The island of Madeira has a total of just 900 acres of vines. Vineyards are managed separately from the wineries, and there are only 8 Madeira wineries in existence. One of these opened 3 years ago and it was the first new winery in 60 years. The Madeira Wine Institute analyzes each wine blindly before wineries are permitted to bottle and sell the wine, ensuring the wine matches its proposed labeling criteria.
Always a single varietal wine, the 5 main permitted varietals of Madeira vary in natural sweetness, so their wines will usually follow suit. Sercial is a dry wine; Verdelho – medium dry; Boal/Bual – medium sweet; Malvasia/Malmsey – sweet/rich. Tinta Negra is the exception to all of this: the only red varietal, vinified as a white, it can be any level of sweetness. Madeira wines are either a “blended” style (meaning a blend of different years, not grapes), a Colheita single harvest – also known as a “baby vintage” that must be aged for a minimum of 5 years to be labeled as such, or a Frasqueira/Vintage – which must be aged for a minimum of 20 years to be labeled with that vintage. Madeira is best served cold (55 degrees F) and one shouldn’t try to follow it with any other wine – the finish is long and lingering and will overpower any other wine. Despite the perceived “sweet” character of many Madeiras, the bracing acidity actually balances that sweetness, making it a friendly wine on its own or with food. Typical Madeira aromas/flavors include toasted almond, caramel, molasses and dried fruit, like fig and raisin. Mmmm, Madeira.