Log in Become a Member


Comprehensive description of all European growing areas, their grape varieties, traditions and legal rules with maps.

Wine regions in Madeira 2 growing regions

Description to Madeira

DOC area for a famous dessert wine named after the Portuguese island of Madeira The archipelago also includes the smaller island of Porto Santo and the uninhabited archipelago of Ilhas Desertas. Madeira is located in the Atlantic Ocean 500 km north of the Canary Islands, 951 km from the Portuguese mainland and 737 km from the coast of Africa(Morocco). It was discovered in 1420 by the navigator João Gonçalves Zarco (1380-1467), who found a densely forested island (Madeira means "island of forests"). The Portuguese set the island on fire, the fire raged for seven years. Although this destroyed almost all vegetation, the wood ash and the already existing volcanic soil created ideal conditions for wine growing. At the end of the 16th century a commercially important viticulture is documented. The port in Funchal quickly developed into a strategically important stopover, which all ships on their way to Africa, Asia and South America called at. Here the ships also supplied themselves with wine. But these mostly spoiled on the long sea voyages. For this reason, sprittling with distilled from sugar cane gradually became more common, especially to make the wines last longer. However, this did not become the norm until the middle of the 18th century

Madeira - Karte Weinbaugebiete und Karte bez. Position

Hanging by drowning in a Madeira barrel

It is not known when a Madeira of today's type existed, but a legend tells us about one from the year 1478, the year in which George Plantaganet became Duke of Clarence (1449-1478), brother of the English King Edward IV. (1442-1483), was sentenced to death for conspiracy, greed and violence. He was given the choice of execution and, according to unsecured tradition, he allegedly chose death by drowning in a barrel filled with in the Tower. However, the "drowning" possibly refers to the fact that he was a heavy drinker throughout his life. In any case, he was not killed by the beheading method customary for nobles, which is proven by a later exhumation.

Vinhos de Torna Viagem

The special type of production, which is also known as madeiraisation in terms of its typical flavour and colour, came about by chance in the 17th century, when large quantities were exported from Funchal by ship from the Dutch to South America and other colonies. It was noticed that the wine became better the longer the voyage lasted and the longer the ship stayed in hot, tropical climate. The rocking movement of the ship (as was suspected at the time) but above all the extreme temperature fluctuations contributed to the typical taste. Therefore, many ships were now loaded with the wine and sent to the East Indies and back only for the purpose of production (they thus crossed the equator twice). The wines were called "Vinhos de torna-viagem" (wines make a journey) or "Vinho da roda" (roda = turn/rotate) and is also documented on the label on old Madeira bottles (TVE)

Madeira - Vinhos de Torna Viagem - Fass und Schiff

The original impulse for trade in Madeira was in the late 17th century, when wine was needed in large quantities for the new Portuguese colonies in South America (Brazil). With the colonisation of America in the 17th century under the reign of the English King Charles II (1630-1685), Madeira also became fashionable on the east coast of North America. It enjoyed a great reputation there and became a sought-after and expensive object. The American declaration of independence in 1776 was solemnly sealed with a Madeira. The first US president George Washington (1732-1799) enjoyed a Madeira every day for dinner. And the foundation of the capital named after him, Washington D.C., was also celebrated with a Madeira. In the 19th century, wine was so popular in the USA that own events (Madeira Parties) were held and clubs were founded (legendary is the still existing Madeira Club of Savannah-Ohio).

The elaborate production by ship was still practiced until the beginning of the 20th century, but then abandoned (individual bottles are still on sale). Attempts were now made to imitate the special conditions. Wine storehouses (port. Estufa = oven, English hothouse) were built, these were equipped with tin roofs that store solar heat and the wine was stored at high temperatures for months. This was the beginning of the today's usual Estufagem procedure. In the 1860s, mildew and phylloxera reached the island and paralysed the viticulture. In the 1870s many vineyards were replaced by sugar cane, leaving just under 500 hectares. Ten years later, a new start was made with ungrafted hybrids (especially Cunningham and Jacquet). For Madeira, however, these were banned as early as 1979.

