WHAT IS MADEIRA?
Madeira is a Portuguese wine that is fortified with brandy or any other neutral spirit. It undergoes a unique aging method that involves heating the wine and purposely exposing it to oxygen in order to bring out a certain flavor and color.
Although the wine is enjoyed by some people all around the world, it can only be produced officially on Madeira Island off the coast of Portugal. Similar wines that employ the same brewing processes cannot be called Madeira.
The method of creating Madeira was inspired by the accidental exposure to heat and air that the wine received when it was carried overseas on ships during the 1600s and beyond. During tropical trading routes, the heat would change the taste of the wine and give it a more rich and complex set of flavors than it had before. Once this was discovered, the wine makers kept the process going even after the natural sun exposure on shipping vessels stopped.
BEST BRANDS OF MADEIRA
D’Oliveiras is an older producer that serves many years of vintages. With wines dating back to the early 1900s and before, you can get some excellent quality vintage Madeira wine if you’re willing to put up a bit of cash to foot the bill. While these range on the pricier side for a bottle of wine, the vintages hold an immensely complex and beautiful taste that is hard to compare with any other wines of this same type. Along with the very old vintages, you can also get younger vintages with the same sort of complex flavors, although lacking the same intensity. These younger vintages will be priced much lower than the oldest vintage wines.
While you can find vintages from Barbeito, the real stars of the show may be the younger wines that the winery produces. They manage to take on incredible flavors and a broad spectrum of various pleasant tastes. The aromas of many of these wines are magnificent, leading to an even better taste once you take a sip. Some of the unique flavors you might experience in these wines are hints of smokiness, baked tarts, apricots, and orange zest, depending on which bottle you choose for yourself.
As part of the larger Madeira Wine Company, this brand is well represented internationally as well as on the island of Madeira itself. There are many different types and vintages of Blandy’s available, most of which are considered to be high quality, great value wines for a reasonable price. It’s common for Blandy’s to age their wines for 5 years or more, with few bottles boasting less than 5 years of aging.
Also from the Madeira Wine Company, Cossart Gordon is a brand that features many well aged, roasted flavors and complex mixtures of tastes. They make a great variety of sweet wines that work particularly well as digestifs and dessert wines. You can find a few vintages from Cossart Gordon, but not many which are older than the 1980s. If you like strong flavors and rich aromas, this brand might suit you well.
Henriques & Henriques
If you are at all knowledgeable about the different tastes from various types of oak, you may find some disappointment in this brand, as it is mainly new oak barrels that have been used to age the wine for the last 10 – 15 years. Some of the older vintages do not have this same taste as they were made with older barrels, but the newer drinks will not have the same smokiness or roasted nut flavors that you might expect in an aged wine bottle. They have a nicely balanced acidic flavor in many of the youngest Madeiras, making it a good choice for newer Madeira drinkers or those looking for a nice cocktail Madeira wine.
You’ll find everything from finest quality Madeira to traditional vintages and all those in between from Justino’s. Alike some of the cheaper brands available on the market, the finest type Madeira wines made by this brand are not harsh or bitter, but have a pleasant level of acid that balances well with the other flavor additives and sweet tastes of the wine. Their other offerings are also rather appealing with many dry aged wines that serve as excellent, aromatic table wines to take with a hearty meal.
FINDING THE BEST MADEIRA FOR YOU
Madeira wines are not enjoyed by everybody, but those who like complex, spicy, and rich wines tend to love drinking the aged Madeira wines, while anyone who likes a higher level of acid and a complex, yet dry wine usually enjoys the younger Madeiras. It’s best to choose a few of the less expensive bottles, without resorting to getting the cheapest thing available if you have never tried Madeira before.