01438 741177         thewinesociety.com

Madeira - what is it?


I hang my head in shame but I have never had any Madeira, not even a sip. I did see the curious looking bottles in wine shops, but that is as far as it goes.

I would be grateful if you could put me out of my misery and recommend some reading on Madeira and examples which I could start my Madeira journey on.


You could do a lot worse than start here

If you want a good and reasonably up to date book (there have been quite a few changes in the last 15 years or so) try Richard Mayson’s 2015 paperback
"Madeira: The islands and their wines "
I presume the hardback of that year is similarly up to date, but do not know for sure.


Oh. My. Goodness.

Well, if you have to start by reading, I believe there was a book by Alex Liddell, “Madeira, The Mid-Atlantic Wine” could be worth trying

… alternatively, bite the bullet (or drink it) and buy something to try :slight_smile:

I recommend something like this, to give you a proper introduction:


Yes, I thought the original edition of Liddell’s book was also good, though it is now now dated. I know there is a revised edition from 2014, but have not personally seen that edition. I would say Liddell’s style is more academic than Mayson’s.


You must try the Sercial that Robert recommends. It’s super; a high acid, dry, clean product that nevertheless has real depth of flavour and balance. We have it every Christmas; why only at Christmas, I don’t know… Like Fino and Manzanilla sherries, this style of Madeira is unique and interesting.


The sercial may be good, but if you want to know what people usually mean when they talk about Madeira, don’t start with this. The H and H Malvasia would be the place to start (although it will spoil you for many lesser ones). The styles do range from dry (sercial) to rich (Malvasia and Bual), but the traditional after dinner, much better than port, style is the latter.


And if you decide you don’t like it that much, then use it with porcini mushrooms in risotto or to make a fantastic sauce with filet of beef (+/- foie gras) :ok_hand:


Had this 1998 Verdelho at Pied a Terre last week with cheese, following a complimentary glass at a previous visit. Wonderful drop. Then we got the bill and fell off our chairs. The other bottles were BYO


And after you’ve had a glass, there’s no rush - an open bottle lasts forever…


I’m getting the impression @DrEm that you are quite the chef…:wink:


Hedonist :wink:


Surely the best way to learn about Madeira wines is to take a holiday to the islands and talk to and taste with the producers?

Years ago, I seem to remember learning about the four types of Madeira, sercial, verdelho, bual and malmsey but later on I also discovered rainwater.

I understand that the estufa, the oven which keeps the wine warm for a period of time, seeks to emulate wine sent in ships stuck in hot weather crossing the atlantic, a wine for history!


Excellent idea, and take time to walk the levadas as well.



As some of you probably know I am currently sailing from Gibraltar to the Canaries on a tall ship and I only found out after sailing that we are calling in at madeira on the way. We are arriving this afternoon and leaving saturday am. However will be spending most of the time tomorrow doing stuff with the rest of the crew, so no time really for vinyard visits.

Now, I know nothing about madeiran wine but thought it a good opportunity to buy a couple of bottles, maybe with a view to laying them down. So I’m looking for advice, suggestions, recommendations on what to look for.

Any advice would be most appreciated. Thanks!


Not sure I can give detailed reccos as it is several years since I was there last, but I will say this: laying down bottles of Madeira is to miss the point. It is essentially a cask-aged wine, and is bottled when ready to drink. Sure, you can buy bottles from a youngish vintage and age them in your cellar, but you will not get the same sort of development as aging in cask, and it is not the “done thing”.

The good news is that (for a price) there are plenty of old cask-aged Madeiras available.


Madeira started when they found wine that was being transported across the equator (and therefore heated up quite a bit) lasted longer. These days the wine is artificially heated over time to have the same effect. Unlike other wines Madeira once opened its not going to go off - I have an empty Madeira bottle on my desk that was from the same Solara as the 1900 Paris exhibition.


Also, it’s virtually indestructible.

Even after you’ve opened a bottle, it’s lasts for yonks, so it’s great to have a bottle that you can sip unhurriedly throughout the winter.


Sorry, slight repetition regarding the longevity of an opened bottle, as my post crossed with @M1tch’s!


I assume you have had a look at the guide at https://www.thewinesociety.com/guides-wine-regions-madeira

It is important to know which of the styles you like (and to avoid Tinta Negra: check carefully). I would look for Tarrantez because it is so difficult to find elsewhere (or, indeed, on Madeira), but check if you like it.


We did the Blandys Lodge tour which was excellent and ended with a decent tasting, albeit of younger, cheaper options. If you book ahead you can get a vintage tour which gets older wines to taste. http://www.blandyswinelodge.com/tours.html
Apparently 10 different grape varieties can be used, although most is made from red Negra Mole. The best Madeiras tend to be single varietals from the white grapes, with large variations in sweetness. So no recommendations from me. You need to taste as many as you can to find your own favourites.