© by Sheral Schowe
Madeira is a wine that I would really like to see on more restaurant wine lists. Like sherry, it is an under-appreciated fortified wine whose place on a wine list or as a pairing with food, is somewhat of a mystery. Thomas Jefferson didn't seem to have a problem with figuring out Madeira's place in his home. It was the beverage of choice at that time, with any food, for any occasion. It is considered to be America's first wine and was a favorite of the colonists. The Declaration of Independence was in fact toasted with Madeira.
True Madeira is a fortified wine produced on the sub-tropical Portuguese island of Madeira. Originally, it was shipped to the East Indies in the holds of ships where it was exposed to great fluctuations in temperature with long periods of extreme cold and heat. Today, Madeira is heated artificially in ovens or stored in attics with similar temperature changes as to those original export ships.
The beauty of Madeira is the high acid content. The balance between sweet and acid is mouth-watering delicious. Madeiras are able to age well over 100 years, and stay fresh for months after opening. The recent releases are widely available, at a reasonable price. For this reason, they would make ideal wines by the glass for a restaurant, and perfect for your own wine service at home.
Madeira is produced from white grapes, each with their own unique characteristic flavors, sweetness levels, and aromas. The Sercial grape produces the driest style of Madeira with only 1-3 percent residual sugar. Best served as an aperitif, it has nutty aromas and a crisp, clean, finish. The Verdelho grape creates a medium-dry Madeira with 4-5 percent residual sugar, smoky flavors, high acidity, and an impression of sweetness. It is a great accompaniment for appetizers and soups. The Bual grape results in a medium-sweet wine with 5-6 percent residual sugar. It is perfect with cheeses, nuts, chocolate, and many desserts. Malmsey comes from the Malvasia grape which produces the sweetest, most intense style with 8-10 percent residual sugar, with a pleasant touch of acidity for balance. This is a fortified wine to be enjoyed on its own, or with espresso or dark chocolate.
There are several categories of Madeiras in terms of style. The lightest is Rainwater, a semi-dry, nutty, versatile style. Five-year-old is a blend of cask-aged stock of a single grape variety, which is at least five years old. 10 year old and 15 year old are the same style, with extended cask aging which creates more concentrated and complex flavors, the older the year. Vintage Madeira is produced from the best wines of a superior harvest. They remain in cask for at least twenty years before release. These wines are known to have aged beautifully for 150 years or longer.
Our wine stores have a small selection of Madeiras, including Rainwater ($11.45), Bual, Malmsey, five year, ten year, and a 1900 Moscatel for $296.50. Maybe they can age for another twenty years or more, but who wants to wait?
Dec. 14, 2000