Have you ever had a heat-treated wine? That is what Madeira is! Madeira originally comes from the Portuguese island of the same name, which is several hundred kilometers southwest of mainland Portugal. It was invented in the 1500s by British travelers who were looking for a way to make their fortified wine safe for traveling from Portugal to England. They discovered that heat treating the alcohol was the best solution. Hence, the creation of Madeira.
The Grapes in a Classic Madeira
A classic Madeira features these four grapes:
- Sercial has little residual sugar and is fermented nearly dry.
- Verdelho’s fermentation stops slightly earlier than Sercial, resulting in higher acidity and smoky tones.
- Bual is sweeter than Sercial and Verdelho and is characterized by raisin flavor, dark color and medium texture.
- The sweetest Madeira wine is Malvasia, with a caramel flavor, dark color and rich texture.
Introducing V. Sattui’s Madeira
For probably 30 years now, I’ve loved V. Sattui’s Madeira. It’s one of my all-time favorite fortified wines. If you haven’t tried it, please do so. While it’s $65 a bottle, it can last a good month, depending on how quickly you drink it. The good news is that, unlike other wines, this one doesn’t degrade after opening, as long as you keep it in the refrigerator. Interestingly, as you’ll see in V. Sattui’s description of their Madeira, they don’t talk about the heat treatment. The next time I’m there, I’ll need to ask them about it.
V. Sattui’s Description
“Solera-made, wood-aged wine, fortified with brandy. Our Solera is over 120 years old, one of the oldest in the U.S. The wine is sweet and luscious with flavors of almonds, caramel, toffee and orange zest…
“Our Madeira is a rich, smooth and nutty after-dinner wine that belies the complex method of preparation that goes into making it. Its blend of ancient port, rich Zinfandel and fine brandy gives it a sweet hazelnut, burnt-caramel flavor that is both intriguing and haunting. Many people who favor great ports and sherries know us solely for this single wine. The solera process is an ingenious system of fractional blending perfected by the Spanish to ensure consistent quality, based on the fact that old wines can be refreshed by the addition of a younger wine, which then acquires the characteristics of the old wine. We begin with what is now a 107-year-old vintage port, a lasting vestige from Vittorio Sattui’s original winery, as the mother, or master-blend. We then fashion primary, secondary and tertiary blends (criaderas), using varying ages of Zinfandel (the oldest is more than 35 years old) and add a little back to the mother to keep it alive, much like sourdough breadmaking.”
Madeira vs. Port
I love both, but I find Madeira to be more mature, more subtle and more nuanced than Port. I’d love to hear your opinions of the two fortified wines.
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