested on taste en composition by a tasting panel of the IVBAM
Blind testinch means tasting without knowing which wines you taste, and who it is from.
Here we note:

  • color, brightness
  • condition
  • aroma’s and palate

Classification of Madeira based on age

Reading a Madeira wine label: how old is this wine?

Read more »