Madeira is one of the most historic and famous winemaking regions of Portugal – but it is located 600 miles away from the capital Lisbon and 450 miles away from the North African coast. In short, it’s a rugged, mountainous archipelago that is just about as remote as you can find in the world, and yet by a twist of history, it has given its name to one of the most famous fortified wines in the world: Madeira.
The archipelago was originally discovered in 1419 and named as “the island of wood” for all of its dense forests. By the mid-17th century, Madeira had become an important stopover and supply spot for Portuguese explorers headed to either the colonies in Brazil or around Africa to India. As a result, residents experimented with production techniques such that the local wines could make it safely through long sea voyages. What they found was that deliberately exposing the wine to subtropical heat and deliberately moving it around, as you might expect on a sea-tossed vessel, had extraordinary aging effects.
Even to this day, the methods of aging Madeira involve extensive exposure to heat. The most cost-effective method is known as estufagem, and involves exposing wines to intense subtropical-like heat for a period of 3 months. Other methods involve barrel-aging wines with intense exposure to sunlight for 20 years or longer.
As might be imagined, Madeira is best suited for small-scale production that can achieve the right aging process and the desired level of sweetness (which can range from “dry” to “sweet”). The most popular grape varietals used in Madeira include Tinta Negra Mole, which is similar to a cross between Grenache and Pinot Noir.
Image Source: wikimedia.org