Madeira wine, or just Madeira, is also known as Generoso Madeirense or Vinho de Torna-Viagem and is produced on the island for over 500 years.
Departing ships loaded with wine, considered second-class, made possible to discover the power and impact of fermentation. The wine was stored in the cellars of the ships for over a year and the accumulated heat in the tropical region cruises transformed it into excellent nectar.
When fermentation happened on solid ground, two types of technique that originated 2 kinds of wine were developed: the “canteiro” wine, fermented in barrels stored in the top storage during the early years, which lower floor as they aged (you can drink them from the 4th year); the “estufado” wine heated in vats at 55° C for 3 months, which can be consumed from the 3rd year. In the Azores of the XIX century, the “estufado” wine was a strong-tasting drink and colour similar to Sherry.
Madeira is a fortified wine, rich, with an alcohol content between 17 and 22º, which remains in oak barrels through a slow and concentrate oxidation process. This type of wine is divided into: Blend, wines of varying age, with an average of 10 years and from the same strain; Colheita (vintage), wines from the same vintage and a single strain. They can be consumed from the 4th year; Vintage, which ages at least for 20 years and then must pass a test that determines the authorization to be bottled or not. These are wines of great age, great acidity and freshness. There are some Vintage 1975 in perfect condition.
However, the fame of the islander wines do not spread to all the islands in the same way.
Wines from Azores – “Pasado” wine (Malvasia strain) and “Seco” wine – produced on the island of Pico, had a vinification process similar to that of Madeira, where the fermentation was interrupted by adding brandy, as with the Port wine, but the wines from Azores were considered lower quality than Madeira wines.
Probably because of the lack of data existing on the issue, for a long time it was believed that the wine elaboration was limited to the islands of Pico and Graciosa, but they were actually all devoted to the growth of vineyards. Although they were rocky islands with very difficult climatic conditions, as a result of volcanic eruptions, the Azores have performed an intensive effort of vineyard planting.
In the first half of the nineteenth century the islands suffered an aggressive outbreak of powdery mildew, which forced the replacement of strains such as Verdelho (white Verdejo), and instead some American vines were planted, especially the strain “Isabela” (banned today in Europe for its high content of methanol).
The elaboration of spirits suffered a considerable increase, and flavours multiplied, from molasses brandy of the island of S. Jorge, to the dark spirits of Terceira, and the red fig, loquat and peach liquor, from Pico Island.
White wine recovery was gradually achieved and one of the examples of the history of wine in Azores is the Cooperative Winery of Graciosa Island.
In Madeira, the Madeira rum, white and aged, has won a role that can even be visited – the “Engenho do Porto da Cruz” is a museum centre, near the “Casa del Ron”, where you can drink some exceptional reserves.
Among the strains traditionally used in the islands we can find:
- Malvasia – One of the first strains that reached the islands of Azores and Madeira during the first half of the fifteenth century. This strain produces a sweet wine, with aroma and flavour of nuts and notes of honey. A perfect pairing with cheeses and chocolate.
- Verdelho – It produces a semi-dry wine, taste of ripe pineapple and tropical aroma. Good pairing with cheeses and soft broths. This strain is used in the two archipelagos.
- Cercial – With this strain is made a dry wine, with citrus and caramel aromas. It is ideal as an aperitif or combined with nuts or olives. This strain is used in the two archipelagos.
- Boal / Bual – The result is a semi-sweet wine, with honey aroma and taste of caramel. It is ideal in the pairing with fruits, cheeses and desserts. High quality strain in the Azores and used in the two archipelagos.
- Tinta Negra – Some say that this strain is the result of crossing Pinot Noir with Grenache. In Spain it is known as Negramoll and is cultivated mostly in the Canary Islands. Pairing with vegetables, rice and white meat.
Madere Cruz: a fortified wine with DO Madeira which blend contains negramoll.
Blandy’s Madeira Malmsey 10 Years Old: a fortified wine of the best of malmsey grapes and presents an alcohol content of 19º.