“Pass the Port? Actually, I’ll have a glass of Madeira…”
The Island of Madeira is located about 400 miles off the coast of north Africa in the Atlantic Ocean and has, for the past 500 years, been producing some of the best fortified wines in the world. Malvasia was the first grape to be introduced during the Fifteenth Century by Prince Henry the Navigator, a leading light in Portuguese explorers. Since then the main varieties of grape that go into these fortified wines are Tinta Negra, Verdelho, Boal, Malvasia, Terrantez and Bastardo. From the late Seventeenth Century until now, Madeira wine has remained one of the main economies of the island.
Uniquely, Madeira wine is made by oxidizing the wine through heat and ageing, a method developed though circumstance as these wines were stored in extremely hot cargo holds hundreds of years ago while being shipped around the world. Because of these long perfected winemaking and wine preservation methods, the finest of these fortified wines can age well for decades or even centuries. The oldest bottle to have come onto the market recently was a 1715 Terrantez.
We are proud to stock one of the finest Madeira producers; the Barbeito winery is one of the islands smallest producers, founded in 1946 but has gained an extraordinary reputation. Ricardo, the founder’s grandson took over in the 1990’s, reinventing the traditional wines and techniques to focus on quality not quantity. He was the first to bottle Madeira wine without adding caramel flavouring and has also bottled from a single cask, which was once a traditional way.
The two most popular Barbeito wines are the ‘Rainwater’; medium dry in character with dried fruit, orange blossom and crystallized fruit aromas with a soft yet full bodied palate and a long minerally finish. This is an excellent aperitif with olives and salted cashews, but also wonderful with French Onion Soup, Welsh Rarebit, a cheeseboard, mushroom dishes, and game terrine. The other is our ‘Boal 5 Year Old Reserva’. A medium sweet wine with aromas of dried candied fruit, honey and with subtle floral notes. It has a slight smokiness on the palate yet finishes fresh and tangy. Delightful on its own, but partners very well with semi-sweet dishes (such as poached figs, ginger and yes; Madeira cake) or softer cheeses. Both wines are great value at £14.95 a 500ml bottle each.
As the winter holiday approaches and our thoughts turn to the delights of fortified wines to accompany our celebrations, there is no question that Madeira should be on your shopping list. Your palate will thank you…