Madeira production

The conditions are set and monitored by IVBAM (Instituto do Vinho, do Bordade e do Artesanato da Madeira), which also runs a museum. The traditional four noble grape varieties, from which the best wines are produced as a single variety (85%), are Boal (Bual), Malvasia Branca de São Jorge (Malmsey), Sercial and Verdelho. Only in small quantities there is the variety Terrantez. However, in the vineyards, which cover around 2,100 hectares and are cultivated by around 4,000 winegrowers, the Tinta Negra Mole(Negramoll) dominates with 80%. The vines are traditionally grown on low pergolas on terraces, so that the harvest must be laboriously bent or kneeling. The grapes are then crushed.

Fermentation takes place in 25,000-litre containers made of wood or coated concrete, for the Madeira types Malvasia and Boal mostly by maceration, for the types Sercial and Verdelho the must is separated from the skins beforehand. Wines from Sercial and Verdelho are mostly dry fermented. Wines from Malvasia are stopped early and those from Boal after half of the fermentation by 96% aguardente (brandy). The Estufagem production technique is used almost exclusively in Madeira and makes it unmistakable. This is the heating of the wine to which it was previously exposed in its natural state during the voyages by ship over the equator. For mass production, huge tiled concrete tanks with a volume of 20,000 to 50,000 litres are used. A stainless steel heating coil with hot water flowing through it heats the wine to 40 to 50 °C for at least three to six months.

In the second, much more elaborate but more gentle method, the wine is filled into the typical 600-litre barrels (lodge pipes) and stored in heated rooms at slightly lower temperatures. In this case it is usually six to twelve months. However, some producers refuse to heat the wine artificially. They store the barrels under the roofs of the lodges in the Canteiros (storage racks for the barrels), where they are naturally heated by the sun, cooled down again at night and thus exposed to extreme temperature fluctuations compared to the other variants. The wines matured in this traditional way on the island (not by ship) were once known as "vinho canteiro". In all cases, the sugar contained in the wine is partially by heating. The wine takes on the typical taste and through strong oxidation the madeira tone. After the esteufagem (the heating) the wine must be carefully cooled down. The age of the wines is calculated from the end of the esteufagem phase.

Depending on the type of fermentation described above, some wines are spritzed for the first time at this stage, while sweet wines may be spritzed for the second or third time. This results in an alcohol content of about 17% vol. There are two variants of sweetening for Madeira's sweet wines. With the better wines this is done by the above-mentioned interruption of fermentation, with the cheaper wines thickened sweet must (Vinho Surdo) is added after fermentation and this is also corrected in colour by adding . After filtration, the wine rests for 12 to 18 months and is then graded according to quality.

Quality grades according to maturing time

After racking in wooden barrels the wine is further matured. From Estufagem this is at least three years, these are called "Finest" or "3-Year-Old". A "Seleccionado" is at least three years, but not more than five years old. An "Alvada" is a blend of several varieties that is at least 5 years old and is marketed in 0.5 litre bottles. The minimum age for wines from the noble varieties is five years, which is the "Reserve" or "5-Year-Old". From "Special Reserve" or "10-Year-Old" onwards the "good" wines begin. Further ageing stages are "Extra Reserve" or "Over 15-Years-Old", "20-Years Old", "30-Years Old" and "Over 40-Years-Old". The "Vintage-Madeira" are considered the noblest, which mature at least 20 years in the barrel and two years in the bottle.

With all varieties, a Madeira is immediately edible when it is put on sale. Madeira develops (for example compared to port wine) much less depot, a decanting has to be done (if at all) only with very old wines. It is considered to be the most long-lasting wine in the world, which gets even better with further aging. On the market today there are still (extremely expensive) vintages from the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century on offer, which do not show any impairment of pleasure. Even an opened bottle can be kept almost indefinitely.

Year of birth

The following indications or types shall be given for a "genuine" vintage Madeira corresponding to the term or, for Madeira wines, with the indication of a year on the label:

This type of wine has only been produced for a few years and is similar to the Colheita in port wine. It is made from at least 85% of the same vintage and at least 85% of only one of the recommended or approved grape varieties. The wine matures for at least five to a maximum of twenty years.

The year in which the Solera was "opened" (started) is indicated on the label. This means that in addition to the year indicated, younger vintages are also included due to the vintage blend. However, the system introduced here in the 19th century (as with sherry) is no longer used in Madeira.

Vintage (Frasqueira) and Harvest Vintage
This genuine vintage wine comes 100% from a grape harvest. It matures at least 20 years in the barrel and two years in the bottle. A new type of wine is "Harvest Vintage" with 5 to 10 years maturing, but not necessarily suitable for longer storage over decades.

