Wines of Madeira, Portugal

Situated north of Tenerife, in the Atlantic Ocean, Madeira Island is Part of the Madeira archipelago. The province enjoys the status of an Outermost Region of the European Union, as an autonomous region of Portugal.  Blessed with a tropical climate, it is an excellent year-round touristic attraction, being visited every year by approximately one million tourists. Besides its beautiful landscapes, the isle of Madeira is well known for exquisite wines, often associated with the fortified Madeira wine.

Portugal Wine mapGeography and climate

Located 520 km away from the African Coast and 1,000 km from the European Continent, it is a volcanic island, rich in geographical diversity. Because of its mountainous landscape, it is difficult to cultivate, its vineyards being planted mostly in flatter areas, on artificial terraces of red and basaltic bedrock. With an average temperature of 19 °C, and heavy rainfalls, winemakers struggle to face fungal grape illnesses and botrytis; similar to the Vinho Verde techniques, the Madeira vineyards are trained to grow tall and off the ground, so the berries wouldn’t be in constant contact with the humid soils. Typically, vignerons grow cabbages and other crops in the spaces between the vines, having the same goal of reducing humidity. After surviving a real struggle against pests, the grapes of Madeira grow rich and aromatic, the hallmark varieties being Malvasia, Bual, Verdelho and Sercial.


Major grapes:

  • White varieties:Verdelho, Sercial,Bual;
  • Red varieties: Tinta Negra Mole, Malvasia;

The man-made terraces of Madeira are similar to the ones in Douro and serve the same purpose; with a rocky and infertile terrain, the terroir of this island needs a lot of passion to make winegrowing possible.

Learning how to maintain quality and efficiency, several native grapes are grown here, some of the most popular being the four major varieties used for producing Madeira wine:

  1. Sercial: with the smallest amount of sugar, it is as dry as it can get. With a noticeable sense of acidity, this wine has an intense color, and is characterized by and almond aroma.
  2. Verdelho: acidic and slightly sweeter, this exquisite wine is famous for its smoky qualities.
  3. Bual: with a raisin aroma, it is a medium-rich wine, known for its deep-dark color, and a fine distinctive texture.
  4. Malmsey: being the sweetest of the Madeira wines, it is associated with coffee-caramel flavors and a dark red color.


While Bual and Malvasia are often fermented on their skins, technique necessary for obtaining a richer texture, Sercial and Verdelho and Tinta Negra Mole are pre-peeled for the production of dryer wines. The process that makes Madeira wines unique is called estufagem, a method conceived for doubling the wine’s lifespan during extended sea journeys, through tropical temperatures. The consequences of this practice are a mild pasteurization and an impressive prolonged survival rate of over 150 years. Madeira wines are highly appreciated in areas where wine cellars are considered impractical, successfully enduring hot summers and oxygen exposure, the oldest bottle on the market being produced in the year 1715.

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