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What is Madeira Wine?

Madeira is a type of fortified wine, produced on the Portuguese islands of Madeira, located just off of the western coast of Africa. The wines range in style from bone dry to syrupy sweet, and are generally served as an aperitif or dessert.

Madeira wines became popular during the late 1400s, when European explorers were abundantly traveling to the West Indies. To avoid wine spoilage during the long trek, neutral grape spirit was added to the wine. Couple said fortification with crazy heat and excessive movement, and the wine's flavor profile was completely transformed, which ended up being a happy accident!

The same process, involving fortification and heat, is used to produce Madeira today. Base wines are placed in stainless steel and heated by hot water via a serpentine system for at least three months (this process is called estufagem), then laid to rest for a minimum of 90 days. Final wines range from dry to sweet.

What does Madeira Wine Taste Like?

Madeira can range in flavor from nearly bone dry to sugary sweet, depending on when fermentation is halted, determining how much residual sugar is left in the wine. Whether dry or sweet, Madeira is always characterized by high acidity and rich, nutty flavors.

Is Madeira Wine Sweet or Dry?

Madeira's flavor profile is determined by the amount of residual sugar left within the wines, dependent on when fermentation is halted. Generally, the wines are categorized by the grape used within the vinification process, synonymous with a particular level of sweetness.

What Are the Types of Madeira Wine?

There are four main styles of Madeira wine, categorized by the grapes used within their production process. From dry to sweet, the styles are: Sercial, Verdelho, Bual (Boal), and Malvasia. Sercial is fermented almost completely dry, noted with nutty flavors and bright acidity. Verdelho shows a slight sweetness, with smoke-driven, earthy undertones. Bual, sometimes known as Boal, is dark hued and rich, with sweet raisin flavors. Malvasia, also known as Malvazia or Malmsey, is the sweetest of them all, showing rich texture and notes of coffee, caramel, and nuts. Malvasia's intense sweetness is always balanced by a crazy high acidity, making the wines pleasant and easy-drinking.

Where Is It Produced?

Madeira is produced on the Portuguese islands of Madeira, located off the western coast of Morocco.

Cooking With Madeira

Madeira is also popular in the kitchen, used to make a variety of desserts, including Madeira cake, as well as Chicken Madeira and sauce madère (Madeira sauce.) However, due to Madeira's high-acidity, the wines are actually insanely food-friendly; good quality Madeira should be savored with food rather than within food! Try a variety of flavor profiles, ranging from dry to sweet, and see for yourself how these versatile wines can carry you through a meal.