Degree of sweetness

The specifications for the residual sugar content apply to all types of Madeira:

  • extra seco / extra dry - up to 49,1 g/l
  • seco / dry - 49.1 to 64.8 g/l
  • meio seco / semi-dry - 64.8 to 80.4 g/l
  • meio doce / semi-sweet - 80.4 to 96.1 g/l
  • doce / sweet - from 96.1 g/l

Madeira Types

The names of the four noble grape varieties, as well as the rare Terrantez variety, appear on the label and also stand for a certain Madeira style or residual sugar content.

Madeiorafässer - Verdelho

Bastardo, Moscatel and Terrantez
These three types of wine made from the grape varieties of the same name are now produced only in very small quantities, if at all. A Moscatel Madeira was last produced in 1900. Older Terrantez vintages regularly fetch fancy prices at auctions, legendary are the vintages of 1789 and especially the one produced by Barbeito in 1795. There are efforts to revive Terrantez or this Madeira style.

Tinta Negra Mole (Negramoll) - all degrees of sweetness
This variety is used to produce simple Madeira, which accounts for around 40% of production. The name has not been allowed to appear on the label since 1993. These wines are only designated by the degree of sweetness.

Bual (Boal) - semisweet
The wine type is clearly darker and sweeter like Sercial or Verdelho. The variety is mainly cultivated on the warmer southern side of the island. The golden-coloured wine has a characteristic raisin and dried fruit aroma with an acidity that remains fresh even when aged.

(Malvasia) - sweet
The sweetest and most complex type of Madeira is considered the very best. The red and white malvasia grapes grow in the lowest and warmest areas of the island (especially around Câmara de Lobos). This lusciously sweet wine with a honey, coffee and still does not taste sticky due to a concise and balancing acidity. This wine has a shelf life of one hundred years and more.

Sercial - dry
The driest type of wine, acidic and astringent when young, with a pale colour. The grape variety of the same name is mostly grown at cooler altitudes and on the northern side of the island and therefore rarely matures. After aging for at least ten years, it develops an almond-like aroma.

Verdelho - semi-dry
This type of wine has a delicate bitter, nutty taste. The variety of the same name is grown on the north side of the island, but comes to better maturity as the Sercial. Even when aged, it retains a piquant acidity, the golden yellow colour developing from golden yellow to a darker tone.

Rainwater - semi-dry
This particular type of wine can also be called milder and lighter Verdelho. There are several variations on the origin of the name of this at least historically interesting wine. One says that it was made from vines where no artificial irrigation was possible and thus a dependence on rainwater was given. The second variant reports that in the 18th century, on the sea way to America, several Madeira barrels were exposed to the rain for a longer time, the water was absorbed by the wood and got into the wine. But as an intentional "inventor", an American named Habisham is also mentioned. In any case, in the USA, one liked this semi-dry, light wine that became an export hit. The type was produced for 200 years, for example by Cossart Gordon. Today it is only produced in small quantities, mostly from the Tinta Negra mole. But the production method is only very vaguely defined.

Madeira - 7 Marken (Flaschen)


Well-known producers and trading houses or Madeira brands include Barros Almeida & Co, Artur de Barros e Sousa, Barbeito, Blandy's, H. M. Borges, Broadbent Selections, Companhia Vinicola da Madeira (CVM), Cossart Gordon, Duke of Clarence, F. F. Ferraz, Flagman's, Funchal Wine, Henriques & Henriques, Justino Henriques, Leacock, Miles (Rutherford & Miles), Pereira d'Oliveira Vinhos (AO-SM = Anibal d'Oliveira, Sao Martinho), Power Drury, Sandeman and Silva Vinhos Some of these brands are no longer produced today, but due to the extreme longevity of Madeira there are still very old vintages on the market. The Madeira Wine Company (which includes some of the brands mentioned) is majority-owned by and Symington.

further information

A very similar dessert wine is Setúbal, which is produced on the mainland of Portugal. All work, techniques and measures in the vineyard during the vegetation cycle can be found under the heading of vineyard care. Complete lists of the numerous vinification measures or cellar techniques, as well as the types of wine, sparkling wine and distillate regulated by wine law are included under the keyword vinification. Comprehensive information on wine law can be found under the keyword wine law.

Map on the left: All about sweet wines
Map right: From TUBS, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link (edited by N. Tischelmayer)
Madeira barrels: CC BY-SA 2.0 en, Link