“I was told once that Madeira is like a Ferrari – everyone has heard of it but few have ever tried one.” Chris Blandy, Madeira Wine Company
My initial expectations of Madeira – from a small sub-tropical island, stranded in the Atlantic – were not high. Like most, I’d not ‘driven the Ferrari’ and had always suspected it to be one of those wines doomed to an over-enthusiastically made gravy, or very odd cake. What a fool I’d been – now I can’t get enough of its sexy sweetness generously laced with fresh acidity. I’ve found myself having a secret quaff as an aperitif or more classically with dessert. Most important, with Easter looming, is Madeira’s cracking compatibility with chocolate!
Over the years I’ve dabbled with various brands and varietals but I keep returning to Barbeito’s ‘10 year old Verdelho’. A heady mix of Christmas pudding-esque dried fruits, candied orange peel and a lovely coffee/toffee edge with a comforting warm finish. Madeira (and Verdelho specifically) is quite unlike its distant fortified and sometimes fusty cousin Port, it has miles more acidity, which keeps it clean and light whilst retaining that sweet moreishness (and being cheap enough to be a fridge staple!). For a real treat splash out and try an older vintage, it ages incredibly well and costs a snip of the cost of a comparable aged Port or similar. Or as a chilled snifter, in place of a sherry and perhaps with game terrine or a creamy savoury mushroom dish. The perfect partner in crime.
There’s four main grape varieties used in Madeira – in ascending sweetness: Sercial, Verdelho, Boal and Malmsey. Verdelho, for me is number one because I like the dryer style with just a hint of sweetness.
While Madeira offers great options for all wine lovers, and for most fortified occasions, one tip for thrifty shoppers: look if it’s made by the ‘Canteiro’ method. This mimics the original effect of transporting the wine to the Indies/America – strapped to the sun sizzled top deck of ships, on the rolling seas. This method is used for the best quality Madeiras and has more complexity then those made in the modern ‘estufagem’ – a machine closely resembling a large kettle; the mass-produced Bristol Cream of the Madeira world. A final mega plus point – even Canteiro Madeiras can be great value for money, when considering the years, love and affection its production takes.
Honestly though, part of the fun is experimenting and there really is a style for everyone.