Madeira is on my mind. Luiz Alberto of Thewinehub.com and #winelovers fame is celebrating his group’s anniversary there in February. I am soo hot to go but I have another trip planned that week. It’s going to be amazing, Madeira is top of my list absolutely. My Dad and I have been sipping on the Rare Wine Company’s Thomas Jefferson bottle. this month. It is lovely and was a perfect gift for him since he is a historian and constantly talks about Jefferson and John Adams.
Madeira is a fortified wine that is comes in a variety of styles from dry to sweet. It can be served as an aperitif, at different places during the meal or with cheese and dessert at the end of the meal. This versatile wine has been at home in the United States since the 17th century, In fact, George Washington toasted the Declaration of Independence with a glass of Madeira. I may follow suit this July 4th. As an aside, I’m a July baby so if anyone wants to get me a present and doesn’t have any ideas, Madeira is a very welcome gift :).
Madeira is made from essentially six different grapes: Sercial, Bual, Verdelho, Malmsey (Malvasia), Terrantez, and Tinta Negra. This last is actually the most widely planted of the varieties but can’t be listed on the label as the others can.
Madeira has one very special vinification process that separates it from other wines, the wine is heated, either through the use of a hot coil into a tank of hot water in the walls of a tank. This method is called the Estufagem and is continued for never less than three months at a temperature of between 45 and 50 degrees Celsius. After this period, the wines are left to ‘settle” for three months. The wine is never released before October 31th of the year after the harvest.
The wines that are chosen for aging are put into large oak barrels called Cantiero. These wines spend two years in the bottle and are on the market after three years. They are often put on a higher floor of the winery so that they will be subjected to higher temperatures. Like in sherry, an oxidative process takes place with a portion of the wine evaporating and the remaining wines becoming more concentrated. This is one of the reasons that Madeira has such fabulous acidity. Apparently the concentration enhances the acidity. Adding an older and therefore more concentrated Madeira to a younger wine will raise it’s acidity level.
The island of Madeira is very beautiful and is volcanic in origin. The site of a very tall peak, Madeira has many microclimes and many small producers who cultivate tiny properties.
Harvesting on Madeira basically has to be done by hand because of the aspect of the slopes and fragmentation of the growing areas. The grapes are brought into the cellars and fermentation is started using ambient yeast. Essentially fermentation is stopped by the addition of alcohol. When this is done depends entirely upon what type of wine the producer is interested in making.
I could go on and on but I’ll stop here. My next wish list trip will definitely be to Madeira which is about as far away from Portugal as Easter Island from Chile. I won’t let that stop me though, it hasn’t in the past.