Maturation of Madeira wines
LABELING BY AGE
The average aging time of a blended wine
In fact, the declaration of the maturation is not entirely correct. The maturation aged you find on the bottle is not the age of the youngest wine in the bottle, nor the average age of the wine. It is a statement of style. After blending, the wine should be presented to a technical panel and a tasting panel, with the aimed style of age. This can happen only once, when the wine is declined, the winemaker can only come back with a different blend.
Designation of age
The average age of a blended wine is labeled. Only the following average ages are permitted:
3, 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, 40, 50, 50+ Years. 50 and 50+ years is an approved age since 2015.
Finest Madeira has stayed at least 3 months in Estufagem: rapid heating up to 50 º C. (with maximum exceeding of 5ºC). Then the wine is aged at a lower temperature. In total, the wines undergo maturation for a minimum of three years.
The first sale may take place after October 31 of the second year after the harvest.
This is the most sold Madeira, which is generally used for cooking. The grape used for this wine is almost always the tinta negra.
A light style of wine, less oxidized, semi-dry, with a light colour and a quality of maximum 10 years. Especially produced for the U.S. market. The story goes that one day a barrel of Madeira was left behind on the beach, meant to be to shipped to America. This wine was diluted by rainwater, which eventually led to this type of wine.
This style of wine was formerly produced by a secret recipe: “Aqua Pura”- diluted with water.
Rainwater may be made in estufa (rapid heating) or canteiro (slow heating) and sold after 3 years of maturation.
A blend of grape varieties with an average age of 5 years. Both estufagem as Canteira system may be used. Each permitted grape varieties may be used. The latest development is the blend of two ‘recommended’ varieties in a Reserve Madeira. This gives wines with a very attractive character for a reasonable price.
A blend of years. The average age of the wine is at least 10 years. Old Reserva is almost always made with the Canteira method. Generally the grape variety is mentioned on the label. Without mentioning the grape, this wine is made from tinta negra.
A blend of years. The average age of the wine is at least 10 years. Old Reserva is almost always made with the Canteira method. Generally the grape variety is mentioned on the label. Without mentioning the grape, this wine is usually made from tinta negra. Thus the same requirements as for an Old Reserva, but of higher quality.
A blend of years. The average aging time is 15 years. Further more requirements are the same as the special reserva.
This is an uncommon style.
CLASSIFICATION BY AGE: SINGLE HARVEST
The word ‘Vintage” may not be mentioned on the bottle, since it is preserved for Port wines.
Minimum of 85 % of grape variety
According to European legislation, a bottle of wine must always be made with 85% of a grape variety that is stated on the label.
Noble grape varieties, recommended grape varieties
The so called ‘noble grape varieties’ are all white: sercial, verdelho, boal, malvasia. Recommended grapes are: terrantez, listrão, moscato, and blue grape varieties: tinta, tinta negra, verdelho tinto and bastardo.
Colheita means year. These are wines of a single vintage year, which is stated on the label.
Minimum 5 years of aging in wood. Some colheitas are over 100 years old and have become very tasty, and expensive!
Colheita can be made from each one of the recommended grapes.
Estufagem (fast heating) in the beginning of the maturation is permitted, but not widely used.
Frasqueira or Garrafeira
These are the premium wines of Madeira, only the canteiro system is been used for aging. Estufagem is not permitted. The vintage year is always on the label. Frasquera is made only from one of the four noble grape varieties. It has at least 20 years of aging in cask. The maturation potential is almost unlimited.
Note that ‘Vintage’ is not allowed for Madeira, this term is reserved to Port wines.
A unique process that resembles the sherry system, but it is not the same. In the Madeira solera system the wine of a single grape variety is kept for decades. Only once a year one is aloud to sell this wine, with a maximum of 10% of the vat per year. The vessel is then refilled with new wine from the same grape. In total, the wine maker is aloud to do this 10 times. Then the whole vat must be bottled at once. This cask still contains at least ⅓ of its oldest wine.The solera system provides a wonderful blend of flavors: the old wines give it intensity and complexity, the young wines count for a fresh vibrancy.
Potency of maturation: very old wines
Madeira’s from the 50s, 40s and 30s are not an exception and still available, but prices are rising fast nowadays. There are even Madeira from the 19th century! We tasted a Madeira from 1885, with an excellent quality: vivid, full, very complex, still holding a good acidity. It is impossible to say whether there will ever be an end to the maturation of a quality Madeira. Therefore, Madeira is an excellent gift at birthdays and weddings.
Starting at 2015, the bottle date has to mentioned on the label.
Selo de origem
All Madeira wines must have a seal over the cork, the ‘selo de origem’. This is a guarantee label from the Portuguese government.
Tip: alway store your Madeira bottle standing up
The natural acidity of Madeira is very high and when you keep your Madeira horizontal, it will slowly damage the cork, which makes the bottle start leaking. It is recommended to replace the cork every 20 years.